David Henri Thoreau was born in Concord Massachusetts in 1817. His father was a pencil maker of French descent. He studied at Harvard University between 1833 and 1837. He joined the Faculty of the Concord Public School but resigned after a short time because he refused to administer corporal punishment.
With his brother John he opened a school where he introduced several progressive concepts but closed this when his brother died in 1842. He returned to Concord and met R.Waldo Emerson and resumed work at the family pencil factory. Here he rediscovered the process of mixing graphite with clay (the Conte process), and later converted the factory to produce graphite which was used for typesetting machines.
In 1845 he embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living in a small self-built cabin on the shores of Walden Pond on land that belonged to Emerson.Here he spent an incredible amount of time reading and writing. He had a brush with the tax man in 1846 when he refused to pay poll tax because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War, and slavery, and had to spend a night in prison. This incident had a strong impact on him, and in 1848 he delivered an important lecture on the "Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government".
He left Walden Pond in 1847 but worked for several years continuously revising his manuscript "Walden, or Life in the Woods". This book had mixed reviews but Robert Frost said of it - "In one book he surpasses everything we have in America".
Thoreau became increasingly fascinated by natural history and travel, he admired Darwin, became a land surveyor and wrote very detailed natural history observations on fruit trees and the migrationary habits of birds etc. He believed that one should "Live at home like a traveler". He was a life-long abolitionist. He died of tuberculosis at 44 in 1862- "Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind". Thoreau. Wise words.