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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Cameron, John Adams

by Daniel M. Mcfarland, 1979; Revised by SLNC Government and Heritage Library, August 2023

1788–14 or 15 June 1838

Engraving depicting shipwreck.John Adams Cameron, lawyer, banker, editor, consul, and judge, was born in Mecklenburg County, Va., son of John Cameron (1744–1815), a native of Scotland and Presbyterian minister, and Anne Owen Nash (d. 1825), a niece of Abner Nash, governor of North Carolina in 1780–81. John Adams Cameron moved to North Carolina with his older brother, Duncan, when he was about ten. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of North Carolina in 1806 and his master's there in 1809. He then studied law and began to practice in Fayetteville, which he represented in the lower house of the General Assembly in 1810, 1811, 1812, and 1820. In 1820 and 1821 he was grand master of North Carolina Masons.

During the War of 1812, Cameron organized a troop in Fayetteville and held the rank of major. His military duties did not occupy him fully, however, because in 1812 he was the unsuccessful Federalist candidate for Congress against Republican John Culpepper. In 1815 he petitioned the assembly for the office of comptroller of the state, claiming that his capacity to practice law had been lost in the service of his country. He married Eliza Adam in December of 1814, but she did not live long. Cumberland County estate records reveal that Eliza had died and Cameron was administrator of her estate. Eliza and Cameron had one child, Mary. In October of 1818, Cameron married widow Catherine Halliday. The children from this marriage were John Donald, Anna Nash, Catherine LaFayette, Duncan William, and Eliza Adam (named after Cameron's first wife).

Federalists in 1817 obtained for Cameron the job of president of the Fayetteville branch of the U.S. Bank. Republicans in the assembly opposed the bank and placed a tax on it, which Cameron refused to pay when the U.S. Supreme Court denied the right of states to tax instrumentalities of the national government (McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819). In 1820, Cameron was again in the House of Commons from Fayetteville and active in the movement to revise the state constitution. Cameron also served as the Grand Master for the North Carolina Masonic Lodge in 1820 and again in 1821. Evidence that Cameron suffered financially first appears in 1823 when 550 acres of land was listed as part of a Fayetteville County Sherriff's sale to cover unpaid taxes from 1821. In 1823, he was a delegate to the Internal Improvements Convention in Raleigh; by this time he was beginning to move away from his old Federalist ties.

In 1825 it was announced that Cameron would become the editor of the Fayetteville North Carolina Journal, which under his leadership became an abrasive champion of the cause of Andrew Jackson. Around the same time, Cameron was apparently again in financial straits as he listed land and household items for sale in the Fayetteville Observer on October 20th. This newspaper article listed for sale seventy "valuable slaves ... consisting of men, women, boys, and girls." In 1827 the editor was candidate, against his old opponent Culpepper, for the Fayetteville seat in Congress. Their political roles were reversed, but Culpepper was again successful. In 1829, Culpepper having retired, Cameron campaigned again as the Jackson candidate, this time against National Republican Edmund Deberry. Deberry, who accused Cameron of being overbearing and of having squandered two fortunes, won by slightly more than two hundred votes.

Defeated politically and in need financially, Cameron had to sell the Journal in 1830. Shortly thereafter, President Jackson gave him an appointment as consul to Vera Cruz, but the revolutionary state of Mexico and the low pay of State Department employees at that period soon reduced Cameron's financial circumstances even further. He again contacted his influential friends in Congress to find him a better job. This time he received an appointment as judge of the Western District Court of Florida, and in 1832 he moved to Pensacola. Six years later he boarded the new steamship Pulaski at Savannah for a trip north. Near midnight on 14 June 1838, the starboard boiler of the ship exploded. There were almost one hundred victims, and Cameron's body was never found.


Cameron, Wm., and John M. Dobbin. “Valuable Real and Personal Property for Sale.” Carolina Observer, (Fayetteville, NC). October 20, 1825.  Accessed on July 26, 2023 at

Cumberland County Marriage Bonds, Series II (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Duncan Cameron Papers (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Fayetteville North Carolina Journal, 20 June 1838.

Hodges, Jo. "Sherrif's Sale." Carolina Observer, (Fayetteville, NC).  August 7, 1823.  Accessed on July 27, 2023 at

S. M. Lemmon, Frustrated Patriots: North Carolina and the War of 1812 (1973).

"North Carolina, County Marriages, 1762-1979," database with images, Ancestry Library, John A Cameron and Eliza Adams, 21 Dec 1814; citing Cumberland, North Carolina, United States, p. , North Carolina State Archives Division of Archives and History; FHL microfilm.  Accessed July 27, 2023 at

"North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979," database with images, FamilySearch, March 8, 2021, Eliza Anne Cameron, 1818; citing Cumberland, North Carolina, United States, State Archives, Raleigh; FHL microfilm 1,854,477. Accessed July 27, 2023 at

Raleigh Register, 7 and 14 May 1813.

Rouse, Alice Riddle Read. The Reads and Their Relatives; Being an Account of Colonel Clement and Madam Read of Bushy Forest, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Their Eight Children, Their Descendants, and Allied Families. Cincinnati: Johnson & Hardin Press, 1930.

H. T. Shanks, ed., The Papers of Willie Person Mangum, vols. 1–2 (1950–52).

“The Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina.” Grand Lodge of North Carolina, 2023.

Additional Resources:

Manley, Walter W.; Brown, E. Canter, and Rise, Eric W. "John Adams Cameron, Western District Superior Court Judge 1832-1838." The Supreme Court of Florida and Its Predecessor Courts, 1821-1917. Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1997. 66-68.  (accessed December 20, 2013).

Cameron Family Papers, 1757-1978 (collection no. 00133). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed December 20, 2013).

Haywood, Marshall De Lancey. The Beginnings of Freemasonry in North Carolina and Tennessee. Raleigh [N.C.]: Weaver & Lynch, 1906. 74. (accessed December 20, 2013).

Image Credits:

"Explosion of the Steam Packet Pulaski." Engraving. Steamboat disasters and railroad accidents in the United States: to which is appended accounts of recent shipwrecks, fires at sea, thrilling incidents, etc. Worcester, Mass.: Dorr, Howland & Co. 1840. 46. (accessed December 20, 2013).

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