Hunt was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, on October 31, 1827. He came from early Colonial stock, his paternal ancestry going back to Jonathan Hunt who was born at Winchester, Connecticut, in 1637. The successive representatives of the family were men of substance and each one appears to have possessed an unusually forceful temperament. Toward the end of the eighteenth century a large part of the family estate was situated in Brattleboro, Vt. , and this became the inheritance of two brothers, Jonathan and Arad, both of them born in Brattleboro, the former in 1787, the latter in 1790. Jonathan became a member of Congress and died from cholera in Washington in 1832. He married Jane Maria Leavitt who also came from old American stock and was born at Suffield, Connecticut They had five children, Jane, William Morris, John, who studied medicine, Richard, and Leavitt.
From his father Richard inherited the type of character that imposes its will on others. With it, redeeming it from harshness or ruthlessness, went a warm-hearted and fair-minded perception and regard for the rights of others. From his mother came a love of art; and the combination of these qualities was the foundation of his success. While his artistic power is unquestioned, it would not have found fields in which to grow and expand had not his personal magnetism won him friends and inspired them with confidence in his ability. He and his brothers and sister made an interesting group and a large measure of the ability shown by all of the children doubtless came from the brilliant qualities of their mother. Both Mrs. Hunt and her daughter Jane painted, the former in oil and on china, in which mediums she exhibited unusual talent.