Yet he did not retreat from his moral and intellectual standards, or lose the respect of that shiftless community. He was never intimidated by the rougher element, and his eyes were of a kind that would disconcert nine men out of ten. Gray and deep-set under bushy brows, they literally looked you through. Absolutely fearless, he permitted none to trample on his rights. It is told of John Clemens, at Jamestown, that once when he had lost a cow he handed the minister on Sunday morning a notice of the loss to be read from the pulpit, according to the custom of that community. For some reason, the minister put the document aside and neglected it. At the close of the service Clemens rose and, going to the pulpit, read his announcement himself to the congregation. Those who knew Mark Twain best will not fail to recall in him certain of his father's legacies.
The arrival of a letter from "Colonel Sellers" inviting the Hawkins family to come to Missouri is told in The Gilded Age. In reality the letter was from John Quarles, who had married Jane Clemens's sister, Patsey Lampton, and settled in Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. It was a momentous letter in The Gilded Age, and no less so in reality, for it shifted the entire scene of the Clemens family fortunes, and it had to do with the birthplace and the shaping of the career of one whose memory is likely to last as long as American history.
A HUMBLE BIRTHPLACE
Florida, Missouri, was a small village in the early thirties--smaller than it is now, perhaps, though in that day it had more promise, even if less celebrity. The West was unassembled then, undigested, comparatively unknown. Two States, Louisiana and Missouri, with less than half a million white persons, were all that lay beyond the great river. St. Louis, with its boasted ten thousand inhabitants and its river trade with the South, was the single metropolis in all that vast uncharted region. There was no telegraph; there were no railroads, no stage lines of any consequence--scarcely any maps. For all that one could see or guess, one place was as promising as another, especially a settlement like Florida, located at the forks of a pretty stream, Salt River, which those early settlers believed might one day become navigable and carry the merchandise of that region down to the mighty Mississippi, thence to the world outside.
In those days came John A. Quarles, of Kentucky, with his wife, who had been Patsey Ann Lampton; also, later, Benjamin Lampton, her father, and others of the Lampton race. It was natural that they should want Jane Clemens and her husband to give up that disheartening east Tennessee venture and join them in this new and promising land. It was natural, too, for John Quarles--happy-hearted, generous, and optimistic--to write the letter. There were only twenty-one houses in Florida, but Quarles counted stables, out-buildings--everything with a roof on it--and set down the number at fifty-four.
Florida, with its iridescent promise and negligible future, was just the kind of a place that John Clemens with unerring instinct would be certain to select, and the Quarles letter could have but one answer. Yet there would be the longing for companionship, too, and Jane Clemens must have hungered for her people. In The Gilded Age, the Sellers letter ends:
"Come!--rush!--hurry!--don't wait for anything!"
The Clemens family began immediately its preparation for getting away. The store was sold, and the farm; the last two wagon-loads of produce were sent to Louisville; and with the aid of the money realized, a few hundred dollars, John Clemens and his family "flitted out into the great mysterious blank that lay beyond the Knobs of Tennessee." They had a two-horse barouche, which would seem to have been preserved out of their earlier fortunes. The barouche held the parents and the three younger children, Pamela, Margaret, anal the little boy, Benjamin. There were also two extra horses, which Orion, now ten, and Jennie, the house-girl, a slave, rode.