He was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1806 to Nehemiah Adams and Mehitabel Torrey Adams. He graduated from Harvard University in 1826, and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1829. That same year, he was ordained as co-pastor, with Abiel Holmes, of the First Congregational Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1832, he married Martha Hooper.
In 1834, he became pastor of Union Congregational Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He would remain in that position through 1878. In 1850, he married again, to Sarah Brackett.
In 1854, he took a trip to the American South, and wrote a book entitled A South-Side View of Slavery (Boston, 1854). This book was one of several polemic works he wrote. It caused a great sensation, and he received much hostile criticism. The book was attacked by abolitionists for its perceived moderation. In the book, he lauded slavery as beneficial to the Negroes' religious character. In 1861, Adams wrote a successor volume, The Sable Cloud, a Southern tale with Northern Comments, to answer his attackers, and it was met with a similar response.
He also wrote The Cross in the Cell, Scriptural Argument for Endless Punishment, Broadcast, At Eventide, and a Life of John Eliot. He was a member of the American Tract Society and the American Board for Foreign Missions.
In 1869, in consequence of his failing health, his people procured an associate pastor and gave Adams a long leave of absence. He made a voyage round the world and described it in Under the Mizzenmast (1871). He died in 1878, aged 72. He left nine children.
- "Adams, Nehemiah". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
- "Adams, Nehemiah". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
- Who Was Who in America. Historical Volume 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who, 1963.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Adams, Nehemiah". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
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