He belonged to the well-known Catholic Anderton family who lived at Lostock Hall, Lostock, west of Bolton, in Lancashire, and inherited a large estate from his parents, Christopher and Dorothy Anderton. In 1582 he married Margaret Tyldesley.
Like his father he became a lawyer, and in 1592 succeeded his father as Prohonotary of the Duchy Court at Lancaster. Both his mother and his wife were faithful Catholics, but like his father, he temporized. In 1603 he signed a loyal address from all the gentry of Lancaster welcoming James I on his progress to London.
He was credited with the Catholic work "The Protestant's Apologie", "The Lyturgie of the Masse", "The Reformed Protestant" and "Luther's Life". It has been claimed that the real author of these works was his nephew, the Jesuit Lawrence Anderton although this assertion has been proved to be spurious in recent years.
James Anderton was responsible for setting up a Catholic press at his brother's home of Birchley Hall, approximately 13 miles from Lostock. Around 20 works were published from this clandestine press between 1615 and 1621, although it is thought that the press was established as early as 1613.
James Anderton died on the 7th Spetember 1613 having being fully reconciled to the Catholic faith. He left £1500 to the maintenance of the Catholic priesthood in England. A sum of money that the Privy Council and Bishop of Chester became interested in capturing. They never did.
He was widely respected by Catholics of his day. His "Apologie" was translated on the continent into Latin in 1615, and the two editions of the work, published in 1604 and 1608, both got responses from Thomas Morton, the King's chaplain and the man responsible for getting John Donne into holy orders.