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Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12th, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts in the home of his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Minot. His parents were Cynthia Dunbar and John Thoreau. His father was a businessman and active in the Concord Fire Society. Thoreau's mother spent her time raising Henry and his three siblings, Helen, John and Sophia. Both of Henry's parents loved nature.

After graduating from Harvard University in 1837, he taught school and tutored for a short period of time.

Thoreau also manufactured pencils in his father's factory. The operation was actually located in the upper story of the Thoreau-Alcott house (see below). He discovered that mixing clay with plumbago (graphite) would make a superior lead. The Thoreau pencils had the reputation of being the hardest and blackest in the United States!

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John Thoreau & Co. Concord, Mass.
Pencil Box, Ca. 1843-45
Courtesy of The Thoreau Institute
and the Thoreau Society, Lincoln, MA

Click on the links below to view movies about the Thoreau pencil making process and finished product.

From 1845 to 1847, Thoreau moved to a hut that he constructed on the edge of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. It was in this location that he wrote A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, a trip he made with his brother John. His most famous literary work, Walden or life in the Woods was written later. His goal in life was to live simply:

"To live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach."

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Thoreau's cove, Lake Walden
[between 1900 and 1910]

Courtesy of The Library of Congress

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Title page of the first edition of Walden

Picture sketched by Sophia, Thoreau's sister
Courtesy of The Library of Congress

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Desks, chairs and bed from Thoreau's Cabin
Thoreau Room Antiquarian Society now Concord Museum Alfred Winslow Hosmer 1851 - 1903, Photographer
Courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library

As a frequent guest in the Emerson household, Thoreau entertained the children with magic and fun. He constructed a dollhouse for the Emerson girls that is on display today. He also helped Lidian Emerson when Ralph was traveling. The following is a story about how Thoreau came up with the idea of booties for the chickens so they would not destroy Mrs. Emerson's roses.

The little garden which was being planted with fruit-trees and vegetables, with Mrs. Emerson's tulips and roses from Plymouth at the upper end, needed more care and much more skill to plant and cultivate than the owner had; who, moreover, could only spare a few morning hours to the work. So Thoreau took it in charge for his friend. He dealt also with the chickens, defeating their raids on the garden by asking Mrs. Emerson to make some shoes of thin morocco to stop their scratching." - Edward Waldo Emerson from Henry Thoreau as Remembered by a Young Friend.

Many consider Thoreau to be the father of the American conservation movement. He loved to walk. His walking stick was notched for measuring things. He also carried a flute, a music book for pressing flowers and a bird identification book by Alexander Wilson. During the latter part of his life he observed and recorded the natural history in Concord.

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Thoreau's Flute, Telescope, and a Copy of Wilson's Ornithology
Alfred Winslow Hosmer 1851 - 1903, Photographer
Courtesy of the Concord Free Public Library

Click on the link below to learn about Thoreau's Herbarium and view specimens he collected. Have your students look at the draft manuscript to understand how important it is to edit their papers.

Thoreau's Herbarium
A Thoreau Manuscript

Henry David Thoreau died May 6th 1862 in the Thoreau-Alcott house, after suffering a prolonged case of tuberculosis, a disease which plagued Henry throughout most of his adult life. He is buried on Authors' Ridge in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery located in Concord.

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Thoreau-Alcott House
Courtesy of Cornell University Library
Nineteenth Century Periodicals Collection
Emerson and His Friends in Concord. [The New England magazine. / Volume 9, Issue 4, December 1890]

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1846 Survey Map of Walden Pond
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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