Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his main pen name Mark Twain, is arguably the most famous American author of all time.
Samuel L. Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri. He was the sixth of seven children of Jane Lampton Clemens and John Marshall Clemens. When Samuel was four years old, in 1839, he and his family moved 35 miles east to the growing port city of Hannibal, Missouri. Sam’s father was a judge who built a two-story house in Hannibal in 1844 (Official Website of Mark Twain Biography,1).
As a boy, Samuel was confined to this house much of the time due to poor health. Thankfully, however; by age nine Sam was rid of his ailments and able to attend private school, swim, fish, and play with the other children. The boys often played outside along the Mississippi River where they pretended to be pirates for fun, which is reflected in Clemens’s writings (Official Website of Mark Twain Biography,1).
The Clemens family never had much money and usually struggled financially. When John Clemens, Samuel’s father, died of pneumonia in 1847, the family’s situation got even worse (University of Missouri, 2). Having completed the fifth grade, Samuel left school to work as a printer’s apprentice for a local newspaper. Sam worked as a typesetter for his older brother, Orion, who owned a newspaper company in Hannibal (The West, 1).
At 18, Samuel headed east, where he worked on several different newspapers and found some success as a writer. While in St. Louis, Clemens found work as a riverboat pilot’s apprentice. By 1858, Samuel was a licensed riverboat pilot. It was while Sam worked on the river that he found his new, and more famous name. In the river navigating
business, the term, “Mark twain,” means two fathoms, or twelve feet. “Mark twain,” was yelled when the water was deep enough for a river boat to safely travel (Official Web Site of Mark Twain Biography, 1).
Samuel’s days as a riverboat captain were cut short by the start of the American Civil War in 1861. The river traffic on the Mississippi was halted by the war, causing Clemens to find work elsewhere. Inspired by the memory of the slaves on his uncle’s farm and the spirit of the times, Sam joined a volunteer Confederate unit called the Marion Rangers, but quit after only a few weeks (A Life Lived in a Rapidly Changing World: Samuel L. Clemens‚ 1835-1910, 1). Ironically, Samuel’s brother, Orion, was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as territorial secretary of Nevada due to his abolitionist views (University of Missouri, 3).
During this time, Sam traveled by stagecoach to Nevada across the frontier. Along the way, Samuel met Native Americans for the first time as well as a number of other unique characters. The events of this expedition to the west eventually worked their way into Sam’s works, particularly “Roughing It”. When he arrived in Nevada, Clemens worked for Orion for a while before deciding to try his luck as a miner (A Life Lived in a Rapidly Changing...