David Colbreth Broderick was born on February 4, 1820 in Washington, D. C. He was of Irish stock, and his father, a stone-mason for a time employed on the national Capitol, was doubtless an immigrant. Of the mother, whose maiden name was Copway, little is recorded except that she was idolized by her son.
Before he was fourteen the family moved to New York. About 1837 the father died, and the boy began his struggle for a living for himself, his mother, and his younger brother.
By the time he was twenty he was a member of an engine company (of which later he became foreman) and was active in ward politics as an adherent of Tammany Hall. His mother dying and his brother being accidentally killed, he was left without kin.