Timrod was born on December 8, 1828, in Charleston, South Carolina, to a family of German descent. His grandfather Heinrich Dimroth emigrated to the United States in 1765 and Anglicized his name. His father was an officer in the Seminole Wars and a poet himself. The elder Timrod died on July 28, 1838, at the age of 44; his son was nine. A few years later, their home burned down, leaving the family impoverished.