About this Famous Person
American author and humorist
Mark Twain was born to a Tennessee country merchant, John Marshall Clemens (August 11, 1798 – March 24, 1847), and Jane Lampton Clemens (June 18, 1803 – October 27, 1890). John Marshall Clemens was the first of five children born to Samuel B Clemens and Pamela Goggin (1775–1844), who married on October 29, 1797 in Bedford County, Virginia.
Twain was the sixth of seven children. Only three of his siblings survived childhood: his brother Orion (July 17, 1825 – December 11, 1897); Henry, who died in a riverboat explosion (July 13, 1838 – June 21, 1858); and Pamela (September 19, 1827 – August 31, 1904). His sister Margaret (May 31, 1830 – August 17, 1839) died when Twain was three, and his brother Benjamin (June 8, 1832 – May 12, 1842) died three years later. Another brother, Pleasant (1828–1829), died at six months. Twain was born two weeks after the closest approach to Earth of Halley's Comet. On December 4, 1985, the United States Postal Service issued a stamped envelope for "Mark Twain and Halley's Comet."
When Twain was four, his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, a port town on the Mississippi River that inspired the fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Missouri was a slave state and young Twain became familiar with the institution of slavery, a theme he would later explore in his writing.
Twain’s father was an attorney and a local judge. The Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was organized in his office in 1846. The railroad connected the second and third largest cities in the state and was the westernmost United States railroad until the Transcontinental Railroad. It delivered mail to and from the Pony Express.
In March 1847, when Twain was 11, his father died of pneumonia. The next year, he became a printer's apprentice. In 1851, he began working as a typesetter and contributor of articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. When he was 18, he left Hannibal and worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. He joined the union and educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, finding wider information than at a conventional school. At 22, Twain returned to Missouri.
On a voyage to New Orleans down the Mississippi, the steamboat pilot, Horace E. Bixby, inspired Twain to be a steamboat pilot. As Twain observed in Life on the Mississippi, the pilot surpassed a steamboat's captain in prestige and authority; it was a rewarding occupation with wages set at $250 per month, roughly equivalent to $72,400 a year today. A steamboat pilot needed to know the ever-changing river to be able to stop at the hundreds of ports and wood-lots. Twain studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859.
While training, Samuel convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry was killed on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat on which he was working, the Pennsylvania, exploded. Twain had foreseen this death in a dream a month earlier, which inspired his interest in parapsychology; he was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research. Twain was guilt-stricken and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. He continued to work on the river and was a river pilot until the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed.
Missouri was considered by many to be part of the South, and was represented in both the Confederate and Federal governments during the Civil War. Twain wrote a sketch, "The Private History of a Campaign That Failed", which claimed he and his friends had been Confederate volunteers for two weeks before disbanding their company.
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