Born: 1783-01-24 Simsbury, Connecticut
Died: 1843-08-11 Springfield, Illinois
Born in Connecticut, James Adams married Harriet Denton in 1809, with whom he had five children. They lived in Oswego, New York, until 1818, when Adams fled the state to avoid a forgery charge. During his time in New York, Adams served in the War of 1812 and reached the rank of brigadier general in the state militia. He arrived in Springfield, Illinois, around 1821 and was appointed Probate Judge for Sangamon County and as Postmaster for Peoria. Besides holding these offices, he worked as a lawyer and was involved in insurance sales and land speculation. Adams also served with the state militia in both the Winnebago uprising and the Black Hawk War.
A Democrat, he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1834 and for Sangamon County Recorder in 1835. In 1837, the office of Probate Judge office became elective and Adams became involved in a bitter election against Anson G. Henry. Among the political attacks between the two candidates were accusations by Abraham Lincoln and others that Adams had acquired his Springfield property illegally. Nevertheless, Adams retained the office, but attacks on his character and financial dealings continued.
Adams became deeply involved with the Masons before joining the Mormon movement in the late 1830s. He met Joseph Smith in 1839 and was appointed one of the regents for the University of Nauvoo. In 1842, Smith appointed Adams a High Priest and Patriarch of the Mormon Church, at which point Adams became a polygamist, marrying Roxena Repshire. He successfully ran for Probate Justice of Hancock County, even though he still resided in Springfield, which stoked local anti-Mormon sentiments. He died in Springfield before he could assume the office.
Kent L. Walgren, "James Adams: Early Springfield Mormon and Freemason" in Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 75 (1982): 121-136; John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 76.