James Addison Baker, attorney and judge, was born on March 3, 1821, in Madison County, Alabama, near Huntsville. After leaving the county at the age of eighteen, he taught school for two years. Later he became a clerk of the chancery court and prepared himself for the bar by reading law at night. He was admitted to practice in May 1843. After admission to the bar he entered practice with Samuel W. Probasco, his mentor. In 1845 Probasco died, and Baker fell heir to the firm. Two years later he formed a partnership with Richard W. Walker, a lawyer who later became an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. In May 1849 Baker married Caroline Hightower, who died in 1852. No children were born of this marriage. In April 1852 Baker moved to Huntsville, Texas, and became active in legal circles, the Masonic lodge, and higher education. On September 24, 1854, he married Rowena Crawford, the principal of the Huntsville Female Brick Academy. They had five children.
Baker first set up a law practice in Huntsville with D. P. Wiley, under the name Wiley and Baker. He later formed a partnership with W. A. Leigh, and his last partner in Huntsville was Judge James M. Maxey. Baker became a Mason as early as 1853 and served three terms as grand master of Forest Lodge No. 19. On January 23, 1857, a lodge was chartered at New Hope, Texas, and named in his honor. He served three stints as trustee of Austin College, Huntsville: 1854–58, 1864–67, and 1873. In 1854 he was appointed to a committee of three to consider adding a law school to Austin College. As a result, the first law school in Texas was established, on March 17, 1855.
In 1861 Baker was elected to the state legislature. A year later, while serving in the Confederate Army, he was elected district judge for what is now the Eleventh District Court in Houston. During Reconstruction he was removed from his judgeship by Republican governor A. J. Hamilton. In 1872 he joined Peter W. Gray and Walter Browne Botts in Houston in the law firm of Gray and Botts; during his partnership the firm was called Gray, Botts, and Baker.
Baker was the father of another James A. Baker and the great-grandfather of James A. Baker III, presidential cabinet member under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Baker died on February 24, 1897, and was buried in Huntsville.