James Blair (1656 – 18 April 1743) was a Scottish-born clergyman in the Church of England. He was also a missionary and an educator, best known as the founder of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, US.
James Blair was born in Edinburgh, Scotland one of five children. His parents were Peter Blair, minister of St Cuthbert's, Edinburgh, and Mary Hamilton Blair. James Blair was educated at Marischal College, University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh.
After completing his education, in 1679 he was ordained in the national Church of Scotland (known officially at this time as the Kirk of Scotland, see kirk). During the entire seventeenth century the Kirk had been experiencing passionate internal conflicts between Presbyterians and Episcopalians (see, for example, the Bishops' Wars). The Episcopalians were in the ascendancy during this period and the Church of Scotland was briefly aligned with the Church of England during the reign of Charles II of Scotland. Charles was a strong opponent of Presbyterianism and throughout his lifetime worked to reassert the strength of the Anglican Church.
In 1681, Blair, aligned with the Episcopalians, was deprived of his parish in Edinburgh due to the conflict within the Episcopal movement between those supporting the Roman Catholic Church and those advocating a continued independent Episcopal national church. Discouraged, Blair relocated to London later that year.
In London, 1685, he became ordained in the Church of England, and at the request of Henry Compton, the Bishop of London (responsible for the colonies), Blair travelled to the New World with a mission to "revive and reform the church in the Virginia Colony." His initial assignment was to serve as rector of the Parish of Henrico at Varina. He developed good relationships with prominent political families, such as the Harrison family. Sarah Harrison, daughter of Benjamin Harrison Jr., became his wife on 2 June 1687. When James Clayton, Commissary in the Virginia Colony for the Bishop of London, died after just two years of service, Blair succeeded him, making him the colony's highest-ranking religious leader, a position that he would hold for 54 years.
The leaders of the Virginia Colony had long wanted school to give their sons higher education, as well as to educate the natives. An earlier attempt to establish a permanent university at Henricus for these purposes around 1618 failed after the Indian Massacre of 1622 wiped out the entire settlement, which was not rebuilt.
Almost 70 years later, with encouragement from the Colony's House of Burgesses and other prominent individuals, Blair prepared a plan, believed by some historians to be modelled after the earlier one from Henricus, and returned to England in 1691 to petition the monarchy for a new college. The Powhatan people had been largely decimated and reduced to reservations after the last major conflict in 1644, but the religious aspiration to educate them into Christianity was nevertheless retained, perhaps as a moral incentive to help gain support and approval in London. Moreover, the school would serve to train clergy born in the colonies for service among their neighbors.