James Phillips was born in 1823 in Ohio.
James left Ohio and eventually settled in western Michigan. By 1850 he was working as a barber in his own shop in Grand Rapids, Kent County, along with another barber, and living with his wife New York native Charlotte (b. 1810) in the city.
James quickly became well-known to the citizens of Grand Rapids. On June 13, 1856, the Grand Rapids Eagle reported that “‘Jim’ the barber has fitted up rooms and fixtures for baths of any required temperature, in the rear of his shop, . . . on Monroe Street. Drop in and try them Cleanliness is essential to the enjoyment of good health.”
During the formation and organization of the Third Michigan infantry in the spring of 1861 James became quite popular with the soldiers encamped at the old Kent County fairgrounds south of the city, which became Cantonment Anderson, the first staging camp for the newly-formed regiments.
Although Jim never enlisted in the Third Michigan infantry, he played a small role in their early history. According to the Grand Rapids Enquirer on July 3, 1861, under the headline “Gone to the Wars,” a “considerable anxiety has been manifested as to the whereabouts of Jim Phillips, the barber, one of our oldest residents. We learn that he accompanied the 3d Regiment to the war, and will exercise his vocation for the benefit of the officers and men generally. He is a valuable acquisition.”
James eventually returned safely to Grand Rapids and by 1865-66 he was working and living at 13 LaGrave Street.
By 1870 James owned some $5,000 of real estate and was still working as a barber and living with his wife in Grand Rapids’ Third Ward.
By 1890 his widow was boarding at 219 E. Bridge Street in Grand Rapids.