BLAIR, JAMES (1656–1743), American divine and educationalist, was born in Scotland, probably at Edinburgh, in 1656. He graduated M.A. at Edinburgh University in 1673, was beneficed in the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and for a time was rector of Cranston Parish in the diocese of Edinburgh. In 1682 he left Scotland for England, and three years later was sent by the bishop of London, Henry Compton, as a missionary to Virginia. He soon gained great influence over the colonists both in ecclesiastical and in civil affairs, and, according to Prof. Moses Coit Tyler, “probably no other man in the colonial time did so much for the intellectual life of Virginia.” He was the minister of Henrico parish from 1685 until 1694, of the Jamestown church from 1694 until 1710, and of Bruton church at Williamsburg from 1710 until his death. From 1689 until his death he was the commissary of the bishop of London for Virginia, the highest ecclesiastical position in the colony, his duties consisting “in visiting the parishes, correcting the lives of the clergy, and keeping them orderly.” In 1693, by the appointment of King William III., he became a member of the council of Virginia, of which he was for many years the president. Largely because of charges brought against them by Blair, Governor Sir Edmund Andros, Lieutenant-governor Francis Nicholson, and Lieutenant-governor Alexander Spotswood were removed in 1698, 1705 and 1722 respectively. Blair’s greatest service to the colony was rendered as the founder, and the president from 1693 until his death, of the College of William and Mary, for which he himself secured a charter in England. “Thus, James Blair may be called,” says Tyler, “the creator of the healthiest and most extensive intellectual influence that was felt in the Southern group of colonies before the Revolution.” He died on the 18th of April 1743, and was buried at Jamestown, Va. He published a collection of 117 discourses under the title Our Saviour’s Divine Sermon on the Mount (4 vols., 1722; second edition, 1732), and, in collaboration with Henry Hartwell and Edward Chilton, a work entitled The Present State of Virginia and the College (1727; written in 1693), probably the best account of the Virginia of that time.
See Daniel E. Motley’s Life of Commissary James Blair (Baltimore, 1901; series xix. No. 10, of the Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science), and, for a short sketch and an estimate, M. C. Tyler’s A History of American Literature, 1607–1765 (New York, 1878).