William Irvine Adair, A Vintage Vignette

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William Irvine Adair
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
September 21, 2010)

Page 373 of the book “A DREAM COME TRUE”, subtitled “The Story of Madison County and Incidentally of Alabama and the United States”, Volume 1 (1970), by James Record lists “73 Generals in Madison County” from the days of its settlement. Since the list is arranged alphabetically, William I. Adair is the second shown. Record's list includes fifteen Generals who fought for the Union during the Civil War and six who fought for the Confederacy. Another list shows that seven Union Generals came from Madison County, as did seven Confederate Generals. The difference is that Record included Generals who were not native to the county. His list contained those stationed here for a significant period of time.

Madison County estate probate files show Adair's middle initial as “J”, not “I”. However, a multitude of other sources confirm that his middle name was “Irvine”, his mother's maiden surname. Adair was shown in Record's list as having served in the Alabama militia, which may explain why he was not found in the Ancestry.com military listings as a General. There were records for “William Adair” as a volunteer from Blount County (Alabama) in the first of three “Florida Wars” against the Seminole Indians, serving in the Chisolm Battalion as a Private. Another showed the name as a Private in Perkin's Regiment in the War of 1812. The difference in rank reminds me of my great-great grandfather John Emmett Thurston. According to family stories, he was a Union General who moved to Perry County, Arkansas, after the Civil War. His daughter Rachel Hannah Mary Josephine Martha Frances Adelaide Thurston (called “Mollie”) married John Andrew Jackson Rankin, my great grandfather, son of Confederate soldier Edmund Hogan Rankin. Family gatherings may have been strained during their lifetimes, but my later research showed that John Emmett Thurston was actually a Private in Company G of the 11th Illinois Infantry. The Perry County citizens probably called him “General” in jest. However, whatever title was used for William I. Adair was given in honor.

Adair, born in Kentucky about 1796, was an attorney and nephew of Kentucky's Governor John Adair. He was one of five trustees who established Triana on the Tennessee River at Indian Creek in 1818. He married Martha W. Jones here in 1819. His ancestry is documented back to 1186 in Scotland, including such famous names as Kennedy, Mary Stewart, and others associated with Dundonald Castle in Kyles of Ayreshire. His great grandfather was Thomas Adair (1680-1755) and his great-great grandmother was Margaret Agnew (1660-1715), who married Alexander Adair. His Adair and Agnew lines of descent from Scottish nobility include linkage to Catherine the Great and Peter the Great of Russia.

Papers and receipts in the Madison County Probate Court archives concerning William Adair's estate (he died in Triana, December 9, 1835) include titles for him of “Honorable”, Judge, Captain, and General. Furthermore, the extensive collection of probate data shows that he was a man of considerable culture. The estate inventory lists titles of hundreds of books in his personal library that provide insight into his character. The titles reveal strong interest in the history of Alabama, the United States, and England. They also include a number of books about Greek and Latin grammar, as well as seven volumes of the works of Shakespeare. Adair apparently was quite wealthy as well as literate. His estate files contain notes of obligation with pre-printed dates. He must have literally opened a bank of sorts from his home on occasion to loan money to his acquaintances. There are letters to him requesting funds for various purposes. His estate accounts, excluding land, were valued at around $100,000 in the years 1836-1845. The detailed accounting even shows that insurance against fire and “river risk” was bought when cotton was shipped to New Orleans from Triana. Yet, this highly educated gentleman fought a gun duel with Clement Comer Clay a few years after Clay arrived in Huntsville to open his own law practice. As a judge in the county, Clay later protected the estate of Adair, who had wounded him in the duel.

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