James was the oldest son/child of William Hillis and Elizabeth R. McCorkle. James was a farmer in Monroe Township of Putnam County. He married first to Elizabeth "Liz" Patton in 1819. They had eight children; seven sons and one daughter. After Liz's death in March of 1833, James married Nancy A. Boyd on September 30, 1833. They also had eight children; three sons and five daughters.