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Mark Twain

Childhood in Missouri

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835 in a two-room frame house in Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. His parents were John Marshall Clemens, a lawyer who came from Virginia, and Jane Lampton, who hailed from Kentucky. He was the sixth surviving child in his family and was called “Little Sam.” As his mother believed, he was born fortuitously under the ebbing streaks of Halley’s Comet. As he was born two months prematurely and was very small, it was believed that he would not survive, but survive he did along with thriving. The family would include his brothers Orion, Benjamin and Henry, along with sisters Pamela, Mary and Margaret. Shortly after his sister Margaret died in 1839 from bilious fever, the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. This would be the location that would inspire and become the backdrop of his future novels Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. No matter where in the world Twain would travel in his many pursuits of adventure, Hannibal would always be the place he would call home. Here he would experience a boyhood full of mischief and childhood adventure. His childhood friends became the models for his characters, such as Laura Hawkins would become Becky Thatcher and Tom Blankenship would become Huckleberry Finn. Summers were spent at his Uncle John Quarles’ farm, in order to relieve his mother from his constant shenanigans. His uncle kept several slaves and they became an influence for storytelling and song. A slave known as Uncle Daniel became the model for Jim. Twain relished these summers, playing with his cousins and listening to the stories told by the slaves. To the young boy, slavery was a practice that he never questioned, but at the same time he respected the slaves as fellow compatriots in his creative adventures. It was their stories and their songs that infused his youth. Even as an adult many years later, he would remember their influence on his thoughts and opinions and use his remembrances of these times for comfort. While his family struggled financially, his boyhood was a carefree time when adventure was most on his mind and school was an institution to play hooky from. His father, whom Twain would later recount as a man who he never saw laugh, struggled to support his family. He would end up dying of pneumonia at the age of forty-eight on March 24, 1847. Life would gradually become more serious and more of a struggle after the family’s loss.

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