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Henry David Thoreau
Henry spent the majority of his life walking in and around the town of
Concord, although he did make few journeys to other places. Henry spent
most of his time walking in the wilderness of Concord. Occasionally, he
be found sauntering and conversing with his mentor and friend, Ralph Waldo
Emerson or Ellery Channing.
Some believe Henry went to live at Walden Pond because he was a
hermit or a recluse or because he hated his fellow man, but this is not the
case. Henry had a very special and sincere reason to go to Walden Pond;
to honor his brother. On January 11, 1842, Henry's brother, John Jr.,
died of lockjaw. It was his brother's death which prompted Henry to
decide to go to Walden Pond. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great "Sage of
Concord," owned land adjacent to Walden Pond and allowed Henry to live
at Walden Pond. Henry went to Walden Pond to work on a book, A Week on
the Concord and Merrimack Rivers which would be a tribute to John
Thoreau Jr. Henry stayed at Walden Pond for two years, two months and
two days. Henry wanted to live deliberately and so he went and built a
simple cabin at Walden Pond. Henry explains in Walden,
"I went to the woods because I wished to live
deliberately, To front only the essential facts
of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to
teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that
I had not lived."
Henry left his nearby town of Concord to live at Walden Pond on
July 4, 1845, Independence Day. Some have speculated that this date
represents Henry's personal declaration of independence from society.
Others have pointed out that July 4th was the day before his brother's
birthday. By leaving for Walden on July 4th, Independence Day, Henry would
have spent his first full day at Walden Pond on the anniversary of his
brother's birthday. This idea is further supported in Walden,
"When I first took up my abode in the woods,
that is, began to spend my nights as well as days
there, which, by accident, was on Independence
day, or the fourth of July, 1845..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson provided Thoreau with the opportunity to
complete his first work, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and
the first draft of a Thoreau's uniquely american work, Walden; or Life in the
Woods. Walden, as it is more commonly and popularly known, is Henry's
response to a multitude of questions he received as a result of living
two years, two months, and two days in his small cabin in the woods at
Although many believe Henry was a recluse, Henry was no stranger to
society while he lived at the Pond. He had frequent dinners with family
and friends. Henry also had friends and the occasional curious neighbor
visit him at his cabin. Henry explains,
"I had three chairs in my house; one for
solitude, two for friendship, three for society."
In late July of 1846, a little more than one year into Henry's
to Walden Pond, Henry needed to get his shoe repaired. He walked into
Concord to get the hole in his shoe repaired but as he was leaving the
cobbler's store, Sam Staples, the town constable, asked Henry to pay his
poll tax. Henry was intentionally several years behind in paying his
tax. When asked to pay up, Henry flat out refused to pay the poll tax.
Henry objected to the use of the revenues of this poll tax. The revenues
were used to help finance the United States' war with Mexico and
supported the enforcement of slavery laws.
Henry refused to pay his taxes and refused the offers made by Sam
Staples himself to pay the tax. Since Henry refused to have his tax
paid, Sam Staples was required to take Henry to jail. Henry spent that
night in jail. During that evening however, someone heard that Henry was
in jail and paid Henry's taxes. No one really knows for sure who paid
the tax, but most believe it was Henry's Aunt Maria Thoreau.
When Sam Staples found out that Henry's taxes were paid it was after he
had taken off his boots for the evening, so he decided
View Full Essay
Civil disobedience, Lecturers, Henry David Thoreau, Nonviolence, Walden, Walking, Concord, Massachusetts, William Ellery Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, A Yankee in Canada, with Anti-Slavery and Reform Papers, Thoreau Society
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