James R. Adams, 76, retired deputy chief of the Manpower Survey Division of the Army Materiel Command and a former Washington area resident, died of cancer Saturday at Petersburg General Hospital in Petersburg, Va.

Mr. Adams began his federal career in 1935 as an administrative officer with the old Works Progress Administration, where he remained until the early 1940s. He then served on active duty with the Army Quartermaster Corps during World War II.

After the war, he worked for the old Federal Works Agency and the Community Facilities Administration, a constituent of the old Housing and Home Finance Agency. He was recalled to active duty with the Army Quartermaster Corps during the Korean conflict.

In 1955, he joined the Army Materiel Command. He was deputy chief of the Command's Manpower Survey Division when he retired in 1970.

A former resident of Washington and Alexandria, he then moved to Petersburg.

He was born in Norwalk, Conn., and attended St. John's University in New York.

Survivors include his wife, Anne Stout Adams of Petersburg; two sons, Robert, of Boston, and Terence, of Nashville, Tenn.; a daughter, Catherine, of Wurzburg, Germany; a brother, L.J. Adams of Norwalk, and two grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Petersburg (Va.) Emergency Relief, or to the Southside Virginia Emergency Crew, Petersburg, Va.