In 1860 James Whitehead married Mercy Hinde.
He started as a commercial traveller and became a successful city merchant. A Bradford merchant in London 1860-1881, he was an Alderman of the City of London 1882-1896, Sherriff of London and Middlesex in 1884, Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1889 (he mediated successfully in the 1889 dock strike), and High Sherriff of the County of London in 1910.
He was President of the British Section of the 1889 Internation exhibition in Paris; it may be that he was in contact with Whistler about this time although the only recorded contact is later, in 1889, when he was Lord Mayor.
He was a public spirited and charitable citizen, a Prison visitor and Governor of Christ's Hospital and of Saint Bartholomew's Hospital and founded scholarships at Appleby Grammar School.
He was elected M.P. for Leicester from 1892-1894.
Sir James Whitehead, D.L., JP, FSA, FR Hist S, was created a Baronet in 1889. He was also Lord of the Manor of Wilmington or Grandison near Dartford, Kent.
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 1997; Annual Register, London, 1917, p. 195.