James Lawrence Dusenbery was born on December 14, 1821, in Rowan (now Davidson) County, North Carolina, the oldest son of Lydia Davis (1797–1857) and Henry Rounsaville Dusenbery (1794–1852). After a preparatory education at the Caldwell Institute in Greensboro, NC, James entered the University of North Carolina in 1839 and joined the Dialectic Society. During his senior year he lived in #23 Old West on the University campus. Sometime before graduating, Dusenbery began copying out poems that he found especially meaningful, and in July 1841 he began "Records of My Senior Year at the University of North Carolina," a series of weekly entries describing his activities as a University student. After graduation in 1842 he returned to Lexington, NC, to study medicine with physician C[harles] L[ee] Payne (1798?–1865). In 1843 he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical Department. As Dusenbery tells us near the end of his journal, he received his MD degree on April 4, 1845. The subject of his graduating essay at the University of Pennsylvania was "Empiricism." By 1850, according to census data, Dusenbery was living in Statesville, NC, in the home of physician David Chambers, age 60, and 29-year-old farmer, P. B. Chambers. By 1852, the year in which Dusenbery’s father died, James had returned to Lexington to practice medicine. During the Civil War, he served with the Fourteenth Battalion, Lexington Home Guard. Though he survived the conflict, three brothers, two brothers-in-law, and three nieces died during the war years. After the war he resumed his medical practice in Lexington, NC, and served as a UNC trustee from 1874 until 1877. He died on January 28, 1886, and was buried in the Lexington City Cemetery. He never married.