His ancestry was typical of the region: his mother, Louisa Van Velsor, was Dutch, and his father, Walter Whitman, was of English descent.
Walter Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, Town of Huntington, Long Island, to parents with interests in Quaker thought, Walter (1789–1855) and Louisa Van Velsor Whitman (1795–1873). The second of nine children, he was immediately nicknamed "Walt" to distinguish him from his father.
Walter Whitman, Sr. named three of his seven sons after American leaders: Andrew Jackson, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson.
The oldest was named Jesse and another boy died unnamed at the age of six months. The couple's sixth son, the youngest, was named Edward.
At age four, Whitman moved with his family from West Hills to Brooklyn, living in a series of homes, in part due to bad investments.
Whitman looked back on his childhood as generally restless and unhappy, given his family's difficult economic status.
One happy moment that he later recalled was when he was lifted in the air and kissed on the cheek by the Marquis de Lafayette during a celebration in Brooklyn on July 4, 1825.
The poet's grandfather owned a large farm and many slaves, but his father inherited only a small tract of land at West Hills, where he built a house now known as the "Walt Whitman Birthplace" and preserved as an historical building by the state of New York.
He was more deeply attached to his kind, sympathetic mother, but his stern, disgruntled father, personal friend of deistic Thomas Paine and admirer of the visionary socialists Robert Dale Owen and Frances Wright, probably exerted more influence on the development of his intellectual independence.
His father's health had been failing for several years and Walt had already assumed most of the responsibility of supporting his mother and younger brother Eddie, who was crippled and feeble-minded.