James Kirtley entered Georgetown College in 1842, and was licensed to preach. He left school in the spring of 1844 due to a problem with his eyesight. On October 6, 1844, he was ordained at Bullittsburg by his father, Robert Kirtley, as well as Asa Drury and William Whitaker.
Kirtley authored a work entitled “The Design of Baptism,” as well as some smaller works of history and biography. He served as Moderator of the State Ministers' meeting, and for sixteen years as the Moderator of the North Bend Association of Baptists.
James Kirtley died on February 13, 1904. He was buried in the Bullittsburg Baptist Church Cemetery.