James Blair was born in Scotland in 1655 or 1656. He received his master of arts from the University of Edinburgh in 1673. He was ordained in Church of England. He went to Virginia as a missionary in 1685, serving as a rector of Varina Parish (later Henrico). In 1689, he was appointed commissary, the first official representative of the Bishop of London, whose diocese included Virginia, in the colony. He left Henrico to become minister of Jamestown Church in 1694 and, in 1710, became instead rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg. Blair was instrumental in founding the College of William and Mary and served as its first president, from 1693 until his death in 1743. Blair was a member of the Virginia Council from 1694 to 1743 with one brief interruption, and, as president of the council, served as acting governor in 1741.