Henry David Thoreau, 1817 - 1862

portrait of Henry David Thoreau
Crayon portrait by Samuel Worcester Rouse (1854)
Henry David Thoreau signature
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Born: 12 July 1817, Concord, Massachusetts
Died: 6 May 1862, Concord, Massachusetts

Thoreau, which rhymed with "thorough" or "furrow" rather than the more common "thuh ROW, was the son of a pencil maker and apparently learned the trade as he returned to it later when sales of his self-published Walden failed to cover costs. His maternal grandfather, Asa Dunbar, led the 1766 "Butter Rebellion" at Harvard, the first known student protest in North America. At birth his name was David Henry, he reversed it after his Harvard years (1833 - 1837). He taught briefly at Concord Academy but was dismissed for refusing to administer corporal punishment. He then opened a grammar school at Concord with his brother John, a project that ended when John died of tetanus in 1842. He became a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson who encouraged him to write several essays for The Dial, a magazine Emerson founded. For several years he lived in the Emerson household, serving as editorial assistant, handyman, and tutor to the children. On Independence Day 1845 he started his experiment in simple living by moving into a log cabin he built in a remote part of the Emerson property. Opposed to the Mexican-American War, he refused to pay his poll taxes and was arrested, which led to his noted essay Resistance to Civil Government. After closely watching the changing environment during the Walden years, Thoreau continued to observe and write about natural history, not only around Concord but traveling to Cape Cod and the woods of Maine. Thoreau contracted tuberculosis shortly after college and was troubled by it only intermittently until 1859 when he came down with bronchitis, he spent the last three years of his life editing his unpublished works. When his aunt Louisa asked if he had made peace with God, he replied: "I did not know we had ever quarreled." His last complete sentence was: "Now comes good sailing."

Biography from Wikipedia and American Transcendentalism Web

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