He was born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts, to John Thoreau (a pencil maker) and Cynthia Dunbar. David Henry was named after a recently deceased paternal uncle, David Thoreau. He did not become “Henry David” until after college, although he never petitioned to make a legal name change. He had two older siblings, Helen and John Jr., and a younger sister, Sophia.Thorea’s birthplace still exists on Virginia Road in Concord and is currently the focus of preservation efforts. The house is original, but it now stands about 100 yards away from its first site.
梭罗出生时取名大卫·亨利·梭罗，他出生在马萨诸塞州的康科德镇，父亲是约翰·梭罗（铅笔制造商）， 母亲叫辛西娅·邓巴。大卫·亨利以新近去世的叔叔大卫·梭罗命名。他直到大学毕业后才使用“亨利·大卫” 这个名字，虽然他从未请求合法地改变姓名。他有一个姐姐海伦和一个哥哥小约翰，还有一个妹妹，索菲妊。梭罗的出生地仍然保存于康科德的Virginia Road,是目前的重点文物保护遗址。房子还是老房子，但据最初的地点有100码远。
Thoreau studied at Harvard University between 1833 and 1837. He lived in Hollis Hall and took courses in rhetoric, classics, philosophy, mathematics, and science. A legend proposes that Thoreau refused to pay the five-dollar fee for a Harvard diploma. In fact, the master’s degree he declined to purchase had no academic merit: Harvard College offered it to graduates “who proved their physical worth by being alive three years after graduating, and their saving, earning, or inheriting quality or condition by having Five Dollars to give the college.” His comment was: “Let every sheep keep its own skin.”
梭罗1833年到1837年间就读哈佛大学。他住在霍利斯大厅，学习修辞、古典文学、哲学、数学和科学。据说，梭罗拒绝支付五美元的费用以获得哈佛文凭。事实上，他拒绝购买的这个硕士学位，没有学术价值：哈佛大学向那些“毕业三年后还活着回来证明其实际价值 的毕业生”颁发此学位，同时“他们的储蓄、收入、所承袭的财产或是社会地位使之能向学院支付五美元。” 而他对此的评论是“让每个人都能有不同的个性”。
In appearance he was homely, with a nose that he called “my most prominent feature,” again in Cape Cod. Of his face, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior. But his ugliness is of an honest and agreeable fashion, and becomes him much better than beauty.”
After college, Thoreau taught school, wrote essays and poems for The Dial, and briefly attempted freelance writing in New York City. The death of his brother in 1842 was a profound emotional shock and may have influenced his decision to live with his parents and never to marry.