Cornelia Adair

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Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair​

(Irish-Texan landowner, rancher, and philanthropist)

Cornelia Adair painting.jpg

Born April 6, 1837​
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA​
Died September 22, 1921 (aged 84)

Resting place:
Killenard Churchyard in Ireland

Political Party Republican
Spouse (1) Montgomery Harrison Ritchie (1826–1864, married 1857–his death in American Civil War)​

(2) John George Adair (1869-1885, his death)​
Arthur Ritchie (died in childhood)
​ Montgomery Harrison "Jack" Ritchie (1861–1924)

Religion Episcopalian


  • Cornelia Adair was born to privilege in the United States, became a British subject, lived much of her life in Ireland, but also maintained residence on the JA Ranch in the Texas Panhandle and in the nearby town of Clarendon in Donley County, Texas.​
  • Though she could not vote in the United States, Cornelia Adair was active in the Republican Party, to which her family had been devoted since its founding in 1854.​
  • Mrs. Adair invited Belgian refugees to stay at Glenveagh Castle during World War I.​
  • Wherever she lived, Cornelia Adair, though a shrewd businesswoman, was much beloved in her community as a generous philanthropist.​
  • Cornelia's great-great-grandson, Andrew M. Bivins of Amarillo, joined the JA Ranch management team in 2005 as the fifth generation of Ritchies and Adairs in JA operation.​

Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair (April 6, 1837 – September 22, 1921) was the matriarch of Glenveagh Castle in County Donegal, Ireland, now an Irish national park, and the large JA Ranch southeast of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle, a still-active cattle ranch. She is also remembered for having become a naturalized British subject and as a published diarist.​


Cornelia was the second of six children born to a prominent couple, future General James Samuel Wadsworth, Sr. (1807–1864), and the former Mary Craig Wharton (1811–1872). Though she was born in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, the Wadsworth family lived at the Hartford House estate in the village of Geneseo in Livingston County in western New York.[1]

In 1855, the Wadsworths travelled to England and France on a two-year sojourn. On their return, Cornelia married Montgomery Harrison Ritchie of Boston, Massachusetts, a descendant of Federalist Party leader Harrison Gray Otis (1765–1848). The Ritchies had two sons, Arthur (who died in childhood) and Montgomery Harrison "Jack" Ritchie (1861–1924), who outlived his mother by only three years.[2]

The senior Montgomery Ritchie fought in North Carolina in 1862 in the American Civil War under Union Army General Ambrose Burnside. In 1864, he entered a battlefield to retrieve his father-in-law, General Wadsworth, who was mortally wounded in the head in the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. Ritchie brought Wadsworth's body to Geneseo for burial. Not long afterwards, Ritchie himself died of an illness contracted in battle and was also interred in Geneseo.[2]

Marriage to John George Adair

Widowed with her two young sons, Cornelia decided to have the children educated in Paris, France. On returning to the United States, she attended a Republican political reception in New York.[3] The Ritchie family was staunchly Republican from 1854, when the party was established. At the gathering, she first met John George Adair, a Scottish-Irish businessman and landowner from County Donegal, Ireland. The two married in 1869 and lived in Ireland, in Great Britain, and in New York City, where Adair, also known as "Jack Adair," opened a brokerage house.[2]

Adair disliked living in New York City and wished to see the American West. For a time he established his brokerage firm in Denver, Colorado. In 1874, the Adairs joined a bison hunt along the South Platte River in Nebraska and northeastern Colorado. Cornelia's brother had served as an aide to General Philip H. Sheridan (1831-1888), and, according to Nancy Baker Jones in The Handbook of Texas. Cornelia may have used Sheridan's influence to obtain a military escort under Colonel Richard Irving Dodge (1827-1895) to accompany the party, which departed from Sidney in Cheyenne County, Nebraska. Cornelia kept a diary (published 1918) of the two-month journey, which included details of a meeting near the South Platte of cavalry officers and Oglala Sioux Indians.[3]

Partnership with Charles Goodnight

In the summer of 1877, the Adairs partnered with the Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight, who told them about the Palo Duro Canyon country where cattle could graze in abundance in summers, with adequate grass and water, and then winter under the protection of the canyon walls. Goodnight drove the first herd of cattle to the Palo Duro, part of a larger landscape known as the Llano Estacado, or "Staked Plains" of the Texas Panhandle. The most prominent feature of the JA is the canyon on the southwest. In the centr of the ranch is a large plain. To the east are the rolling hills of Mulberry and Halls Creek. To the north is the Caprock.[1]

In their contract, John Adair put up two-thirds of the capital to establish the ranch, and Goodnight was able to borrow his one-third at 10 percent interest from Adair as well as supply the initial cattle. The Adairs rarely stayed at the ranch, because of their other properties in England and Ireland. The ranch still bears Adair's initials, the JA. Goodnight and Adair signed two five-year contracts. In 1885, Adair died of natural causes while he was in St. Louis, Missouri. At the time, he was returning with a servant to Ireland. Cornelia, who did not accompany Adair on that trip, had his body returned for burial in the Protestant Church graveyard at Killenard County, Laois, Ireland.[2]

Overseeing the JA Ranch

After John Adair's death, despite the distance and difficulty of travel at the time, Cornelia took an active interest in the JA and divided her time between the ranch, the castle in Ireland, and the house in England. She insisted that Goodnight pay high wages and recruit only upstanding cowboys.[3]

Sometimes, she questioned Goodnight's judgment in the management of the ranch. For instance, she hired John Edward Farrington as the manager after Goodnight withdrew from their arrangement even though Goodnight had specifically trained Henry Webster Taylor, Goodnight's nephew, as his successor. As the first JA manager, Goodnight had quarrelled with Cornelia's son, Jack, whom he claimed to have caught drinking alcohol and shooting craps with the cowboys in violation of the JA's strict code of ethics. Goodnight demoted Jack Ritchie, who moved to New York City and sold JA horses to the city police department.[2] In 1887, she traded the Quitaque Ranch for Goodnight's one-third interest in the JA, a share that comprised 336,000 acres, 48,000 cattle as well as mules, horses, and rights to the JA brand.[4]

In 1911, while she was in London, Cornelia came upon her nephew, James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., then a former Speaker of the New York Assembly. Cornelia persuaded Wadsworth to take the vacant position of JA manager. He agreed, but after four years left again in 1915, having been elected in 1914 as a Republican to the United States Senate from New York, the first class elected under the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[2] He remained in the Senate until 1927, after which there was no Republican senator for New York until Irving Ives in 1947.

One of the JA managers was Timothy Dwight Hobart, a Vermont native whose experience was more in real estate than in raising cattle. He had surveyed the five million acres of the New York and Texas Land Company in Mobeetie, one of the first three settlements in the Panhandle. He was affiliated with the White Deer Land Company in Pampa in Gray County, Texas. He was also a president of the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Cornelia trusted him to be co-executor of her estate, of which there were many outstanding debts, not settled for two decades. Hobart was elected mayor of Pampa in 1927 but served only a few months.[2]

Clarendon residence

Being a naturalized British subject who spent most of her time in Ireland, Cornelia also maintained a home in Clarendon in Donley County.She contributed generously to various civic projects about the JA Ranch, which by the time of her death covered half a million acres. She provided funds to build the Adair Hospital, later the Saints' Roost Museum in Clarendon. She contributed to the first YMCA building and to the Episcopal Church in Clarendon.[5]

Cornelia Adair died just days before she was planning another trip to the Texas Panhandle. Her passing had a profound effect on her Texas friends. A memorial service was held in Clarendon on the same day as her funeral in Ireland. Among the mourners was the 85-year-old Goodnight who said that except for the passing of his mother and former partner Oliver Loving (1812-1867) no other death had so affected him as that of Mrs. Adair's. Timothy Hobart called her "one of the noblest characters I have ever known." Lester Fields Sheffy, Hobart's biographer, wrote that Mrs. Adair "loved the prairies, its hills and canyons, and its vast herds She held in highest esteem the hundreds of people who had been connected with her in this great ranching enterprise. She frequently [had] expressed a desire that her last resting place might be in the little cemetery near the [ranch] headquarters."[6] Instead, she was interred next to Adair at the Killenard Churchyard in Ireland.​

Managing Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh was completed between 1867 and 1873. After Cornelia inherited the estate, she added a new wing and round tower to the building. She planted Scots Pine and rhododendron in her garden. Before he married Cornelia, John Adair had become notorious for having driven poor tenants off the land to improve the aesthetic beauty of Glenveagh. Cornelia though was renowned as a kind landlady and a benefactor. During World War I, she used the castle to house wounded Belgian soldiers and refugees.[7]

A personal friend of Lord Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), Cornelia donated generously to establish the Boy Scouts. In the years after Cornelia's death, Glenveagh fell into disrepair. In 1984, it was made into an Irish national park.[8]

The JA Ranch today

Timothy Dwight Hobart had great difficulty with the British government and the State of Texas in disposing of Mrs. Adair's property. The governments demanded tax payments which could be raised only with the sale of parts of the ranch at a time when the market for beef prices was particularly poor. The British demands required Hobart to make several trips abroad to explain the situation to the government agents. Hobart said his greatest concern was in meeting the needs of Mrs. Adair's heirs. He also tried to honor her wishes that the ranch be sold in small parcels to settlers, a processed that dragged on for many years. He hoped petroleum would be found on Adair lands to ease in the financial consideration in the disposal of the property.[9]

In 1935, after Hobart's death, the management of the JA passed to Mrs. Adair's grandson, Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth Ritchie, son of Jack Rithie. He managed the ranch, along with another spread in Colorado, until his retirement in 1993. The ranch then passed to Montie Ritchie's daughter, Cornelia Wadsworth "Nina" Ritchie, later the first wife of Republican Texas State Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo, from whom she was divorced. Andrew M. Bivins, the son of Teel and Nina Bivins, since joined the JA management team. Teel Bivins served prior to his death in 2006 as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden during the second administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.[2]

An American Quarter Horse was named in 1940 in honor of Cornelia Adair.[10]

On April 10, 2015, the West Texas Historical Association, at its 92nd annual meeting in Amarillo, presented a program at Amarillo College on the life of Cornelia Adair. The presentations include "Early Years and Marriages" by William Green of Canyon, Texas, and from three from West Texas A&M University in Canyon: Dollie Lookingbill, "Cornelia Out West: A Hunting Trip and the Formation of the JA Partnership"; Maureen Hubbart, "The Timothy Dwight Hobart Letters: Cornelia Adair's Management of the JA Ranch," and Allen Hunt, "Cornelia's Transatlantic Connections: The Later Years."[11]

Further reading

  • Cornelia Adair, My Diary: August 30 to November 5, 1874 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965).​
  • Armstrong County Historical Association, A Collection of Memories: A History of Armstrong County, 1876–1965 (Hereford, Texas: Pion Publishers, 1965).​
  • Virginia Browder, Donley County: Land O' Promise (Wichita Falls, Texas: Nortex, 1975).​
  • Harley True Burton, A History of the JA Ranch (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1928; rpt., New York: Argonaut, 1966), now a rare out-of-print edition​
  • J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949).​


  1. 1.0 1.1 History of the JA, the Ritchie Family, and the JA Family. Retrieved on February 26, 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 JA Ranch exhibit, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Nancy Baker Jones. Adair, Cornelia Wadsworth. The Handbook of Texas on-line. Retrieved on February 26, 2020.
  4. Dan L. Thrapp, The Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, University of Nebraska Press, 1999; isbn=0-8032-9419-0.
  5. Saints' Roost Museum. Retrieved on February 26, 2020.
  6. Lester Fields Sheffy, The Life and Times of Timothy Dwight Hobart, 1855–1935: Colonization of West Texas (Canyon, Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, 1950), pp. 214–215.
  7. Glenveagh Castle. Retrieved on ​February 26, 2020.
  8. Glenveagh National Park History,; no longer on-line. April 1, 2008
  9. Sheffy, "Timothy Hobart", pp. 221–221.
  10. Cornelia Adair Quarter Horse. allbreedpedigree. Retrieved on February 26, 2020.
  11. "The Life of Cornelia Adair," West Texas Historical Association, accessed March 21, 2015.