Henry David Thoreau Facts 📝

Despite having lived a short life of only four decades, American classic author, Henry David Thoreau, led quite an interesting life before taking a bow. Expect to be shocked by these top 10 facts about Thoreau if you’re a reader who doesn’t already know much about him.

Henry David Thoreau

American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher

Just to hit you with one quick top fact about Henry David Thoreau. Did you know that he and his brother once proposed to the same woman and got rejected? Maybe not. Well, you’re about to find out the top 10 (fun) facts about the celebrated American author.

It took nine years for Henry David Thoreau to write ’Walden

Writing and publishing his masterpiece ‘Walden’ wasn’t nearly as easy for Henry David Thoreau as readers might think. It took Thoreau extra nine years after leaving Walden Pond to get the whole pieces together and publish.

After ending his stay in the Walden woods and returning to society in 1847, Thoreau started writing and gathering the essays – which were originally made up of eighteen total pieces. By the time he had finished and ready for publication, nine years had passed, and it was exactly in the year 1854 that the book was finally released. 

He spent two years, two months, and two days in Walden Woods

Henry David Thoreau purposefully abandons society’s life to go live in the Walden woods because his life was in a bit of a mess at the time, and he needed somewhere to clear his head and find his true purpose in life. Walden woods served as helpful grounds that inspired him to become the celebrated literary legend that he is today. In ‘Walden,’ Thoreau stayed up for a total duration of two years, two months, and two days.

Ralph Waldo Emerson owned the woods upon which Thoreau built his cabin

Ralph Waldo Emerson impacted Thoreau’s life in several ways, and one of such ways was leasing his Walden woods land to a troubled, 27-year-old Thoreau. Young Thoreau was arguably in his most trying stage of life, no thanks to some bad reputation he had garnered among the people, one being as a result of practicing liberal Christianity, and two being for accidentally causing a fire outbreak that devastated many families.

Since Emerson didn’t have an immediate use for his land at Walden ponds as he was always traveling and spreading his transcendentalist movement, Thoreau requested the land for his little adventure, and his wish was granted by his friend and mentor, Emerson.

Thoreau became a public enemy after he accidentally caused a devastating fire outbreak

One of the reasons why Thoreau was frustrated by society was because he one time accidentally caused a devastating fire outbreak – which affected a lot of families and locals around the neighborhood. 

It started with Thoreau going fishing with a friend, and after they made the catch, the two friends decided to build a barbecue around the dry area, but this went down so badly that the fire was out of control and burned down more than 100 acres of dry land. This caused hate to be channeled at him, and for many years the people still saw him as a social pervert. 

Thoreau and Elder brother John both proposed to one woman and got turned down

Ellen Sewall, a young beautiful woman from Cape Cod, had the history to have turned down a marriage proposal from both Thoreau and his older brother John. John first made the move to tie the knot with the Cape Cod native and got rejected. A few months later, Thoreau reached out to Sewall asking for her hand in marriage. She also refused. The author didn’t reveal any clear reason why this might have happened, but he admitted to having developed a strong feeling for her.

Thoreau was plagued by a chronic disease from an earlier age

Henry David Thoreau died fairly untimely at the age of 44, and the cause of his death is largely credited to tuberculosis, a disease which he had long struggled with earlier in life. 

The history of Thoreau’s struggle with the disease started when he was in college. It is alleged that sometimes it was very serious that he skipped lectures on several occasions and would often take a sick leave to recuperate. He eventually surrendered to the disease in the year of his 44 birthday, leaving behind a long list of literary achievements – including several counts of unfinished works.

Thoreau co-founded a school with his brother 

After graduating college and failing to secure any great job offers, Thoreau teamed up with his older brother, John, and formed a progressive school – where he used the knowledge he acquired from college to impart to locals for a small fee. The establishment, however, didn’t last for long and soon came to an abrupt end following John’s failing health and subsequent demise. 

Unlike the claims in ‘Walden,’ Thoreau wasn’t exactly a full-time hermit (Spoiler Alert)

The impression readers get from the book ‘Walden’ is that Thoreau ventured into the wilderness and lived like a hermit or caveman and never had contact with humans. That’s bogus. Because the reality is that the author did stay in touch with society – as he sometimes even took a trip into town (and was arrested on one of such occasions). He also had close neighbors with whom he shared some moments, his friends and family also visited his cabin, and his mother did his laundry. 

Some historians argue Thoreau’s interest may have been in men

Although Thoreau admitted to having one time fallen deeply in love with Ellen Sewall, the lady who turned down his marriage proposal, a conspiracy by historians has raised brows on the possibility that the author was, in fact, a guy. 

These historians get credence for their argument in the fact that Thoreau’s works and life show that he’d made several references to male body parts than to females. Thoreau wouldn’t be the first high profile to have shown interest in the same gender, with sci-fi legend, Octavia E. Butler.

He never got married, nor had children

Thoreau never really got married nor had children, although he is believed to have loved little children so much that he often went camping and picnicking with them. 


Was Henry David Thoreau gay? 

Historians speculate that Thoreau may have been more interested in men than he was in women, and this is because some evidence shows Thoreau’s later work described male body parts in a suggestive way that indicates he may have been nonpracticing gay.

What happened to Thoreau’s cabin after he left Walden woods?

After his mission at Walden pond, Thoreau left the place and sold his cabin to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Why did Ellen Sewall refuse to marry Thoreau? 

There’s no conclusive reason as to why Sewall refused Thoreau her hand in marriage; however, the most likely reason could be that it was because of Thoreau’s liberal mindset towards Christianity. 

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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