James Murdock Smith was born in East Poultney, Vermont, on August 23, 1816, the son of Harvey Douglass Smith (1789-1864) and Harriet Murdock. Around 1824, the family moved to Gouverneur, New York, where H. D. Smith continued his political career, serving in the New York state legislature in 1829. James M. Smith studied law with the firm Bishop & Thompson of Granville, New York, and was admitted to the bar in 1837. The following year, he moved to Buffalo, New York, where he established a law firm with Henry W. Rogers and John J. Leonard; his subsequent legal partners included Solomon G. Haven. Smith had a brief career as a bank cashier in the mid- to late 1850s and returned to legal practice in the early 1860s. In 1873, he became a judge of the superior court of Buffalo, and he served until his retirement in 1887. Smith and his first wife, Martha Washington Bradley (d. 1841) married in June 1840 and had one son, who died young. Smith married his second wife, Margaret Louisa Sherwood, in June 1845; they had two surviving children, Margaret L. (m. Robert P. Wilson) and Philip Sherwood (b. 1863). James Murdock Smith died on November 27, 1899.