Richards was born 24 June 1804 in Hopkinson, Massachusetts, to Joseph
and Rhoda Richards. He was the youngest of eleven children. At the age
of four, he fell from a scaffold and injured his head, which may have
caused the muscle tremor and paralysis from which he suffered throughout
his life. This injury also limited his physical ability to work on the
farm, and he turned his attention to book learning, which he enjoyed
1813, at the age of nine, Richards moved with his family to Richmond
in western Massachusetts. He continued his schooling and obtained a
teacher's certificate at age sixteen. He taught school in Chatham, New
York, and in Lanesborn, Massachusetts. He completed additional studies
and experimentation in the fields of mechanics and science, which led
to his lecturing in the surrounding areas on these subjects. During
this time he also developed his musical talents and performed as a clarinetist
with the Massachusetts Militia Band.
his sister Susan died of a mysterious illness, Richards took an interest
in the study of medicine, including herbal remedies. At the age of thirty,
he spent two months at the Thomson Infirmary in Boston, after which
he was commissioned as an agent for Thomson's Patent Rights herbal medicine.
He then settled in Holliston, Massachusetts, where he practiced medicine
and became known as Dr. Willard Richards.