Births of Margaret, Benjamin, Pleasant and Samuel Clemens – Move from Tennessee to Florida, Missouri – Financial Panic and Hard Times – Henry Clemens Born
Sister Margaret Died – John Marshall Clemens Became Judge – Moved to Hannibal Sammy Survived Infancy
November 30 Monday – Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910) was born two months premature in the hamlet of Florida, Missouri to John Marshall Clemens (1798-1847) and Jane Lampton Clemens (1803-1890). The baby was named Samuel, for John’s father; Langhorne, for the friend of John Marshall’s who had helped him in his youth in Virginia.
26-year-old Dr. Thomas Jefferson Chowning (1809-1854) delivered baby Sam in the absence of the family physician, Dr. Hugh Meredith (1806-1864). The birthplace was a little frame house on South Mill Street [Wecter 43]. Sam was born sickly. His mother later recalled, “When I first saw him I could see no promise in him” [Powers, MT A Life 8].
Halley’s Comet had reached its perihelion on Nov. 17. It would return again in 1910, reaching its greatest visibility on Apr. 19 of that year, two days before Sam’s death.
John Marshall’s ancestors had come from England to Virginia [Wecter 3-7]. A generation later they moved over the Alleghenies and kept pushing west . Sam’s grandfather, his namesake, was five when America declared independence in 1776. In 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase, Samuel B. Clemens (1770-1805) moved west into what would become West Virginia. He had married a Quaker named Pamelia (“Parmelia”) Goggin (1775-1844) and took their first of five children, John Marshall Clemens, named in honor of the first Chief Justice of the U.S. John Marshall married Jane Lampton on May 6 1823 .
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was the sixth child. The Clemens family moved to Florida, Missouri about June 1, 1835 from Tennessee [Wecter 39]. Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was President of the United States, and the Alamo was four months away. The South’s pastoral economy was firmly upheld by slavery and the North’s industrial economy waxed stronger. The early 1830s were a period of inflationary boom. The Federal government encouraged the speculative fever by selling millions of acres of public lands in western states like Michigan and Missouri. The West had spread to the edge of the Great Plains, and like many other families who had not found bounty in the East, the Clemens family moved into Missouri, the outpost of civilization, looking for the good life. Dreams of wealth in such an environment seemed realistic.
May 21 Saturday – John Marshall Clemens purchased a somewhat larger house on the south side of Main Street in Florida, Missouri for $1,050 from Sam’s grandfather, Benjamin Lampton (1770-1837), who had occupied the house and moved to the country [Wecter 46].
Sam was small and sickly, not expected to live. He was often in bed under the care of his mother, Jane Clemens, who told stories of Indians chasing her grandmother, also named Jane. His mother was aided in his care by his older siblings: Orion b.1825, Pamela b.1827, Margaret b.1830, Benjamin b.1832. Another boy child, Pleasant Hannibal (both family names) died at three months, b.1828 or 1829 [MTL 1: 382].
John Marshall was involved in the project of making Salt River navigable as well as a plan to build a railroad between the town of Paris, Mo. and the smaller village of Florida. He frequented citizens’ meetings in the region and became well known in Pike, Ralls, and Monroe counties. He also spoke to members of the Legislature at Jefferson City.
November 30 Wednesday – Baby Sam’s first birthday.
February – Big plans were afloat for developing the area. The Missouri Legislature appointed John Marshall to head a commission of six members to promote a Florida & Paris railroad. The same Legislature also encouraged John Marshall, together with John Adams Quarles (1802-1876), Dr. Hugh Meredith and others to found a school to be called The Florida Academy [Varble 125]. An educational foundation was set up with Marshall and Quarles as trustees. John Marshall was also involved in schemes to make the Salt River into a minor Mississippi [Wecter 47; Varble 125].
March 18 Saturday – Sam’s grandfather, Benjamin Lampton, age 67, died in Florida, Mo. [Wecter 47].
May 10 Wednesday – The early part of the decade saw an inflationary boom, which led to The Panic of 1837. The crisis occurred when every bank stopped payment in specie (gold and silver coinage). The West was badly hit by the panic, and would not recover for four or five years. The Clemens family would struggle financially for years, in part due to this panic.
November 6 Monday – John Marshall Clemens was sworn in as a judge of the Monroe County court. Wecter calls this the “zenith of his professional life and one that fixed upon him ever after the title of ‘Judge’” [Wecter 48]. He received two dollars a day while the court met . John had trained to be a lawyer and was very exacting in his work. His letters show the graceful Spenserian script which educated people of the day displayed. Sam got his exacting nature from his father, and his humor and red hair from his mother. John Marshall built a one-story house, known as the “double house” on the land he’d bought before Sammy was born [Wecter 49; Powers MT A Life 14].
November 30 Thursday – Sam’s second birthday.
First half of year – The Clemens family moved to their third house in Florida, Mo. Wecter says “probably before the birth of their youngest child, Henry Clemens, on June 13” [Wecter 49]. They sold their second Florida house to John Quarles for a sum that reflected settlement of unpaid debts from the dissolved store partnership .
July 13 Friday – Henry Clemens, the youngest child of John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens was born in Florida, Mo. [MTL 1: 382]. Henry was the model for Sid Sawyer in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a boy upright in every way, not at all like his older brother Sam.
August ca. – Shortly after Jane Clemens recovered from childbirth, thirteen-year-old Orion was dragged along a picket fence by two oxen. He was saved from death or injury by Jane and a peg leg man who happened to be passing [Varble 127].
August 8 Wednesday – John Marshall Clemens’ term on the Monroe County court expired [Selby 1].
November 30 Friday – Sam’s third birthday.
February – John Quarles had married Martha Ann “Patsy” Lampton (1807-1850), Jane’s younger sister, and opened a store at Florida, Missouri the year before the Clemens family arrived. In this month he closed his successful store at Florida and bought 70 acres of good farmland. A few months later he added 160 acres more [Wecter 50]. The farm was three and a half miles northwest of town. Quarles kept slaves (Some claim as many as 30 slaves, some eleven, and some as few as six) [Powers, Dangerous 41; Powers MT A Life 11; Dempsey 4]. Frequent visits to the Quarles Farm allowed Sam to hunt and fish, and gave him intimate contact with blacks. Stories told by his uncle John and also by older blacks fed Sam with grist for his later tales. (See The Twainian, Mar. 1942 for an insightful article on Quarles.)
A family story about three-year-old Sam, retold years later by his niece, Annie Moffett Webster (1852-1950).
“When Sam was about three he was distressed because he had ‘no tail bebind.’ He said, ‘The dog has a tail bebind, the cat has a tail bebind, and I haven’t any tail bebind at all at all.’ His uncle (I think it was his Uncle Hannibal) made a tail of paper and pinned it on his little dress, and he went around very proud and happy” [MTBus 44].
August, mid – About this time one-year-old Henry Clemens “eluded the colored boy who was caring for him and toddled into the hot embers at a soap kettle. While he was being tended by Jane Clemens and neighbor Mrs. Penn, Henry’s sister Margaret fell ill [Varble 127]. Sam sleepwalked into sister Margaret’s bedroom and tugged at her blanket. Nineteenth century rural America called this act “plucking at the coverlet,” an act presaging death. The family took this as a sign that little Sammy had “second sight” [Wecter 51].
August 17 Saturday – Nine-year-old sister Margaret died of “bilious fever” (typhoid or malaria). It was the first of many family deaths Sam would suffer. Wecter gives this date as Aug. 19 .
November 13 Wednesday – John Marshall Clemens sold properties around Florida for $3,000 to speculator Ira Stout. At the same time, John purchased a quarter of a city block in Hannibal on the Mississippi, about forty miles east of Florida, for what Wecter calls “the thumping price of $7000 paid in full” [Wecter 51-2; Powers, MT A Life 21]. Note: “Hannibal” was also a family name with no connection to the town. It may be argued that John paid too much for the quarter block in Hannibal.
November 20 Wednesday ca. – John Marshall sold another large parcel, 326 acres near the Ralls County line, for $2000 to Ira Stout [Wecter 52].
November, mid-late – The Clemens family moved to Hannibal: John, Jane, Orion, Pamela, Benjamin, Sammy (nearly age four), the baby Henry, and a slave girl Jennie. Paine, in Boy’s Life of Mark Twain says the family lived first at Pavey’s Hotel (later Planter’s Hotel). The Paveys later moved to St. Louis. Wecter gives the time of the move as “about mid-November” .
The first home for the Clemens was the Virginia House, a rickety two-story hotel close to the river at the northwest corner of Main and Hill Streets [Varble 129].
John Marshall traveled to St. Louis soon after the family’s arrival. There he stayed with his half-sister Ann “Polly” Hancock (d.1893), and her English husband William Saunders (d.1885). John Marshall sought a loan from a distant relative James Clemens, Jr. (1791-1878) in order to make token payments on stock he needed to open a store in Hannibal. The two men had not met but had corresponded as youths. The loan was given; John Marshall returned to Hannibal and opened a store on the main floor; the family lived on the second floor. [Varble 131-2; Powers, MT A Life 21].
Sam grew up on the river, in that “sleepy white washed town” which was to be his theatre of boyhood. Here he knew dreams, adventure, terror and sorrow. Sam Clemens would immortalize Hannibal in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn [Powers, Dangerous 50].
November 30 Saturday – Sam’s fourth birthday.
December, mid – John Marshall had been drafted for a border war with Iowa over a disputed boundary, but the matter was settled by this time [Wecter 56].