John George Adair

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John George Adair​

(Financier and namesake of
the JA Ranch in Texas)

John George Adair of TX.jpg

Born March 3, 1823
Queens County
United Kingdom

Principal residences:
(1) Glenveagh Castle
County Donegal
United Kingdom
(2) New York City

Died May 4, 1885 (aged 62)
St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Resting place:
The Lea Church in County Laois, Ireland

Spouse Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair (married 1867-1885, his death)

Arthur Ritchie & Montgomery Harrison “Jack” Ritchie (stepsons)

  • Adair visited his JA Ranch named in his honor only three times before his unexpected death.​
  • Adair was in the brokerage business in England, Ireland and the United States, but realized a large return from the JA Ranch.
  • Adair was trained in the British diplomatic service, but his temperament was too volatile for him to become a professional diplomat.
  • Anger at townspeople in Derryveah in County Donegal, Ireland, in 1861 prompted Adair to evict forty-seven families from their dwellings to beautify the land surrounding his Glenveagh Castle.

John George Adair (March 3, 1823  – May 4, 1885), sometimes known as Jack Adair, was a businessman and landowner of Scottish descent, who provided the seed capital for the large JA Ranch in the Palo Duro Canyon of the Texas Panhandle. In its peak year in 1883, the JA encompassed more than 1.3 million acres in portions of six Texas counties, with 100,000 head of cattle.​ ​

An undiplomatic temperament

​Adair was born in Queen's County (since County Laois), Ireland. He attended Trinity College in Dublin, at which he was trained for the British diplomatic service]]. He was a captain in the British Army and the Royal Marines. However, he seemed to lack the patient, smooth temperament required for diplomacy. He owned considerable real estate in Ireland, including the large Glenveagh Castle. In 1860, Adair went hunting on land he had rented to tenants in violation of the rental agreements. When the tenants objected, an irate Adair threatened them. A year later, in April 1861, with the force of the law behind him, he removed forty-seven families from forty-six houses in Derryveagh in County Donegal, Ireland. More than 150 screaming children and their parents were ordered off the property. Adair cleared twelve thousand acres by demolishing the houses. Many of the evicted had no idea where they might find shelter; some relocated to Australia.[1]

Adair also established brokerage firms with offices in Ireland; New York City, and then Denver, Colorado, because of his interest in bison hunts in the American West.[2]


​ At the age of forty-four, Adair married the former Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was reared in Geneseo in Livingston County in western New York. She was the widow of Montgomery Harrison Ritchie (1826-1864), a Boston, Massachusetts, native descended from the Federalist Party spokesman Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848). They were married for seven years. Ritchie died of illness contracted during the American Civil War. Cornelia was left with two young sons, Arthur Ritchie (died in childhood) and Montgomery "Jack" Ritchie (1861-1924), whom she took to Europe for their schooling.[2] While there, she met Adair and the couple married in 1867, splitting their time between Ireland, England, and New York. Cornelia became a naturalized British citizen. One of her nephews was Republican U.S. Senator James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr. (1877-1952), of New York.[3]

The Colorado sojourn

​ Adair was known for his fiery temper, a stereotype of the hard-drinking Irishman of the 19th century. He disliked life in New York City, and the couple and the two sons headed west to Denver, where Adair temporarily moved his brokerage office. In eastern Colorado, near Pueblo in 1874, the Adairs met Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight on a guided bison hunt. The personable Goodnight told the couple about the Palo Duro country southeast of Amarillo, Texas, and how the land was particularly suited to grazing cattle on the open range. The cattle had excellent grass during summers and could winter comfortably in the protection afforded by the canyon walls. The canyon country also had sufficient water as well as natural physical beauty, he explained. The hunt had a sad ending, however, for Adair was injured when his horse tripped and fell, and his gun accidentally discharged, resulting in the killing the horse.[3]​ ​

Financing the JA Ranch

Soon, the Adairs came to the Palo Duro to see what Goodnight had accurately described. Adair and Goodnight entered into the first of two five-year partnership contracts. Adair would finance the building of what became a massive ranch in the canyon, and Goodnight would be the daily manager of the ranch and supply the starting cattle. Adair would finance two thirds of the cost; Goodnight borrowed his one-third share at 10 percent interest from Adair. Goodnight would also draw a $2,500 annual salary. It was Goodnight who suggested the name “JA” for the ranch to honor his business partner.[4]

Goodnight had a free hand in managing the ranch and increased the acreage through shrewd purchasing of the best plots of land. Adair visited the ranch only thee times before his death in 1885. The ranch was profitable, and though Adair had wanted Goodnight to expand more cautiously, he could hardly complain. The undertaking made a profit of $510,000 at the end of the first contract. Goodnight benefited from the arrangement but personally found Adair’s disposition irritating.[3]​ ​

Mrs. Adair as ranch manager

Cornelia Adair took over her husband’s share of the cattle operation and maintained a hands-on interest for the rest of her life. At times, she disagreed with Goodnight on business matters and persisted with her point of view. Goodnight continued to be the manager until 1888, when he left the partnership.[3] Goodnight felt that big changes were ahead for the open range, including the building of railroads, a sharp drop in beef prices, and the arrival of farmers; so he dissolved the partnership with Adair. Then Goodnight acquired the 140,000-acre Quitaque Ranch with 20,000 head of cattle.[4]

Mrs. Adair lived on an irregular basis in England, Ireland, and the Palo Duro. From 1888 until her death, she was the sole owner of the ranch. Her son Jack worked on the ranch in his early adulthood but ran afoul of Goodnight’s strict work ethic. Goodnight demoted Jack after he caught him shooting craps and drinking with the cowboys. Jack's older son, Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth “Montie” Ritchie (1910-1999) worked at the ranch and was the manager from 1935 until his retirement in 1993, having followed Timothy Dwight Hobart of Pampa, Texas. Ritchie was credited with getting the ranch on a sound footing after the death of Cornelia and her related debts and liens and, then, the impact of the Great Depression.[2]

Death at 62

In 1885, after his last trip to the Palo Duro, accompanied by his valet, Adair began the return trip to Ireland. He died of natural causes at the age of sixty-two while in St. Louis, Missouri.[2]

Adair, who had no heirs other than Cornelia, is interred at The Lea Church in County Laois, Ireland. The night before he was buried a dead dog was thrown into his open grave by disgruntled locals. In Glenveagh, his wife had the face of a large rock inscribed with his name and the inscription "Brave, Just and Generous". However, lightning broke the rock into many pieces which fell into a nearby lake. Two years after his death, Adair's Belgrove House, also a very large, country mansion, was reduced to ruins in a fire, and remains in that state, called locally the burnt house.

Cornelia Adair did not remarry after John's death. She built a Protestant church in honor of Adair near Belgrove prior to the destruction of the house. She lived part of the time at Glenveagh Castle, and, unlike Adair, was popular, improved the beauty of the castle grounds, and was considerate of the townspeople. She too is interred in County Laois, Ireland.[1]​ ​


  1. 1.0 1.1 Castle Owners & Derryveagh Evictions. (October 25, 2009). Retrieved on October 18, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 JA Ranch exhibit, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 JA Ranch:History of the JA, The Ritchie Family, and the JA Family. Retrieved on October 18, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 H. Allen Anderson. The JA Ranch. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved on October 18, 2019.

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