Born: 1783-01-24 Simsbury, Connecticut
Died: 1843-08-11 Springfield, Illinois
James Adams was a militia officer, lawyer, probate judge, insurance salesman, and land speculator. Little is known about his early life. In 1809, James Adams married Harriet Denton, with whom he had five children. The couple lived in Oswego, New York, where James engaged in land sales and speculation. Adams served in the New York State Militia during the War of 1812, and after the war, he rose to the rank of brigadier general. Adams continued to live in Oswego until October 1818, when he fled New York to avoid a forgery charge. Adams moved his family west to Illinois, arriving in Springfield around 1821. Adams identified himself as an attorney and quickly involved himself in the local Democratic Party. By 1823, he had received appointment as probate judge for Sangamon County and as postmaster of Peoria. Besides holding these offices, he worked as a lawyer and was involved in insurance sales and land speculation. Adams served with the Illinois State Militia during the Winnebago Uprising, and he also participated in the Black Hawk War.
Adams ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat 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 ran successfully 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," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 75 (Summer 1982), 121-36; John Carroll Power and S. A. Power, History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois (Springfield, IL: Edwin A. Wilson, 1876), 76.