He was the son of abolitionists Fanny and freed slave Aaron Newby.
In 1850, he is attending school in or near New London, Connecticut.
A Sunday school was opened by Thomas P. Boss in New London, which he, his brother Lewis and two sisters attended.
1868-1870: US Navy
1860: Chair maker
1870: New London, Connecticut with his mother and siblings
1868: At sea on the USS Wateree which took damage in Peru during the Arica earthquake and resulting tsunamis
1863-1865: South Carolina, Georgia and Florida during the Civil War
1863: Readville, Massachusetts for military training
1862: Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia (Prisoner of War)
1860: New London, Connecticut with his mother and siblings
1858: At sea on the USS Niagara which was laying the first trans-atlantic cable
1857: At sea on the Peruvian and in Calcutta, India during a major rebellion against the British East India Company
1854: Boston, Massachusetts during the attempt to rescue Anthony Burns
1850: New London, Connecticut with his parents and siblings
His parents' house became a "depot" of the Underground Railroad after they were married. Once his father departed to California during the Gold Rush, James stepped into a more active role in helping "passengers" make their way to Canada.
James was the first Black Naval apprentice in the US Navy at 11 years old.
During the Civil War, he served as a Private in Company E of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first regiment in the United States to enlist men of color during that war. He enlisted on 29 March 1863 from New London, Connecticut. He was about 19 years old, single and working as a seaman when he enlisted. Mustered out 20 August 1865.
Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of New London County, Connecticut: With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. 1882.
Newby, James R.; McHardie, Elizabeth; Allan, Andrew. The Prodigal Continent and Her Prodigal Son and Missionary: Or the Adventures, Conversion, and African Labours of the Rev. James R. NewbyDigital Archival Text
The military record is a little confusing, but I think he appears as expected "James Newby" in the 1890 Veterans Schedules in Florence, New York. The record is almost illegible and definitely confusing ... Fireman is given as rank, which would've been his Naval rank before joining the 54th Massachusetts, but there's a clear "5" at the beginning of the regiment, and what follows looks like it could be a misspelled "Massachusetts" ... the dates don't make much sense either: 24 August 1864 - 24 July 1865.