James Russell Miller was born on 20 March 1840, at Harshaville, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest of the seven children of James Alexander and Eleanor (Creswell) Miller who survived infancy. His father was a country miller and devout elder in the Associate Reformed Church. His mother's grandfather, Thomas McCarrell, a Scotch resident of Ireland, visited America in 1777 on his uncle's ship and remained to serve in the American army during the Revolution, and later to live in Washington County, Pennsylvania, as an elder in the "Seceder" Church. Among McCarrell's descendants were seven clergymen. James Russell Miller attributed to his boyhood home the religious impulses which signally characterized his life. A significant influence was his parents' lifelong habit of visiting the homes of neighbors far and near on every occasion of trouble and sorrow.