May 25 Wednesday – Sam wrote another “Assistant’s Column” in the Journal [MTL 1:2]. A notice first ran in the Journal: “WANTED! AN APPRENTICE OF THE PRINTING BUSINESS. APPLY SOON.” The ad ran for two weeks. Wecter concludes this date marked Sam’s departure from Hannibal [Wecter 263]. Sam had promised his mother that he would abstain from cards and liquor [Wecter 262]. By this time Sam was in St. Louis to find his way in the world. Paine writes he took a night boat to St. Louis. Sam likely stayed with his sister Pamela and found work as a typesetter. He vowed never to let a place trap him again.
Sometime in May or June of 1853 seventeen year old Sam Clemens left home for the first time. He departed the small Mississippi River town of Hannibal, Missouri, later reflected in stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, boarded a packet steamer bound for St. Louis, and began a life of travel. Packet steamers were vessels that transported both freight and passengers. Some packets were faster but not so reliable; some were larger but also slower; some were more luxurious, but carried less freight. With the grace of swans on a highway that cost nothing to build, such boats would figure large in Sam’s life. Steamer Biographies
Sam likely stayed with his sister Pamela and found work as a typesetter for the St. Louis Evening News. He vowed never to let a place trap him again. St. Louis in the summer of 1853 was a burgeoning city of 100,000 souls, the largest city of the West. The city offered Western freedom together with many of the luxuries and affectations of the East. For a young man from Hannibal, such a city must have been dazzling. Sam had kept plans secret from his family, to work in St. Louis long enough to make fare to New York City. Sam had read stories about the World’s Fair and the Crystal Palace, and he’d included them in his Journal.
From The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871, page 76
...Sam found work in the shop of the St. Louis Evening News and in the composing room of Thomas Ustick, Orion's former employer. With a population of about ninety thousand, including about two thousand slaves and about fifteen hundred free men and women of color, soon to become the eighth-largest metropolis in the nation, the Mound City at the time boasted twenty-one daily and weekly newspapers; twelve magazines; a half-dozen lithographic, printing, and engraving establishments; “four steel and copper plate engraving and three wood engraving” businesses; and “six book binderies and eight book and job offices.” In all, these businesses employed over 850 printers—that is, about 1 percent of the population of the city worked in the printing industry. Ustick was responsible for producing the Western Watchman; the St. Louis Presbyterian; Anzeiger des Westens, an antislavery German-language daily; and other local publications. Sam no doubt learned some rudimentary German in Ustick’s shop and, as soon as he was settled, began to save his money. He was a competent though not a skilled compositor, fully able to set around ten thousand ems during an eight-hour shift, but when he increased his speed to boost his income he multiplied his mistakes. “While the rest of us were drawing our $12 a week, it was all Sam Clemens could do to make $8 or $9,” a coworker at the Evening News remembered, “He always had so many errors marked in his proofs that it took most of his time correcting them.” Nor could he “have set up an advertisement in acceptable form to save his life.” Sam likely lived with his sister Pamela and her husband Will on Pine Street to save the cost of renting a room. In a vain effort to make a little extra money, or so he recalled, he wrote several pieces he thought worthy of publication and carried them to the door of the editor of the St. Louis Missouri Republican, though he fled in trepidation before he submitted them for examination. While employed by the Evening News, he joined the St. Louis Typographical Union—his first but not last expression of solidarity with the cause of organized labor and craft guilds.”