Cornelia Wadsworth

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Cornelia Wadsworth

Also Known As: "Cornelia Ritchie", "Cornelia Adair"
Birthdate: (84)
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: September 22, 1921 (84)
Place of Burial: Ireland
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Brevet Maj. General James S. Wadsworth (USA) and Mary Craig Wadsworth
Wife of Captain Montgomery Harrison Ritchie and John George "Jack" Adair
Mother of Archer Montgomery Ritchie and James Harrison “Jack” Ritchie
Sister of James Wolcott Wadsworth, (USA); Gen Craig Wharton Wadsworth; Nancy Craig Rogers; Charles Frederick Wadsworth and Elizabeth Barry

Occupation: business, philanthropist
Managed by: Alissa Ann Smith
Last Updated:

About Cornelia Wadsworth

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.

Early years and first marriage

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, the seat of Livingston County in western New York.

In 1855, the Wadsworths traveled to England and France on a two-year sojourn. On their return, Cornelia married Montgomery Harrison Ritchie of Boston, 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.

The senior Montgomery Ritchie fought in North Carolina in 1862 in the American Civil War under General Ambrose E. 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 buried in Geneseo.

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. 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. 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.

Adair disliked living in New York City and desired to see the American West. For a time he established his brokerage firm in Denver, Colorado. In 1874, the Adairs joined a buffalo hunt along the South Platte River in Nebraska and northeastern Colorado. Cornelia's brother had served as an aide to General Philip H. Sheridan, 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 to accompany the party, which departed from Sidney, the seat of Cheyenne County in western 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.

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 center 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.

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 Co. Laois, Ireland.

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.

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 quarreled 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 New York Police Department. In 1887, she traded the Quitaque Ranch for Goodnight's one-third interest in the JA, a share that comprised 336,000 acres (1,360 km2), 48,000 cattle as well as mules, horses, and rights to the JA brand.

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. She 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.

One of the JA managers was Timothy Dwight Hobart (1855–1935), a Vermont native. His experience was more in real estate than in raising cattle. He had surveyed the five million acres (20,000 km²) 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, the seat of Gray County. He was also a president of the 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 also was elected mayor of Pampa in 1929.

House in Clarendon

Being a naturalized British subject who spent most of her time in Ireland, Cornelia maintained a home in Clarendon, the seat of Donley County, away from the ranch. She contributed generously to various civic projects about the JA Ranch, which by the time of her death covered half a million acres (4,000 km²). She provided funds to build the Adair Hospital, later the Saints' Roost Museum in Clarendon. She contributed to the first Young Men's Christian Association building and to the Episcopal Church in Clarendon.

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.

A personal friend of Lord Baden-Powell, Cornelia donated generously to establish the Scout movement. She died in England and is interred next to Adair in Killenard churchyard in Laois County, Ireland. In the years after Cornelia's death, Glenveagh fell into disrepair. In 1984, it became an Irish national park.

The JA Ranch today

In 1935, after the death of Timothy Hobart, the management of the JA passed to her 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 “Ninia” Ritchie, later the wife of Republican Texas State Senator Teel Bivins of Amarillo. Ninia's son, Andrew M. Bivins, has since joined the JA management team. Teel Bivins served as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden during the second administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

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

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Cornelia Wadsworth's Timeline

April 6, 1837
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Age 20
May 24, 1861
Age 24
September 22, 1921
Age 84