Submitted by scott on

The Clemens family moved to Hannibal in November of 1839,  

Hannibal by 1844 took pride in four general stores, three sawmills, two planing mills, three blacksmith shops, two hotels, three saloons, two churches, two schools, a tobacco factory, a hemp factory, and a tan yard, as well as a flourishing distillery up at the still house branch. West of the village lay “Stringtown,” so called because its cabins and stock pens were strung out along the road. Small industry was the lifeblood of the town [Wecter 60].

Terrell Dmpsey writes:  Sam Clemens was exposed to bitter and divisive fighting within the churches of Hannibal.  During his youth, there were, in addition to the two Presbyterian churches, two Methodist churches, a Baptist church, a Christian (Disciples of Christ) church, a Catholic church, an Episcopal church, and a carefully controlled African church. The polarizing effects of slavery reached far beyond Hannibal, and national churches were separating into proslavery and abolitionist camps.  Local churches were succumbing to xenophobia. Perhaps Clemens's later religious cynicism was rooted in the struggles he observed as a boy.  [Dempsey, pg 61-2]

The Clemenses had moved into Sam’s boyhood home, built by his father on Hill Street in Hannibal. Across the street lived the Hawkins family. Laura Hawkins (Frazer) (1837-1928), a blonde daughter, was a romantic interest of young Sam’s. She later became the model for Becky Thatcher in The Adventures of Tom SawyerTom Blankenship was a friend of Sam’s who lived up Hill Street. The Blankenships were infamous drunks and ne’er-do-wells; Sam based Huck on Tom Blankenship, a model for rebelliousness in the face of all authority [Powers, MT A life 34].

May 27, 1853 Friday  Paine writes Sam took a night boat to St. Louis. He likely stayed with his sister Pamela and found work as a typesetter. He vowed never to let a place trap him again.

From San Francisco Alta California, May 26, 1867:


Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect, and I was "raised" there. First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young then to really hurt the place. Next, Jimmy Finn, the town drunkard, reformed, and that broke up the only saloon in the village. But the temperance people liked it; they were willing enough to sacrifice public prosperity to public morality. And so they made much of Jimmy Finn - dressed him up in new clothes, and had him out to breakfast and to dinner, and so forth, and showed him off as a great living curiosity - a shining example of the power of temperance doctrines when earnestly and eloquently set forth. Which was all very well, you know, and sounded well, and looked well in print, but Jimmy Finn couldn't stand it. He got remorseful about the loss of his liberty; and then he got melancholy from thinking about it so much; and after that, he got drunk. He got awfully drunk in the chief citizen's house, and the next morning that house was as if the swine had tarried in it. That outraged the temperance people and delighted the opposite faction. The former rallied and reformed Jim once more, but in an evil hour temptation came upon him, and he sold his body to a doctor for a quart of whiskey, and that ended all his earthly troubles. He drank it all at one sitting, and his soul went to its long account and his body went to Dr. Grant. This was another blow to Hannibal. Jimmy Finn had always kept the town in a sweat about something or other, and now it nearly died from utter inanition.

After this, Joe Dudding, a reckless speculator, started a weekly stage to the town of Florida, thirty miles away, where a couple of families were living, and Hannibal revived very perceptibly under this wild new sensation.

But then the scarlet fever came, and the hives, and between them they came near hiving all the children in the camp. And so Hannibal took another back-set. But pretty soon a weekly newspaper was started, which bred a fierce spirit of enterprise in the neighboring farmers, because when they had any small potatoes left over that they couldn't sell, they didn't throw them away as they used to do, but they took them to the editor and traded them off for subscriptions to his paper. But finally the potato-rot got him, and Hannibal was floored again.

However, somebody started a pork-house, and the little village showed signs of life once more. And then came the measles and blighted it. It stayed blighted a good while, too.

After a while they got to talking about building a plank road to New London, ten miles away, and after another while, they built it. This made business. Then they got excited and built a gravel road to Paris, 30 or 40 miles. More business. They got into a perfect frenzy and talked of a railroad - an actual rail road - a railroad 200 miles long - a railroad from Hannibal to St. Joseph! And behold, in the fullness of time - in ten or fifteen years - they built it.

A sure enough prosperity burst upon the community, now. Property went up. It was noted as a significant fact that instead of selling town-lots by the acre people began to sell them by the front foot. Hannibal grew fast - doubled its population in two years, started a daily paper or two, and came to be called a city - sent for a fire engine and had her out, bedecked with ribbons, on Fourth of July, but the engine-house burned down one night and destroyed her, which cast a gloom over the whole community. And they started militia companies, and Sons of Temperance and Cadets of Temperance. Hannibal always had a weakness for the Temperance cause. I joined the Cadets myself, although they didn't allow a boy to smoke, or drink or swear, but I thought I never could be truly happy till I wore one of those stunning red scarfs and walked in procession when a distinguished citizen died. I stood it four months, but never an infernal distinguished citizen died during the whole time; and when they finally pronounced old Dr. Norton convalescent (a man I had been depending on for seven or eight weeks,) I just drew out. I drew out in disgust, and pretty much all the distinguished citizens in the camp died within the next three weeks.

Well, Hannibal's prosperity seemed to be of a permanent nature, but St. Louis built the North Missouri Railroad and hurt her, and Quincy tapped the Hannibal and St. Joe in one or two places, which hurt her still worse, and then the war came, and the closing years of it almost finished her.

Now they are trying to build a branch railroad to some place in the interior they call Moberly, at a cost of half a million, and if that fails some of the citizens will move. They only talk Moberly now. The church members still talk about religion, but they mix up a good deal of Moberly in it. The young ladies talk fashion and Moberly, and the old ones talk of charity and temperance, piety, the grave, and Moberly. Hannibal will get Moberly, and it will save her. It will bring back the old prosperity. But won't they have to build another road to protect the Moberly? and another and another to protect each enterprise of the kind? A railroad is like a lie - you have to keep building to it to make it stand. A railroad is a ravenous destroyer of towns, unless those towns are put at the end of it and a sea beyond, so that you can't go further and find another terminus. And it is shaky trusting them, even then, for there is no telling what may be done with trestle-work. Which reminds me of ...

A letter to Sam's best friend from Hannibal possibly provides the best portrayal of his life there:

To William Bowen
6 February 1870 • Buffalo, N.Y.

Sunday Afternoon,0
At Home, 472 Delaware Avenue,
Buffalo Feb. [6,] [1870.]

My First, & Oldest & Dearest Friend,

My heart goes out to you just the same as [ever!] Your letter has stirred me to the bottom.1 The fountains of my great deep are broken up & I have rained reminiscences for four & twenty hours.2 The old life has swept before me like a panorama; the old days have trooped by in their old glory, [again;] the old faces have looked out of the mists of the past; old footsteps have sounded in my listening ears; old hands have clasped mine, old voices have greeted me, & the songs I loved ages & ages ago have come wailing down the centuries! Heavens what eternities have swung their hoary cycles about us since those days were new!—What Since we tore down Dick Hardy’s stable; since you had the measles & I went to your house purposely to catch them; since Henry Beebe kept that envied [slaughter-house], & Joe Craig sold him cats to kill in it; since old General Gaines used to say, “Whoop! Bow your neck & spread!;” since Jimmy [Finn] was town drunkard & we stole his dinner while he slept in the vat & fed it to the hogs in order to keep them still till we could mount them & have a ride; since Clint Levering was drowned; since we taught that one-legged nigger, Higgins, to offend Bill League’s dignity by hailing him in [publici ] with his exasperating “Hello, League!”—since we used to undress & play Robin Hood wi in our shirt-tails, with lath swords, in the woods on Holliday’s Hill on those long summer days; since we used to go in swimming above the still-house branch—& at mighty intervals wandered on vagrant o fishing excursions clear up to “the Bay,” & wondered what was curtained away in the great world beyond that remote point;3 since I jumped overboard from the ferry boat in the middle of the river that stormy day to get my hat, & swam two or three miles after it (& got it,) while all the town collected on the wharf & for an hour or so looked out across the angry waste of “white‐caps” toward where people said Sam. Clemens was last seen before he went down; since we got up a mutiny rebellion against Miss Newcomb, under Ed. Stevens’ leadership, (to force her to let us all go over to Miss Torry’s side of the schoolroom,) & gallantly “sassed” Laura Hawkins when she came out the third time to call us in, & then afterward marched in ‸in‸ threatening & bloodthirsty [array,—]& meekly yielded, & took each his little thrashing, [& resumed] his old seat entirely “reconstructed;” since we used to indulge in that very peculiar performance on that old bench outside the [school-house] to drive good old Bill Brown crazy while he was eating his dinner; since we used to remain at school at noon & go hungry, in order to persecute Bill Brown in all possible ways—poor old Bill, who could be driven to such extremity of vindictiveness as to call us “You infernal fools!” & chase us round & round the school-house—& yet who never had the heart to hurt us when he caught us, & who always loved us & always took our part when the big boys wanted to thrash us; since we used to lay in wait for Bill Pitts at the pump & whale him; (I saw him two or three years ago, & I was awful polite to his six feet two, & mentioned no reminiscences); since we used to be in Dave Garth’s class in Sunday school & on week-days stole his leaf tobacco to run our miniature tobacco presses with; since Owsley shot Smar; since Ben Hawkins shot off his finger; since we accidentally burned up that poor fellow in the calaboose; since we used to shoot spool cannons;, & cannons made of keys, while that envied & hated Henry Beebe drowned out our poor little pop-guns with his booming brazen little artillery on wheels; since Laura Hawkins was my [sweetheart——————] 4

Hold! That rouses me out of my dream, & brings me violently back unto this day & this generation. For behold I have at this moment the only sweetheart I ever loved, & bless her old heart she is lying asleep upstairs in a bed that I sleep in every night, & for four whole days she has been Mrs. Samuel L. Clemens! 5

I am 34 & she is 24; I am young & very handsome (I make the statement with the fullest confidence, for I got it from her,) & she is much the most beautiful girl I ever saw (I said that before she was anything to me, & so it is worthy of all belief) & she is the best girl, & the sweetest, & the gentlest, & the daintiest, & the most modest & unpretentious, & the wisest in all things she should be wise in & the most ignorant in all matters it would not grace her to know, & she is sensible & quick, & loving & faithful, forgiving, full of charity—& her beautiful life is ordered by a religion that is all kindliness & unselfishness. Before the gentle majesty of her purity all evil things & evil ways & evil deeds stand abashed,—then surrender. Wherefore without effort, or struggle, or spoken exorcism, all the old vices & shameful habits that have possessed me these many many years, are falling away, one by one, & departing into the darkness.

Bill, I know whereof I speak. I am too old & have moved about too much, & rubbed against too many people not to know human beings as well as we used to know “boils” from “[breaks.”] 6

She is the very most perfect gem of womankind that ever I saw in my life—& I will stand by that remark till I die.

William, old boy, her father surprised us a little, the other night. We all arrived here in a night train (my little wife & I were going to board,) & under pretense of taking us to the private boarding house that had been selected for me while I was absent lecturing in New England, my new father-in-law & some old friends drove us in sleighs to the [daintiest,] darlingest, loveliest little palace in America—& when I said “Oh, this [won’t do]—people who can afford to live in this sort of style won’t take boarders,” that same blessed father-in-law let out the secret that this was all our property—a present from [himself.] House & furniture cost $40,000 in cash, (including stable, horse & carriage), & is a most exquisite little palace (I saw no apartment in Europe so lovely as our little drawing-room.)

Come along, you & Mollie,7 just whenever you can, & pay us a visit, (giving us a little notice [beforehand],) & if we don’t make you comfortable nobody in the world can.

[{And] now ‸my‸ princess has come down for dinner (bless me, isn’t it cosy, nobody but just us two, & three servants to wait on us & respectfully call us “Mr.” and “Mrs. Clemens” instead of “Sam.” & “Livy!”) It took me many a year to work up to where I can put on style, but now I’ll do [it. My] book gives me an income like a small lord, & my paper is not a good [ po profitable] concern.8

Dinner’s ready. Good bye & g God bless you, old friend, & keep your heart fresh & your memory green for the old days that will never come again.

Yrs always

Sam. Clemens.

SLC to William Bowen, 6 Feb 1870, Buffalo, N.Y. (UCCL 02464), n. 0. 

See notes on Bear Creek; his Boyhood Home;  Cardiff Hill; Mark Twain Cave

From The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871, page 56

In the spring of 1849 Hannibal became a way station to the West, a crossroads during the Gold Rush. It was “just far enough north to be where West was South and East was North,” James M. Cox once explained. A decade earlier, six-day-per-week steamboat service had been established during the summer months between Keokuk, Iowa, sixty-five miles north of Hannibal, and St. Louis, about a hundred miles south as the buzzard flies, with travel connections to all points on the compass. By 1846 three steamboats on average stopped in Hannibal every day, a total of 1,080 during the year. “All emigrants went through there,” Sam noted. Over two hundred Hannibal citizens rushed to California after the discovery of gold, about eighty of them in the spring of 1849.




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