Skip to main content

Mark Twain

America's most famous literary icon

Born Samuel L. Clemens on November 30th, 1835 in Florida, Missouri, he became one of the most famous American authors writing under the highly recognizable pen name Mark Twain.  Twain was the sixth child born to John and Jane Clemens. About four years after he was born, the Clemens family moved to Hannibal, a city on the banks of the Mississippi River, where steamboats often took port.  Here, John Clemens worked many jobs in order to provide for his family.

During his early childhood, Twain suffered from many ailments that caused him to spend much of his time indoors. According to records he was not allowed to play outside much until he was about nine years old. When he was 12 his father passed away after coming down with a case of pneumonia. At age 13, he quit school and got his first job at the same newspaper where his brother Orion worked. Twain was trained as a printer’s apprentice and soon became an editorial assistant; this is where he first discovered his love for writing. 

He continued to write for newspapers into his early adult years when he also took a job driving and captaining a riverboat. When the Civil War broke out, he joined to Confederates in a unit called the Marion Rangers as a volunteer but quit after two weeks. Twain was conditioned in the mindset of his father that it was important to make money and provide for the family. He spent much of his life, as his father had before him, chasing this task. He headed west in July of 1861 with his brother Orion in the hopes of striking it rich in the Nevada Silver Rush. He was unsuccessful and took a job as a writer for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada, this is where he first wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.  “Mark Twain” is a river term meaning it is safe to navigate or 12-feet referring to the depth of the water when the boat is being sounded. It is suiting that he chose this name in honor of his days on the Mississippi River.

Twain began to gain fame with his short stories and then his novels. He is most known for his works, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, The Innocents Abroad, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

In 1870, he married Olivia Langdon of Elmira, New York and they had four children. Their son Langdon died when he was a toddler of diphtheria, two of their daughters, Susy and Jean passed away when in their 20s; Susy of spinal meningitis and Jean of a spell from epilepsy.  Their surviving daughter, Clara, lived to be 88 and had one daughter herself. Unfortunately, Clara’s daughter did not have any children of her own so there is no direct living kin to Mark Twain.

In the summer of 1890, the Clemens family vacationed in The Catskills, New York. They took residence in a rented cottage called The Balsam at Onteora Park founded by Candace Wheeler. This private residence in the Catskills was known for being a vacation spot to many artists, writers, and select wealthy families. He spent time with James Carroll Beckwith, Mary Elizabeth Dodge, and Candace Wheeler to name a few. Though he did not complete any works during his stay at Onteora Park, he was known for telling stories every night on his porch. Everyone would flock to the Clemens cottage at night to hear him tell his stories.

Mark Twain passed away on April 21st, 1910, and is buried in the hometown of his wife, Elmira, New York. He is one of the most iconic American writers best known for his writing style that was not pretentious but rather steeped his characters in the vernacular of the people of the south during his time.