James and his mother, Jane, emigrated to the United States in 1849 on the ship Zetland; they are both listed as "Mormon laborers" on the ship manifest. Jane appears in the 1852 Iowa census in Pottawattamie County with one male in her household. The first documentation to place them in Utah is James' re-baptism on 10 July 1853 at Salt Lake City. At the time of the 1856 Territorial Census of Utah both Jane and James were living in the Salt Lake 10th Ward. Jane married Levi Savage, 6 July 1856. In the 1860 Utah census James is listed as James Savage and living with his mother and step-father in the Salt Lake 6th Ward..
Further research is needed to determine the name of the company with which Jane and James crossed the plains.