John Pitkin Norton was born on July 19, 1822 in Albany, New York, United States. His father, John Treadwell Norton, was a successful farmer and his mother, Mary Hubbard (Pitkin), was the daughter of Timothy Pitkin, lawyer, statesman, and historian. John Treadwell, governor of Connecticut in 1809-11, was his great-grandfather. Of his own choice young Norton decided to become a farmer, to which plan his father agreed, but on the unusual condition that he should be broadly and thoroughly educated for that pursuit. The boy spent his summers at work upon his father's farm.