James Brown Thornton Chase was born on 22 February 1847 in Springfield, Massachusetts. His parents, Jotham Gould Chase and Sarah Cutts S. G. Thornton Chase were New Englanders of English stock and Baptist religious background. His father, a wealthy businessman, was also a singer and an amateur scientist. The death of Thornton's mother eighteen days after he was born profoundly shaped his subsequent development. Jotham remarried three years later, and the couple soon adopted three girls, but Chase and his stepmother seem not to have bonded. Chase described his childhood as "loveless and lonely," with "neither mother, sister nor brother." The inner vacuum he felt apparently set him on a quest for love that culminated in his mystical interests.