James was born on 27th June 1807 in Aberdeen, the third son of James Watkins and Jean Stevenson. He married twice and emigrated to Michigan, USA between 1834 and 1837 with his second wife Isobel Stronach, whom he married in 1831. In Aberdeen he was a tea and spirit dealer at Broadford.
James and his family appeared in the 1850 census for Michigan living in Livonia Township, Wayne County. His age was given as 40 and Isabella's as 35 (she appeared in all the Michigan records as Isabella). Their children were: William S aged 16, Alexander aged 13, Balfour aged 9 and Mary Ann aged 8. William was born in the Scotland but the three younger children were all born in Michigan. James was a farmer with real estate worth $1000. He died on August 19th 1856 and was buried in Livonia cemetery. The memorial inscription states that he died aged 48 years 1 month and 12 days. News of his death was evidently sent to Aberdeen as it was added to the family memorial in St Peter's Cemetery. No gravestone for Isabella was found in Livonia Cemetery.
William, Alexander and Balfour all married and had descendants who were found in later censuses for Michigan.