From the Isle of Wight (UK), Buttersworth came to West Hoboken, New Jersey around 1845-47 after the birth of his son Edward. James’s father Thomas was a marine painter in the English tradition, which he instilled in his son, along with a strong work ethic. This was reinforced when he suddenly had a wife and daughter to support. Buttersworth worked for Currier and Ives beginning in the 1850s and he had a studio in Brooklyn. As a marine painter, Buttersworth worked from inside small boats rather than observing from the shore. He was acquainted with boats thoroughly, from the smallest shallop to the largest square-rigger. He obviously "studied them diligently, not only the details of their rigging, sails and hulls, but also their posture and action under varying conditions at sea." (Rudolph J. Schaefer, J. E. Buttersworth, 19th Century Marine Painter. Mystic Seaport, CT: 1975, p. 19).