Henry Eckford was born at Kilwinning, near Irvine, Scotland, in March 1775, another of the remarkable Scots who emerged from their craggy homeland to illuminate the 18th and early 19th centuries. According to a local historian, Eckford's family eventually moved into town, to a home on Irvine's High Street between the tollbooth and Templeton's Bookstore, reportedly then a favorite haunt of the poet Robert Burns, today—less glamorously—near a Kwik Save supermarket.
Henry was the youngest of five sons. Three—John, James, and Peter—spent their lives in Scotland. The fourth, William, emigrated to Australia. It is likely but not certain that while a boy Henry trained as a ship's carpenter, or "mechanic," in the Irvine shipyard on the Firth of Clyde before he left home for the New World in 1791 at age 16.