Henry David Thoreau was a man with different shades of character. He was an American development critic, abolitionist, tax resister, surveyor, author, philosopher, and historian.
Thoreau became a thorn in the flesh of the government, as was evident in an essay he wrote titled “Resistance to Civil Government.” He was actively against the unjust nature of the American government.
Henry Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on July 12th, 1817. He was raised there too, with 3 of his siblings Helen, John, and Sophia. His parents Mr. and Mrs. Thoreau were from Concord. His father was the owner of a local pencil factory and his mother, a renter.
He lived a simple life but was a major source of inspiration, as his deeds influenced icons like Martin Luther King Jr and Mohandas Gandhi. We take a look at ten fascinating facts about the life of Henry Thoreau.
Henry David Thoreau Facts
1. Henry Thoreau led a more social life than the public believed
History has refuted the claim from some quarters that Thoreau was a lonely man. The truth is that he was more of an individualist who mostly enjoyed the company of his family members and friends, a fun fact about Henry David Thoreau. Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson were among those closest to him.
During his stay in Concord, he always entertained guests and friends which led to a massive attendance of loved ones on his burial.
2. People had problems getting his name right
After leaving college, he changed his first and middle name to Henry and David respectively, though David Henry was his legal name. He did this because most people called him “Henry” anyway. That was not the only problem he had with how people said his name. There was also a pronunciation issue.
A lot of people today pronounce the Thoreau surname with emphasis on the second syllable, which is wrong. The right pronunciation is emphasizing the first syllable like one would while saying the word “Thó-row.”
3. Henry and his brother proposed to the same woman
Thoreau, in 1839 fell in love with Ellen Sewall, an 18-years-old woman. The next year, John his brother, proposed to the same girl and she rejected him. Later on, Thoreau also proposed to the girl. She rejected him too, an interesting fact about Henry David Thoreau.
Despite the funny story, some historians are of the opinion that Thoreau was gay because he never got married.
4. Henry Thoreau led a minimalist lifestyle
Thoreau never believed in living an extravagant life. He gave up luxuries in his life to live a minimalist lifestyle. All he wanted was a simple life to afford him time to think. He wanted things, but very little. Thoreau compared his love for simple things to the craft of writing and, as such, did most activities in moderation.
5. He was a member of the Boston Society of Natural History
Thoreau joined a society of natural historians and was a member till death. Even after death, he found a way to give back to the society by donating his bird collection to them. They received over 1000 plant species, birds’ eggs, Indian antiques, and bird’s nests.
6. A lot of people believed he went to live in the wilderness
In his most popular book, Walden, written in 1954, Thoreau talks about the time he lived in Walden Pond to be self-reliant. It is documented that he spent a total of two years, two months, and two days there.
The work was intended to be a commentary on living simply while in the natural environment. An interesting fact about Henry David Thoreau and what people did not know was that Walden Pond was not very far away from civilization. It was just a few miles away from his family home in Massachusetts.
7. He spent a night in jail for not paying his poll tax
In 1849, after refusing to pay his poll tax he was imprisoned for a short period. He said jail felt freer than the outside world and saw it as an intriguing experience. This is perhaps what motivated him to write his well-known essay called “Civil Disobedience.”
This essay would go on to influence a lot of revolutionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The essay also talks about his opposition to the Federal Government’s war with Mexico.
8. He pursued a career in freelance writing
For about six months Thoreau lived in Staten Island, New York City with Ralph Waldo Emerson”s brother. He spent his time teaching the children of his host or going from one magazine to the other, trying to get them to accept his contributions as a writer.
Most of these magazines did not need other contributors, others showed no interest, and one of them claimed they couldn’t pay for his services.
9. He started a forest fire when he was 26 years’ old
Who would have believed a philosopher with several works on natural history would start a forest fire? But he did, in 1844 after he and a friend decided to cook the fish he caught. They accidentally started a fire that took out roughly 300 acres of land, an interesting Henry David Thoreau fact.
The inferno began when the campfire they built to heat the fish caught some drought-parched woods. The excessive dryness caused the spark to escalate, eventually reaching the village. The ordeal stayed with him for a couple of years because the neighbors started calling him “a damned rascal.” The high social status of his friend’s father was the only thing that saved him from serving jail time.
These are some of the interesting facts about the enigma that was Henry Thoreau; he hated government oppression of the masses; that is why he was widely known as one with the spirit of civil disobedience.
In 1861, Thoreau battled tuberculosis, which he contracted years back. He traveled down to Minnesota for treatment but didn’t improve. He finally succumbed to the disease on May 6th, 1862, at the age of 44. And that marked the end of a man who the world will forever know as one of the simplest men the world has ever known.
I hope that this article on Henry David Thoreau facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Facts Page!