James Price was a Philadelphia-trained Quaker physician, who practiced successively in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Maryland. In 1818, he was placed in charge of the Northern Dispensary, an offshoot of the Philadelphia Dispensary chartered as an institution to provide medical care to the poor. At the time, Price was unmarried and his personal life was marked by some turmoil, and he was plagued by scandalous rumors about his relationships with women. His relationships with members of his family, however, remained very close, particularly with his sister, Elizabeth.
Price entered into private medical practice in 1820 at Cannesbrules, La., a small town near New Orleans. With a clientele including the "French" population, plantation owners, and slaves, Price prospered so that by 1824, he was treating as many as 300 patients a day and earning an annual income between $6000 and $7000. His antipathy toward New Orleans ("that vast emporium of filth and corruption") may have dissuaded him from pursuing an even more lucrative urban practice, but by 1822, Price had done well enough for himself that he was able to enter into marriage with Ellen Holliday, a woman raised and educated in Philadelphia. While awaiting construction of a new house, the couple moved in with the Holliday family at Bellegrove, La. The Prices had at least four children: Mary Elizabeth (b. 1823), Charles Edward (1825-1827), Clara (b. 1827), and Lucius D. (b. ca.1830).
In the succeeding years, Price's practice grew so large that he began to complain of the strain it placed on his health, particularly during the summer months when cases of malaria, cholera, typhus, dysentery, and other contagious diseases peaked. Like many of his contemporaries, he considered the climate in Louisiana to be so unhealthy during the summer that an un-acclimated northerner would risk almost certain death in traveling south. At other times, however, Price was struck by the physiological ability of people to adapt to the harsh climate, if given sufficient time. Both he and his wife suffered from serious illnesses during their stay in the south, Price contracting dysentery (which he claimed may actually have improved his health), cholera (1823), and malaria, and Ellen malaria and other fevers. Price's bout with cholera was a particularly severe one and he credited his wife with saving his life by applying blisters, contrary to the advice of the attending doctor, an 'ordinary French physician.'
The year 1827 was a particularly difficult one for the Price family. Their young son, Charles Edward died of complications resulting from a fever, and at nearly the same time, Price's father-in-law died, leaving the young family with substantial debts and a house still under construction. Combined with the stress of Price's heavy workload, debt, and separation from his family, and at the urging of his wife, who preferred Philadelphia to the South, the Prices decided to relocate. After a visit by Elizabeth to Louisiana in the autumn of 1829, the Prices moved to Maryland in March 1830, finding the Baltimore area to be a good compromise between the healthy conditions of the north and the warm climate of the south.