Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who later took the pen name
Mark Twain, has several ties to West Point, Iowa. Mark
Twain is, of course, a unique figure in American
literature who looms above all others as the most widely
quoted and recognized. He is always envisioned as the
quintessential American writer. He is like no other
American literary figure in that his name alone brings
to mind images and issues that are at the heart of 19th
century American cultural history. School children in
London, Berlin, and Moscow are familiar with his
Sam Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida,
Missouri. His parents were John Marshall and Jane
Lampton Clemens. Most of Sam’s childhood years, the
inspiration for many of his later writings, were spent
in Hannibal. As a young man in the 1850s, he worked for
his brother, Orion, in Muscatine and Keokuk. Orion was
in the newspaper and print shop businesses. Sam did not
write under the name Mark Twain until the 1860s when he
was living in Nevada. For that reason, I will generally
refer to him as Sam Clemens, and not Mark Twain, in this
The Kentucky Clan
The key to understanding all of Sam Clemens’ ties to
West Point, Iowa is the extended family in which he grew
up. Clemens’ parents were members of a cohesive group of
families with ancestors in England and Ireland. In the
late 1700s and early 1800s, these family groups often
lived and moved together in order to provide financial
support and protection from the Indians and other
dangerous elements. These extended families were like
communities unto themselves, and marriages among cousins
were not uncommon.
The families with which Sam’s parents were connected
included the Walkers, Pattersons, Caseys, Montgomerys,
Creels, Stotts, and Taylors. These people showed an
intense love of the frontier, and followed it westward
as the country grew. By the mid-1700s, they found their
way to a large Scotch-Irish “colony” in Rockbridge
County, Virginia. That is in the mountainous west
central part of the state. After settlement opened up in
Kentucky, they moved to Adair County and spent more than
a generation there.
When even Kentucky became a little too crowded for their
liking, the families again became restless for the
frontier. The question became where they would land
next. In the 1830s, attitudes toward slavery often
determined the western destinations of the pioneers.
Slaveholders generally chose Missouri, and emancipators
chose Illinois or Iowa. Sam’s parents ended up in
northeastern Missouri. Most other families in the group,
however, moved from Adair County to Irish Grove, then in
Sangamon County (now Menard County), Illinois.
By 1835, this main group formed the opinion that Irish
Grove was not a healthy place to live due to chronic,
widespread illness within the community. It was well
known that part of what is now Iowa had been opened to
settlement. The group sent several men, including
William Patterson and Hawkins Taylor, to scout for a new
home west of the Mississippi. These men crossed the
Mississippi at Fort Madison and continued on to the
present site of West Point, which was occupied by a few
rough buildings. The town site made a favorable
impression on the group, and they moved their families
from Irish Grove to West Point. One of the individuals
who made the move was Sam Clemens’ great grandmother.
Great Grandma Casey
The most commonly known tie between Samuel Clemens and
West Point is his great grandmother, Erythusa Jane
Montgomery Casey. She was not only a blood relative, but
the matriarch of the extended family that eventually
reached southeast Iowa.
Born in Virginia in 1761, Jane Montgomery and her
parents and siblings moved to Kentucky in 1779. In
spring 1781, only 20 years old, she helped defend their
wilderness settlement of four cabins against the
Indians. Her father, William, was killed as he left
their cabin in the morning. Her brother, John, was
killed at a neighboring cabin. Young Jane barred the
door of her father’s cabin and held the Indians at bay
with a rifle. She sent her 12-year old sister up the
chimney and out the back of the house to fetch help.
Jane Montgomery married William Casey, a Revolutionary
War veteran, in the following year. The Caseys had come
separately from Virginia. After their marriage, there
were three occasions on which Jane again held a rifle to
defend their home against the Indians. Mr. and Mrs.
Casey were the most revered couple in their community in
Adair County. Col. Casey later had a county in central
Kentucky named for him.
One of their daughters, Margaret (or “Peggy”), married
Benjamin Lampton. The Lamptons’ daughter, Jane, was Sam
Clemens’ mother. Jane Lampton Clemens was named for her
grandmother, and was born in her grandmother’s home in
An unknown artist painted Jane Montgomery Casey in 1811,
when she was 50 years old. She appears to have worn a
dark dress, or frock, and the light blouse underneath
has a rounded collar. Her left arm is draped casually on
a chair or couch. Her hair was severely knotted under a
black lace cap. In the portrait, she looks directly at
the artist. Here eyes were said to have been violet
It was a constant struggle to feed and clothe her
children in frontier Kentucky. If a doctor was
unavailable, she served as a nurse both to her own
family and others. As the matriarch of her family, Mrs.
Casey often called not only her own children but her
grandchildren to her parlor to counsel them.
In the early 1830s Mrs. Casey, by this time a widow,
moved with her son, Green, to Irish Grove, Illinois. The
fertile, inexpensive land there was a step up from the
poor, hilly soil of southern Kentucky. Various members
of Mrs. Casey’s extended family (the Walkers,
Pattersons, Stotts, Taylors, and others) moved to
Illinois about the same time. Others, including the John
Marshall Clemens family, moved to northeastern Missouri.
Mrs. Casey’s husband had owned slaves in Kentucky, but
she had none after she left the state. John Clemens
continued to own slaves in Missouri.
Great-grandmother Casey came to West Point in 1837. That
was after Green Casey, her son, had scouted the area
with William Patterson and Hawkins Taylor in
anticipation of moving there. Green stayed in Illinois
and died shortly thereafter. His widow, Jane Patterson
Casey, is believed to have lived near the northwestern
corner of West Point’s town square. Great grandma Casey
is assumed to have lived with her.
Sam Clemens, soon to be the most famous of his great
grandmother’s descendants, was born two years before she
reached West Point. Shortly after her arrival, Mrs.
Casey received a letter from Sam’s mother about the new
and larger dwelling into which she had moved her growing
family in Missouri. Granny Casey mistakenly envisioned
two full stories connected by a graceful flight of
stairs. The actual house was much more modest.
Mrs. Casey no doubt invited Jane Lampton Clemens, Sam’s
mother, to visit her at West Point. Jane Clemens would
no doubt have been highly motivated to visit her
grandmother because of their close relationship in
Kentucky. If she did visit West Point, however, it is
Jane Montgomery Casey died at West Point on January 30,
1844. She was 83. She lies beneath a simple gray stone
in West Point’s City Cemetery. Sam Clemens was eight
years old at the time of her death. It is not known if
he attended the funeral with his mother. The winter trip
would have been difficult. If his mother did not want to
endure the hardship, she and perhaps Sam may have
visited West Point the next spring or summer. Sam would
also have had opportunities to visit his
great-grandmother’s grave when he moved to Iowa at a
Mary Eleanor “Mollie” Stotts of Keokuk, a “master
spirit,” married Sam’s brother, Orion, on December 19,
1854 at her home. As a child, she had lived in West
Point before moving to Keokuk. Her father, William,
succeeded Hawkins Taylor as Lee County Sheriff. Mollie’s
mother, Mary Patterson Stotts, had been a girlhood
friend of Jane Lampton in Kentucky. Mary Stotts was also
a sister of Col. William S. Patterson, a co-founder of
West Point. So William Patterson was an uncle of Mollie
“Talented and Brilliant”
In July 1855, at age 19, Sam took a boat from Hannibal
to Keokuk. His brother, Orion, owned the Ben Franklin
Book and Job Office downtown. Orion offered Sam work on
his largest project to date--publication of the Keokuk
City Directory. The printing office was on the third
floor of a four-floor red brick building on Main Street.
There was a book store on the ground floor and a music
school run by Professor Isbell on the second floor. Sam
earned $5 a week and free board at Ivins House, the
town’s best hotel.
After his work was finished, Sam would sometimes play
the guitar or banjo, and sing comic and nonsense songs
in the print office. Orion and his other apprentices
would join in. Professor Isbell, hearing the ruckus,
invited Sam and his comrades to join a singing class.
His high spirits, instinctive gallantry, and dancing
skills made him popular. Through Orion’s wife, Mollie,
who was close to Sam’s age, and her younger sister,
Belle, he met a bevy of girls. In letters, he mentioned
his favorites including Ella Patterson and Ella Creel,
his own cousin. But it was one of Orion’s neighbors,
“the talented and brilliant” Ann Elizabeth Taylor, who
was his primary interest. Ann was the daughter of
Hawkins Taylor, a co-founder of West Point and later a
Keokuk alderman. She was born on January 9, 1840, when
the family resided in West Point.
The Taylors’ home was within a block of the Stotts
family, with whom Orion Clemens lived during most of
1856, and in the same neighborhood as the Creels and
Pattersons. Sam had intimate friends in both families.
There is also some evidence that the Taylors entertained
Sam at their summer property north of Keokuk on the
Annie Taylor was well read, musical, liked to draw, and
shared Sam’s ability to see the comical side of things.
She was something of a rebel, too, having “very
irregular” attendance at prayer meetings. She also had
ambitions beyond marriage, and was attending Iowa
Wesleyan College in Mt. Pleasant. Sam’s younger brother,
Henry, who also worked at Orion’s print shop, was taken
with Annie’s younger sister, Mary Jane.
Sam courted Annie down the locust-lined streets of
Keokuk during her school holidays. When apart, they
corresponded regularly. Her letters were described as
“strikingly original and humorous.” They inspired Sam to
write about subjects he knew she, above all others,
would appreciate. One of his letters to “My Dear Friend
Annie” was about the swarms of bugs attracted by the gas
light as he worked late in the printing office at 2 a.m.
He imagined a big “president” beetle first buzzing at
his flock of lesser insects, and then joining them in
church hymns. The letter demonstrated his ability to
write an entertaining and detailed story about the
Annie once wrote Sam from Iowa Wesleyan about the
difficulty of composing a paper. He responded “Ah,
Annie, I have a slight horror of writing essays myself.
And if I were inclined to write one, I should be afraid
to do it, knowing you could do it so much better…” She
sent him a drawing of Mt. Pleasant, which he jokingly
referred to as “Mt. Unpleasant,” probably because her
college attendance kept them apart.
What is unmistakable in Sam’s letters is his tenderness
for Annie Taylor. When there was a drought in her
correspondence, he gently chided her in an attempt to
renew the exchanges.
For a time, Sam’s mother was concerned that he was
headed for marriage while still a pauper. But his
restless spirit caused him to leave Keokuk after a year
and a half. He continued to write his dear friend for a
time, but distance caused the relationship to fade.
After attending Iowa Wesleyan for two terms, Annie
completed her studies in art and literature at
Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri. She was an
English instructor there for several years. That was an
outstanding accomplishment for a young woman at the
time. Annie married Frederick Cunningham, a local man
who became postmaster in St. Charles. The two moved to
California, where Frederick’s health failed and he died.
Annie came back to the Midwest, marrying Charles A.
Cunningham (possibly a relative of Frederick) and
setting up a new household in Carrollton, Missouri. The
two had no children of their own, but Ann served as a de
facto mother to three whom she had educated. During
their years in Carrollton, Charles became a judge of the
probate court. Ann, however, fell into poor health after
age 35. It was said that, in her own home, she was
cheerful and a charming conversationalist. However, she
was unable to take part in any social life in the town
during the last 20 years of her life.
Ann died of pneumonia on January 23, 1916. Her
friendship with Sam Clemens had been fleeting and
preceded his literary fame. Still, this one-time
resident of West Point thought enough of Sam to save his
letters in a Japanese-style lacquer box for 60 years.
The Frontier Lawmaker
and Mayor of Keokuk
Col. William S. Patterson was a key member of the
extended family. He was a founding member of the
Presbyterian Church in West Point and was elected to the
first territorial legislature. He was familiar with the
Sauk chief, Black Hawk, who lived for a time about eight
miles south of West Point. After moving to Keokuk in the
1840s, Patterson owned a hotel and pork packing plant.
He was also a leading political figure there, serving
three times as mayor. He kept a watchful eye over not
only his immediate family, but distant relatives and
Patterson made a significant loan to Orion Clemens, who
always found it difficult to run his printing business
profitably. Sam referred to the loan in a letter he sent
to Orion from St. Louis. “Now, as I understand the house
business, you can get a big, reputable house to live in
for $110 per year—which is cheap enough rent…You owe
uncle Billy Patterson and old Jimmy Clemens, Jr. (a
wealthy relative) money—and if they were to die, their
administrators would “gobble up” everything you’ve got.
Therefore, put no property in your own name.” Uncle
Billy Patterson was 58 years old at the time.
The Patterson household provided some care for Sam’s
mother, Jane, in her later years. During one visit, she
noted that “Snow and cold keep me in doors. We were
invited to spend the day yesterday at Col. Pattersons.
He was an active business man, but now he only can walk
with two crutches and the help of a Negro man to get him
started. When the young people are about, he enjoys
their fun…I suppose the Hotel (Patterson House) is doing
a good business.”
Thomas Sawyer and
The title character’s name for Mark Twain’s famous
novel, Tom Sawyer, may have been inspired by a one-time
resident of the West Point area. A pen name, Thomas
Jefferson Snodgrass, used by Sam Clemens in the Keokuk
Post between October 1856 and March 1857, may have been
similarly inspired. Ann Stroupe and Jim Ramsey,
descendants of Thomas Sawyer and his wife, Eliza
Snodgrass, provide considerable support for these
Thomas Sawyer was a resident of Lee County from 1850 to
1892, first owning property in Pleasant Ridge Township.
Like the Caseys, Pattersons, and Taylors before him, he
became a member of the Presbyterian Church in West
Point. He was elected to the Iowa Legislature in 1856,
during the time Sam Clemens lived in Keokuk. Being close
to the newspaper and printing businesses and interested
in politics, Sam Clemens would have been aware of his
campaign. In his legislative position, Sawyer succeeded
R.P. Creel and was followed by J.A. Casey, both members
of the “extended family” of Sam Clemens.
Eliza Snodgrass was Thomas Sawyer’s wife. She had a
brother named George Washington Snodgrass. The
similarity to the pen name, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass,
may not be a coincidence. Eliza’s parents lived in West
Point from 1850 until their deaths in 1860 and 1877.
They are buried in West Point Cemetery close to the
grave of Sam Clemens’ great-grandmother. Thomas Sawyer
was the executor of his mother-in-law’s will, and spent
considerable time in West Point working on her estate.
It is known that the Casey, Creel, and Snodgrass
families knew each other from church activities.
If Sam Clemens visited his great-grandmother’s grave in
West Point, he may have been introduced to Thomas and
Eliza Sawyer at church or a relative’s home. William
Patterson, a member of the extended family and active in
Keokuk politics, may also have made the introduction
during Sawyer’s campaign. In any case, it is very likely
that Clemens knew the Sawyers or at least knew of them.
After leaving Keokuk in 1857, Clemens returned several
times in the 1860s and 1870s. He started writing Tom
Sawyer in April 1874 and published it in 1876. Thomas
and Eliza Sawyer moved to Keokuk in 1882 and lived there
the rest of their lives.
The Clemens Family of
It would be wonderful to say that Mark Twain was related
to the Clemens family that has been in West Point since
the 1850s. But if there is any relation, it must be very
distant. Sam Clemens’ immigrant ancestors came from
England, while the West Point family’s ancestors were
Georgia Kress Clemens, the widow of Maurice Clemens, has
spent considerable time researching the family history
and looking for a connection. The patriarch of the West
Point Clemens family was Joseph (1820-92). He married
Catharina Gerardi (1823-98) in St. Louis in 1848. Both
were born in western Germany. Joseph, a veteran of the
Mexican War, moved his family from St. Louis to West
Point around 1857. One family researcher speculates he
may have been given a land grant in Iowa due to his
military service. He was a brick mason by trade.
The English family members spelled their name “Clement”
or “Clements” before the 1800s. Sam’s lineage can be
traced back to his paternal grandfather, also named
Samuel, but it gets a little fuzzy beyond that. Grandpa
Clemens died in a tragic construction accident at a
young age. Apparently, he had shared little information
about his ancestry prior to his death.
Is it still possible the West Point Clemens family is
related to Mark Twain despite ancestors coming from two
different countries? The Clemens name is found
throughout England and Germany in various forms,
including Klemenz in the latter country. Many of the
early settlers of England came from Germanic countries.
(That is why English is, at its core, a Germanic
language.) So it is possible there was some link between
Sam Clemens and Joseph Clemens. But it would probably
have been a weak link. Whatever the case, West Point is
very fortunate to have this strong a connection to one
of the greatest American writers.