Mark Twain in Hannibal
When be wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain turned Hannibal, Missouri—which he later described as a “white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer’s morning” — into an American literary Mecca. No other town in the country has stronger associations with an author, and Twain readily acknowledged its role in his success.
The relationship between Hannibal and Twain began in November 1839, when Twain’s father, John Clemens, decided to leave the hamlet of Florida, Missouri, and move east about 35 miles(56km) to the somewhat larger and more prosperous Hannibal, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Twain, then known as Samuel Clemens, marked his fourth birthday about a week after the family settled there. He showed little promise of becoming a long-term resident. However, because his health was so poor that his parents probably feared he would not survive childhood.
During the family’s first few years in Hannibal, Twain was too young to understand fully the changes going on around him. John Clemens, though trained as a lawyer, tried to support his family by running a store and speculating in real estate. When those ventures failed, Clemens was forced to postpone his plans to establish a permanent home for the family.
About 1843, he began concentrating on the practice of law, a decision that brought some stability to the family finances and enabled him to have a house built. Construction began in 1843, and the family moved into the new house the next year. Situated on Hill Street, near the center of town, the modest two-story frame house attracted little attention during the years when the family called it home. The kitchen, dining room and parlor were on the first floor, and three bedrooms, along with a small wardrobe room, were upstairs.
About the time the family moved into their new home. Twain’s health improved dramatically. Instead of having to lead a quiet indoor life, he could roam the streets of Hannibal. Climb the surrounding hills, explore the area’s caves and splash about in local swimming holes. He reveled in his newfound freedom, spending nearly all his free time playing outdoors with the other boys in town and soon becoming a leader. One member of his gang was Twain’s and became a close friend. Twain’s many comrades also included girls. Across the street lived one named Laura Hawkins, with whom he often flirted.
Twain’s carefree days did not last long, His father used their house as collateral for a friend’s loan, and the creditor took possession when the loan failed. A physician who lived diagonally across the street from the family offered to let them live in his home, which was called the Pilaster House because of its decorative columns. The Clemens family moved into that house sometime in late 1846. On March 24, 1847, John Clemens died. His wife, Jane Lampton Clemens, and their oldest son, Orion, managed to regain possession of the little house on Hill Street, and the family moved back into it that summer. These events dampened but did not extinguish Twain’s cheerful disposition.
For the next six years, Twain, his brother Henry, and his sister Pamela live with their mother in the family home. Twain began taking odd jobs after school to bring in extra cash. Within a year of his father’s death, he quit school and became an apprentice printer, and when his brother Orion bought the Hannibal Journal in 1851, Twain went to work for him as a printer and editorial assistant. The stories he wrote for Orion’s paper, his first publications, taught him that he much preferred writing to typesetting. Thus, when he decided to leave Hannibal in May 1853, he already had an inkling of his future career.