Haggerty was born in Methuen, Massachusetts. He began his life-long love affair with ceramics in a high school classroom at the age of thirteen. He began experimenting with ceramics with his own kiln soon after. By the age of fifteen, he was the youngest student to take the late Vivika Heino's glaze calculation class.
After finishing high school, James worked for Santa Barbara Ceramic Design where he developed glazes and managed production. He then attended the California College of Arts and Crafts and Otis Parsons Art Institute where he received a BFA. He continued his education at Cal State Long Beach where he did graduate studies and taught several courses. His work has been displayed in many prominent museums and galleries, including the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. James resides in Santa Barbara, CA where he shares a studio with his wife, Linda.