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Samuel L. Clemens (1835 - 1910)

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Introduction

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, was a major American writer from Missouri. His stories and novels are famous for their humor, vivid details, and memorable characters. His best-known works are The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, both classics in American literature.

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Early Years and Education

View of Hannibal, Missouri Hannibal, Missouri View of Hannibal, Missouri, hometown of Samuel Clemens, from Jackson Island, around 1848.

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835. He was the sixth of seven children of John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton. Jane Lampton Clemens
(June 18, 1803 – October 27, 1890).


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In 1839, when Sam was four, he and his family
Moberly High School baseball team, 1910 1850 Census, Marion County.

Samuel Clemens’s siblings were Orion (July 17, 1825–December 11, 1897), Pamela Ann (September 13, 1827–August 31, 1904), Pleasant Hannibal (b.1828 or 1829, died at age 3 months), Margaret Lampton (May 31, 1830–August 17, 1839), Benjamin Lampton (June 8, 1832–May 12, 1842), and Henry (July 13, 1838–1858).

[Seventh Census of the United States, Population Schedule, “Marion County, Missouri”]
Close up of 1850 Census, Marion County 1850 Census, Marion County in more detail.

Samuel Clemens’s siblings were Orion (July 17, 1825–December 11, 1897), Pamela Ann (September 13, 1827–August 31, 1904), Pleasant Hannibal (b.1828 or 1829, died at age 3 months), Margaret Lampton (May 31, 1830–August 17, 1839), Benjamin Lampton (June 8, 1832–May 12, 1842), and Henry (July 13, 1838–1858).

[Seventh Census of the United States, Population Schedule, “Marion County, Missouri”]
moved to nearby Hannibal. His father thought Hannibal would be a more prosperous place for his business. Sam spent his childhood in this port village nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River. His memories of growing up swimming, fishing, playing pirates, and pulling pranks there made this small Missouri town world famous.
Samuel Clemens standing in front of his boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, 1902 Clemens’s boyhood home Samuel Clemens standing in front of his boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, 1902.

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A printing press from the nineteenth century An old printing press A printing press from the nineteenth century.

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Sam’s family never had much money. They struggled financially, and when his father died of pneumonia in 1847, life got even tougher. Sam was only twelve and took a number of odd jobs in Hannibal to help his family. He also continued his schooling. From the very beginning, Sam worked in the field of writing called journalism. First he was a printer's devil
A printer’s devil was an apprentice or young assistant to a printer. Typically, a printer’s devil’s chores included cleaning up the shop, running errands, wrapping and delivering the newspapers, and doing any other chores the printer or boss suggested.
for the Missouri Courier. The banner of the Missouri Courier, 1850.

[SHS Newspaper Collection]
In 1851 he became a typesetter and editorial assistant at the Western Union, The banner of the Western Union, 1851.

[SHS Newspaper Collection]
a local paper owned by his older brother, Orion. Sam published his first known sketch, “A Gallant Fireman,” in this paper. In 1853 Sam left Hannibal to work at a series of typesetting jobs in various cities including St. Louis, New York City, and Philadelphia. Then he returned to the Midwest in 1854, working in St. Louis again, Keokuk, and Cincinnati. In Keokuk, Iowa, he worked with Orion at his new paper, the Keokuk Journal.

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The Cub Riverboat Pilot Becomes Mark Twain

Steamboat on the Mississippi River Steamboat on the Mississippi River An engraving made in 1854 of a steamboat traveling on the Mississippi River along Tower Rock.

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In 1857, at the age of twenty-two, Sam Clemens boarded a steamboat and headed to New Orleans. He planned to take a trip to South America. Instead, he met the steamboat pilot Horace Bixby, who agreed to let Clemens train with him as a riverboat pilot for a fee of five hundred dollars. For the next two years, Clemens learned how to pilot a riverboat on the Mississippi River. He gained his piloting license in April 1859 and made a good living until the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861 when all commercial traffic on the river stopped. Clemens then joined the Marion Rangers, a group of Confederate volunteers that disbanded after only two weeks.

Clemens as a riverboat pilot Clemens as a riverboat pilot Clemens as a riverboat pilot, around 1859–1860.

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In the summer of 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Orion Clemens territorial secretary of Nevada. Sam joined his brother, and together they headed west by stagecoach. When they arrived in Nevada, Clemens worked for Orion for a while, but thought he could make a fortune mining for silver or gold. Though he tried to strike it rich, Clemens failed and returned to journalism, this time as a reporter. He joined the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise The office of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada, where Samuel Clemens worked and first used the pen name Mark Twain in February 1863.

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in 1862 and was paid $25 a week for various kinds of articles, both serious reports and humorous pieces. In 1863 he began signing his name with the pseudonym “Mark Twain,” a river term meaning “two fathoms deep.” Mark Twain would be Clemens’s pen name for the rest of his life.


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Literary Fame


Mark Twain on the lecture circuit Mark Twain on the lecture circuit A cartoon showing Mark Twain on the lecture circuit.

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In 1864 Clemens moved to San Francisco and worked for various newspapers. When his short story “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” was published and widely circulated in 1865 by the Saturday Press of New York, Mark Twain became a nationally known humorist. He gave his first public lecture in October 1866 and embarked on a lecture tour in the western states to make money and promote his career. Clemens had a natural talent for telling stories and making speeches. He would lecture on and off for the rest of his life.

Clemens's house in Hartford Clemens's house in Hartford Samuel Clemens and his family lived in this house in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1874 to 1891.

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In 1867, Clemens set sail as a traveling correspondent on a grand tour of Europe and the Mideast for the San Francisco Alto California. His reports of this journey later became his first best-selling book, Innocents Abroad, Innocents Abroad from the Mahan Memorial Mark Twain Collection

The original Mark Twain Collection of The State Historical Society of Missouri began in 1901 with the acquisition of historical Missouri materials in the private collection of Francis Asbury Sampson of Sedalia. Within the Sampson Collection were a number of rare editions and foreign translations of Mark Twain novels.

In 1902, Clemens visited the University of Missouri, Columbia, and donated a twenty-two-volume edition of his collected works to the Society.

During the next two decades, the collection continued to grow slowly through purchases and gifts. Then, in 1923, the Society purchased the fine Mark Twain library of 135 books, over 1,153 cartoons, and 122 clippings collected by Purd B. Wright of Kansas City. In 1936, after the death of George A. Mahan, The State Historical Society of Missouri's president for eleven years, the Mark Twain Collection was officially named the "Mahan Memorial Mark Twain Collection" in commemoration of Mahan and his work in memorializing Mark Twain. Among Mahan's philanthropic activities was his and his family's gift of the Mark Twain boyhood home to the city of Hannibal.

The Society continued to add to the collection through gifts and purchases, and by 1948 the collection had grown to 480 volumes and also contained scrapbooks and additional cartoons. New items are still added to the collection, and by 2006 it had grown to over 1,120 volumes. The books cover a wide variety of topics: first editions and reprints of Twain novels, analytic views of his writings by others, bibliographies, photographic essays, biographies of Twain and his family, autobiographical writings, and descriptions of Twain's world, homes, and travels.

[Mahan Memorial Mark Twain Collection, SHS]
published in 1869. After this journey, Clemens met Olivia Langdon Clemens married Olivia “Livy” Louise Langdon (1845–1904) on February 2, 1870 in Elmira, New York. Clemens went on a world tour in 1895 with his wife, Olivia, seated on the left, and his daughter Clara, seated on the right. Two years later, Twain’s writings regarding the trip were published his non-fiction travelogue, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World.

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of Elmira, New York.
Quarry Farm, Elmira, New York Quarry Farm, Elmira, New York.

Samuel Clemens and his family also lived for extended periods of time at Quarry Farm in Elmira, New York. This house belonged to Olivia Clemens’s adopted sister, Susan Crane. All three of Clemens’s daughters were born in this house.

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The octagonal study at Quarry Farm The octagonal study at Quarry Farm.

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The octagonal study at Quarry Farm The octagonal study at Quarry Farm.

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Mark Twain at work in his study at Quarry Farm Mark Twain at work in his study at Quarry Farm.

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They married in 1870 and soon settled in Hartford, Connecticut. Together they had four children:
Samuel and Olivia Clemens’s children were Langdon (November 7, 1870–June 2, 1872), Olivia Susan “Susy” (May 19, 1872–August 18, 1896), Clara Langdon (June 8, 1874–November 19, 1962), and Jane Lampton “Jean” (July 26, 1880–December 24, 1909).
a son, Langdon, who died as an infant, and three daughters—Susy, Clara, and Jean.
Statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn This statue of Mark Twain’s most memorable characters, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, is an important landmark in Hannibal, Missouri.

[Photo by Gerald Massie, Department of Natural Resources, SHS 003150]

It was at their house in Hartford that Clemens turned from journalism to writing the books and novels that made him famous. In 1872 he published Roughing It, an autobiographical account of his years in the West. He published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

[Mahan Memorial Mark Twain Collection]
in 1876 and his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Samuel Clemens founded his own publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Company. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1885, was the company’s first publication. Clemens’s company also published the two-volume bestseller The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant after Grant’s death in 1885. The publishing company went bankrupt in 1894.

[Mahan Memorial Mark Twain Collection]
in 1884. Clemens set both of these novels in his native Missouri and drew heavily on his boyhood memories of growing up in Hannibal. He examined American culture on the edge of the frontier and dealt seriously with such issues as slavery, poverty, and class differences. Clemens’s natural wit and keen observations of human nature—developed and perfected during his years as a journalist—found full expression in his fiction.

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Failures and Losses

Mark Twain in 1890 Mark Twain in 1890 Mark Twain in 1890.

Because Boonesborough was situated in a remote area at the edge of the frontier, settlers fortified the village with a high-walled fence. Skirmishes with the American Indians were common. Sometimes, Daniel Boone had to fight to protect the settlement; other times he was able to negotiate peace.

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Despite his great literary successes, Samuel Clemens was unlucky in business. He had a strong, recurrent desire to invest in products and projects that often failed, such as the Paige typesetter, an automatic typesetting machine. In fact, Clemens did much of his writing and lecturing to pay off his debts. He and his family moved to Europe in 1891 to live more cheaply and to improve his wife’s health. Then in 1896, Clemens suffered the first of a series of devastating personal losses. While he was lecturing in England, Clemens’s daughter Susy died of spinal meningitis. During the next decade, Clemens would suffer the loss of his wife, Livy, in 1904 and his second daughter, Jean, in 1909.

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Clemens's Legacy

Clemens at the University of Missouri Clemens at the University of Missouri In 1902, Samuel Clemens received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Missouri. Other recipients that year included retired St. Louis businessman and philanthropist Robert Somers Brookings, in the front row left of Clemens; (back row, left-right) Dr. Beverly Thomas Galloway, chief of the U.S. Bureau of Plant Industry, Washington, D.C.; Ethan Allen Hitchcock, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, 1898–1907; James Wilson, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, 1897–1913.

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Samuel Clemens returned to the United States in 1900. He was greeted by a supportive public that admired his work. In 1902 he traveled to Missouri for the last time to accept an honorary degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia. While in his home state, Clemens also visited St. Louis and returned to Hannibal. There he took a short trip on the Mississippi River with his old friend and instructor Horace Bixby.


The writings of Mark Twain endure on bookshelves and in the hearts and minds of readers around the world. In his sketches, articles, stories, and novels, he captured the flavor and spirit of America during the late nineteenth century. More importantly, he wrote eloquently about universal themes that affect people of all times. His wit, combined with a deep sympathy for innocent and well-meaning people, came from his humble origins in Missouri. Clemens died at Stormfield
Stormfield Stormfield, located in Redding, Connecticut, was Samuel Clemens’s last home. He moved into it in 1908. “Stormfield was an eighteen-room Italianate villa, a dramatic contrast to the two-room house Clemens had been born in.” (Christensen, Dictionary of Missouri Biography, pp. 195—196.)

[Seventh Census of the United States, Population Schedule, “Marion County, Missouri”]
Living room at Stormfield The living room at Stormfield contained the orchestrelle owned by The State Historical Society of Missouri and currently housed in the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri.

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on April 21, 1910, at the age of 74. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York, next to his wife and children. His pen name lives on in his books, in an annual book award, and in the vast national forest in Missouri that is named in his honor.
Mark Twain's Signature

Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Jillian Hartke

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.

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References and Resources

For more information about Samuel Langhorne Clemens' life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.


  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • “Hannibal’s Tribute to Samuel L. Clemens – ‘Mark Twain’ – Memorial Services Held at the Presbyterian Church Yesterday Afternoon.” Hannibal Morning Journal. April 26, 1910. p. 1. [A transcription of the memorial service in Hannibal]
    • “Mark Twain.” Joplin Globe. December 19, 2005. p. 7B.
    • “Mark Twain: A Sketch of the Great Missouri Humorist – His Wife – His Home – Practical Jokes.” Boonville Weekly Advertiser. April 15, 1881. p. 2, c. 1 & 2.
    • “Mark Twain Dies and Whole World Expresses Grief.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 22, 1910. p. 1, c. 1; p. 4, c. 6 & 7.
    • “Mark Twain’s Marriage.” Boonville Weekly Advertiser. January 10, 1879. p. 7, c. 1.
    • “Samuel Langhorne Clemens ‘Mark Twain,’ Dies at Stormfield, near Redding, Conn.” Hannibal Morning Journal. April 22, 1910. p. 1, c. 1.
  • Books
    • American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. v. 22, pp. 52-60. [REF 920 Am37 v. 22]
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 193-196. [REF F508 D561]
    • Clemens, Clara. My Father, Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1931. [REF IC591 BcL2]
    • Clemens, Cyril. Mark Twain for Young People. New York: Whittier Books, 1953. [REF IC591 BcL5mar]
    • Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930. v. 4, pp. 192-198. [REF 920 D561 v. 4]
    • Howard, Oliver, and Goldena Howard. The Mark Twain Book. Marceline, MO: Walsworth, 1985. [REF IC591 Bhowd]
    • Kane, Harnett T. Young Mark Twain and the Mississippi. New York: Random House, 1966. [REF IJ K132y]
    • Kirk, Connie Ann. Mark Twain: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. [REF IC591 Bkir]
    • Meltzer, Milton. Mark Twain Himself; A Pictorial Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. [REF IC591 BMe 2002]
    • Neider, Charles. The Autobiography of Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1959. [REF IC591 Bane]
    • Powers, Ron. Mark Twain: A Life. New York: Free Press, 2005. [REF IC591 Bpo2]
    • Ward, Geoffrey C., Dayton Duncan, and Ken Burns. Mark Twain [An Illustrated Biography]. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. [REF IC591 Bwar]
    • Who Was Who In America. Chicago: A. N. Marquis Co., 1942. v. 1 (1897-1942), p. 230. [REF 920 W6201 v.1]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Brashear, Margaret M. (1874-1963), Papers, 1868-1962 (C3393)
      This collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, notes, clippings, student papers, and articles of a professor of English at the University of Missouri. She taught classes on Mark Twain and Missouri literature and wrote several books and articles. References to Samuel Langhorne Clemens can be found throughout the collection.
    • Clemens, Samuel Langhorne (1835-1910), Genealogy (C3133)
      Genealogy of three generations of the Clemens family, starting with John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens, Samuel Clemens's parents. Also a brief biography of Mark Twain and descriptions of Florida, Missouri, and Mark Twain State Park.
    • Clemens, Samuel Langhorne (1835-1910), Papers, 1895-1901 (C2007)
      This collection contains a poem entitled "Contract with Mrs. T. K. Beecher, Quarry Farm," written by Mark Twain on 2 July 1895. Also included is a Mark Twain circular letter to W. L. Howard from New York, 2 May 1901, regretting he could not accept a lecture engagement. An added personal note states he would have made the trip but was permanently tired of travel and hoped he had made his last journey.
    • Searing, Laura Redden (1839-1923), Papers, 1846-1963 (C2290)
      The papers of Laura Redden Searing, a poet and author whose works appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, consist of correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, and her writings. The collection contains two letters written by Clemens, giving her publishing advice.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's Website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following Websites:
  • Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site
    This Website offers information about the Mark Twain Birthplace State Historic Site in Florida, Missouri.
  • Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum
    This Website offers information about the Mark Twain Museum and Boyhood Home in Hannibal, Missouri. A special teacher section offers lesson plans, and a timeline of Clemen’s life as well as genealogical information on the Clemens family. The museum sometimes offers summer weeklong teacher workshops.
  • Mark Twain: A Film Directed by Ken Burns
    This is a Website that is connected with the PBS film by Ken Burns about Mark Twain’s life. It includes a virtual scrapbook and life chronology.
  • The Mark Twain House & Museum
    This Website offers a biography of Clemens as well as information about the house in Hartford, CT, where he raised his family and worked from 1874 to 1891.
  • Mark Twain: A Look at the Life and Works of Samuel Clemens
    This Website provides a biography of Clemens as well as other useful information about this Hannibal native.
  • Mark Twain’s Mississippi River
    This Website provides a fully searchable and indexed digital library of Samuel Clemens’ publications under the name of Mark Twain, placing special emphasis upon Twain's Mississippi novels and reminiscences (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi).
  • History of Mark Twain in Elmira
    This Website charts the history of Samuel Clemens’s life in Elmira, New York.
  • The Mark Twain Papers & Project
    This Website offers information about Mark Twain’s private papers and the on-going effort to publish scholarly editions of them and his published works under the title The Works and Papers of Mark Twain.


Historic Missourians: Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Samuel Langhorne Clemens Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910) at age 39, around 1874.

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910) at age 39, around 1874.



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Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Also known as: Mark Twain
Born: November 30, 1835
Died: April 21, 1910 (age 74)
Category: Writers
Region of Missouri: Northeast
Missouri Hometown: Hannibal
Samuel Clemens's Signature