Adair, James (circa 1709–circa 1783) historian - American Education
While little is known about James Adair himself, he left one major record: The History of the American Indians, completed in 1768 and published in 1775. His experience among the Native Americans in the South anticipated the experiences of the latter-day frontiersmen and pioneers of the American West. Adair’s study preceded William Bartram’s better-known Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians by twenty years. Adair returned to England to secure publication. His efforts were a success, and his history was widely read and cited in England and the American colonies. Although Adair repeats a commonly held belief that Native Americans may have been members of the lost tribes of Israel, the firsthand knowledge and details the book contains—including his observations concerning Indian customs, languages, daily life, and important incidents—far outweigh this perception.
Born in county Antrim, Ireland, during the first decade of the eighteenth century, Adair was an intriguing character. Although no documentation exists to support Adair’s parentage, he may have been the younger son of a nobleman. Disqualified from inheriting land, Adair joined the ranks of young aristocrats who migrated to North America in search of opportunity. He arrived in Charleston sometime around 1735 and became an Indian trader. Adair traded with and lived among the Native Americans in the South, specifically the Catawba, Cherokee, and Choctaw nations, gaining significant insights into their customs, cultures, and languages. Adair’s knowledge of and access to the Indians allowed him to play an important role as a diplomat and mediator. His position toward the Indians was, however, mutable. During the French and Indian War (1754–1763), Adair organized and served as captain for a band of Chickasaw, who fought against the French. At times Adair appeared to favor the Indian political position, a policy that incurred disfavor among the other traders and the colonial administration. On the other hand, Adair advocated intertribal warfare as a way of reducing the Indian population as a whole. After briefly traveling to England to publish his work, Adair returned to America in 1775 and died near the close of the American Revolution in 1783.
Adair, James. The History of the American Indians, Particularly Those Nations Adjoining to the Mississippi, East and West Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, and Virginia. London: E. & C. Dilly, 1775; New York: Johnson Reprint, 1968.