The time was spring, the period of the Old South, and, while these youngsters did not realize that they were passing through a sort of Golden Age, they must have enjoyed the weeks of leisurely journeying toward what was then the Far West--the Promised Land.
The Clemens fortunes had been poor in Tennessee. John Marshall Clemens, the father, was a lawyer, a man of education; but he was a dreamer, too, full of schemes that usually failed. Born in Virginia, he had grown up in Kentucky, and married there Jane Lampton, of Columbia, a descendant of the English Lamptons and the belle of her region. They had left Kentucky for Tennessee, drifting from one small town to another that was always smaller, and with dwindling law-practice John Clemens in time had been obliged to open a poor little store, which in the end had failed to pay. Jennie was the last of several slaves he had inherited from his Virginia ancestors. Besides Jennie, his fortune now consisted of the horses and barouche, a very limited supply of money, and a large, unsalable tract of east Tennessee land, which John Clemens dreamed would one day bring his children fortune.
Readers of the "Gilded Age" will remember the journey of the Hawkins family from the "Knobs" of Tennessee to Missouri and the important part in that story played by the Tennessee land. Mark Twain wrote those chapters, and while they are not history, but fiction, they are based upon fact, and the picture they present of family hardship and struggle is not overdrawn. The character of Colonel Sellers, who gave the Hawkinses a grand welcome to the new home, was also real. In life he was James Lampton, cousin to Mrs. Clemens, a gentle and radiant merchant of dreams, who believed himself heir to an English earldom and was always on the verge of colossal fortune. With others of the Lampton kin, he was already settled in Missouri and had written back glowing accounts; though perhaps not more glowing than those which had come from another relative, John Quarles, brother-in-law to Mrs. Clemens, a jovial, whole-hearted optimist, well-loved by all who knew him.
It was a June evening when the Clemens family, with the barouche and the two outriders, finally arrived in Florida, and the place, no doubt, seemed attractive enough then, however it may have appeared later. It was the end of a long journey; relatives gathered with fond welcome; prospects seemed bright. Already John Quarles had opened a general store in the little town. Florida, he said, was certain to become a city. Salt River would be made navigable with a series of locks and dams. He offered John Clemens a partnership in his business.
Quarles, for that time and place, was a rich man. Besides his store he had a farm and thirty slaves. His brother-in-law's funds, or lack of them, did not matter. The two had married sisters. That was capital enough for his hearty nature. So, almost on the moment of arrival in the new land, John Clemens once more found himself established in trade.
The next thing was to find a home. There were twenty-one houses in Florida, and none of them large. The one selected by John and Jane Clemens had two main rooms and a lean-to kitchen--a small place and lowly--the kind of a place that so often has seen the beginning of exalted lives. Christianity began with a babe in a manger; Shakespeare first saw the light in a cottage at Stratford; Lincoln entered the world by way of a leaky cabin in Kentucky, and into the narrow limits of the Clemens home in Florida, on a bleak autumn day--November 30, 1835--there was born one who under the name of Mark Twain would live to cheer and comfort a tired world.
The name Mark Twain had not been thought of then, and probably no one prophesied favorably for the new-comer, who was small and feeble, and not over-welcome in that crowded household. They named him Samuel, after his paternal grandfather, and added Langhorne for an old friend--a goodly burden for so frail a wayfarer. But more appropriately they called him "Little Sam," or "Sammy," which clung to him through the years of his delicate childhood.