A Proclamation by John Blair

John Blair (ca. 1687–1771)

John Blair sat on the governor's Council (1745–1770), becoming its president in 1757 and serving as acting governor on four occasions. Born in Scotland, he came to Virginia as a child, living in Williamsburg and earning a degree there at the College of William and Mary, founded by his uncle, James Blair. John Blair served as deputy auditor general from 1728 until 1771, reforming and improving the procedures by which the government collected revenue. In addition, he served as York County justice of the peace (1724–1745) and as a naval officer on the James River (1727–1728). Upon the death of his father, Archibald Blair, he joined the House of Burgesses representing Jamestown (1724–1736). In 1736, he was elected as a burgess from Williamsburg, serving until 1740. He is probably the same John Blair who also served as mayor of Williamsburg in 1751. After the governor's death and in ill health himself, Blair resigned from the Council in 1770 rather than serve as acting governor a fifth time. He died in 1771. MORE...

 

Blair was the only recorded son of Archibald Blair and his first wife, whose name is not known. He was born in Scotland around 1687 and before his father immigrated to Virginia in the 1690s. He was educated at the College of William and Mary and lived virtually all of his life in Williamsburg.

Blair was a manager of the mercantile house in Williamsburg known as Dr. Blair's Store, of which his father was the largest shareholder, until Archibald Blair died in 1733. For about fourteen years during the 1740s and 1750s Blair was a partner of John Blair Jr., the son of a cousin, in another Williamsburg store. The names of John Blair and John Blair Jr. often appear together in the records of York County. Blair also owned several valuable properties in Williamsburg, including the Raleigh Tavern, which he rented to a succession of tavern keepers and sold in 1742, and the Chowning Tavern, which he owned from 1726 to sometime before 1739. In 1745 Blair and seventeen other men received a grant for one hundred thousand acres of land on the Potomac and Youghiogheny rivers.

Blair's long and distinguished public career may have begun as early as 1715, when he or a namesake cousin was named keeper of the royal storehouse in Williamsburg. Blair took the oaths of office as a justice of the peace for York County on August 17, 1724, and served until he was sworn in as a member of the governor's Council more than two decades later. He was appointed naval officer for the upper district of the James River on February 5, 1727, and held that post until he became deputy auditor general on August 15, 1728. Blair remained deputy auditor until his death. He succeeded his father as burgess for Jamestown in 1734, and he represented Williamsburg from 1736 to 1740. He was probably the John Blair who served as mayor of Williamsburg in 1751. He also served as a vestryman of Bruton Parish beginning at least as early as 1744, was a churchwarden about 1749, and was a visitor of the College of William and Mary in 1758. Blair served as clerk of the governor's Council from April 22, 1741, until October 15, 1741, during part of which his uncle James Blair was acting governor.

In February 1745 Governor William Gooch recommended that John Blair be appointed to a vacant seat on the Council. Gooch had not recommended him earlier because Blair "was in narrow Circumstances," but with his inheritance of approximately £10,000 from James Blair, he had become "a proper Person to have a Seat at that Board." Unknown to Gooch, on November 15, 1744, the king had already named Blair to the Council to fill a different vacancy. Blair took his seat on August 6, 1745, and served until October 15, 1770. In August 1757 he became the senior member, or president, of the Council and as such served as acting governor on four occasions: from the departure of Robert Dinwiddie on January 12, 1758, to the arrival of Francis Fauquier on June 5, 1758; in September and October 1761 while Fauquier was in New York to consult with General Jeffery Amherst; from late in September until early in December 1763 during Fauquier's absence in Georgia; and from the death of Fauquier on March 4, 1768, to the arrival of Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt, on October 26, 1768. When Botetourt died on October 15, 1770, Blair would have become acting governor a fifth time, but because of his old age and ill health he resigned from the Council that day. The Council later petitioned the king to grant Blair a pension, citing his long service and the "moderate Estate" from which he had to support his large family, but the king and Privy Council took no action before Blair's death.

During his first term as acting governor, Blair called the General Assembly into session. In response to his address to the assembly on March 31, 1758, relaying the ministry's request that Virginia raise an additional force for offensive operations against the French in the Ohio Valley, the assembly voted to create a second regiment. In March 1768, during his last term as acting governor, Blair again called the General Assembly into session, as Fauquier had intended to do. After the session closed in April, Blair transmitted to London the assembly's addresses to the king and Parliament challenging the asserted right of Parliament to tax the colonies. The addresses so offended the ministry that Botetourt was speedily appointed governor of Virginia and sent to Williamsburg with instructions to put a stop to such protests. During his last term as acting governor Blair also learned that a fire had destroyed a convent and eighty-eight houses in Montreal, and at his urging the clergymen of Virginia raised £360 sterling in a special collection to aid the victims.

The post that Blair held the longest was deputy auditor general. During forty-three years in this office he was responsible for examining and certifying the accuracy of the accounts of the royal revenues, which included quitrents and the tax of two shillings per hogshead on exported tobacco. Blair reformed the procedures and improved the record keeping in the auditor's office in order to thwart the schemes some Virginians had used to avoid paying quitrents. Probably because of his poor health and the death of his assistant, Blair did not manage his office well during the last two years of his life, and when his namesake son became deputy auditor in 1771 the accounts were in chaos.

Blair served on the committee of three councillors and six burgesses appointed in 1745 to revise the laws of Virginia. He also belonged to a committee that oversaw the rebuilding of the Capitol after it burned in 1747, to another appointed in 1763 to correspond with Virginia's London agent, and to the board of trustees of the public hospital for lunatics established in 1769. Blair had the unique distinction of participating in bricklaying ceremonies for both of the Capitol buildings erected in Williamsburg.

Blair's only known marriage was to his first cousin Mary Munro about 1726. They had at least eight daughters and four sons. Their fourth child, also named John Blair, became an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. John Blair died in Williamsburg on November 5, 1771, and was buried in Bruton Parish churchyard.

Time Line

  • 1687 - Around this year, John Blair is born in Scotland to Archibald Blair and his first wife.
  • 1715 - Either John Blair (ca. 1687–1771) or a namesake cousin is named keeper of the royal storehouse in Williamsburg.
  • August 17, 1724 - John Blair takes the oaths of office as justice of the peace for York County. He holds the office until 1745.
  • 1726 - John Blair buys Chowning Tavern, a property in Williamsburg he continues to own until sometime before 1739.
  • 1726 - In about this year, John Blair marries his first cousin Mary Munroe. They will have at least eight daughters and four sons.
  • February 5, 1727 - John Blair is appointed naval officer for the upper district of the James River. He holds the position until 1728.
  • August 15, 1728 - John Blair is appointed deputy auditor general of Virginia, a position he holds until his death in 1771.
  • 1733 - Archibald Blair, brother of James Blair and father of John Blair, dies. Blair and his son had partnered in a Williamsburg business known as Dr. Blair's Store.
  • 1734 - John Blair succeeds his father, who died in 1733, as burgess for Jamestown.
  • 1736–1740 - John Blair serves as burgess for Williamsburg.
  • 1740–1759 - For about fourteen years during this period John Blair partners with John Blair Jr., the son of a cousin, in a Williamsburg store.
  • April 22, 1741 - John Blair begins service as clerk of the governor's Council.
  • October 15, 1741 - John Blair ends his service as clerk of the governor's Council.
  • 1742 - John Blair sells Raleigh Tavern, a property in Williamsburg that he had rented to a succession of tavern keepers.
  • 1744 - Beginning as early as this year, John Blair serves as a vestryman of Bruton Parish.
  • November 15, 1744 - King George II names John Blair to the governor's Council.
  • 1745 - John Blair and seventeen other men receive a grant for one hundred thousand acres of land on the Potomac and Youghiogheny rivers.
  • 1745 - John Blair serves on the committee of three councilors and six burgesses appointed to revise the laws of Virginia.
  • February 1745 - Virginia governor William Gooch recommends that John Blair be appointed to a vacant seat on the governor's Council. A recent inheritance has raised Blair's estimation in the governor's eyes, but Gooch does not know the king has already named Blair to the Council.
  • August 6, 1745 - John Blair takes his seat on the governor's Council, serving until 1770.
  • 1747 - John Blair sits on a committee that oversees the rebuilding of the Capitol after it burns.
  • 1749 - By about this year, John Blair is a churchwarden for Bruton Parish.
  • 1751 - John Blair (ca. 1687–1771) is probably the John Blair who serves as mayor of Williamsburg.
  • August 1757 - John Blair becomes the senior member, or president, of the governor's Council.
  • 1758 - John Blair serves on the board of visitors for the College of William and Mary, which was founded by his uncle, James Blair.
  • January 12, 1758 - With the departure of Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, John Blair, president of the governor's Council, becomes acting governor of Virginia.
  • March 31, 1758 - In response to an address by the acting governor, John Blair, relaying the ministry's request that Virginia raise an additional force for offensive operations against the French in the Ohio Valley, the General Assembly votes to create a second regiment.
  • June 5, 1758 - With the arrival of the new lieutenant governor, Francis Fauquier, John Blair, president of the governor's Council, ends his service as acting governor of Virginia.
  • September–October 1761 - John Blair, president of the governor's Council, serves as acting governor of Virginia while the lieutenant governor, Francis Fauquier, is in New York to consult with General Jeffrey Amherst during the French and Indian War.
  • 1763 - John Blair, president of the governor's Council, is appointed to a committee to correspond with Virginia's London agent.
  • September–December 1763 - John Blair, president of the governor's Council, serves as acting governor of Virginia while the lieutenant governor, Francis Fauquier, is in Georgia.
  • March 1768 - Following the intentions of Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, who has recently died, Acting Governor John Blair calls the General Assembly into session.
  • March 4, 1768 - After the death of Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, John Blair, president of the governor's Council, begins service as acting governor of Virginia.
  • April 1768 - Acting Governor John Blair transmits to London the General Assembly's addresses to the king and Parliament challenging the asserted right of Parliament to tax the colonies. The ministry is so offended that a new governor, Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt, is speedily appointed and sent to Virginia.
  • October 26, 1768 - With the arrival of the new Virginia governor, Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt, John Blair, president of the governor's Council, ends his service as acting governor.
  • 1769 - The public hospital for lunatics is established and John Blair, president of the governor's Council, is appointed to sit on its board of trustees.
  • October 15, 1770 - In ill health, John Blair ends his twenty-five years' service on the governor's Council. He resigns rather than serve as acting governor upon the death, also on this day, of Governor Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt.
  • November 5, 1771 - John Blair dies in Williamsburg and is buried in Bruton Parish churchyard.
Further Reading
Van Horne, John C. "Blair, John." In The Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1, edited by John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tarter, and Sandra Gioia Treadway, 543–544. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
Gentry, Daphne and Brent Tarter, "The Blair Family of Colonial Williamsburg: A Research Note," Magazine of Virginia Genealogy 32 (1994): 103–112.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Van Horne, J. C., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John Blair (ca. 1687–1771). (2013, August 9). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Blair_John_ca_1687-1771.

  • MLA Citation:

    Van Horne, John C. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John Blair (ca. 1687–1771)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 9 Aug. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: July 29, 2010 | Last modified: August 9, 2013


Contributed by John C. Van Horne and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography