Did Samuel Clemens (Mark
Twain) Meet Thomas Sawyer of Lee County, Iowa Before
He Wrote The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer?
The writers of this essay, Ann Stroupe and Jim Ramsey,
of Thomas SAWYER and his wife Eliza SNODGRASS who were
Lee County, Iowa
residents. Thomas and Eliza are buried in
Oakland Cemetery in
Keokuk. We feel that accumulated evidence shows
a very strong
likelihood that our Thomas Sawyer could have
personally met Samuel
Clemens during his residency in Keokuk through common
Sam's relatives or in-laws in Lee County, business
meetings, or at
least had his name become known to Sam Clemens through
accounts, well before Sam sat down to write his first
Sawyer. Generations of our Sawyer families have
stories about meeting Mark Twain.
Thomas Sawyer is Ann
Stroupe's 3rd great grandfather and Jim Ramsey's 2nd
grandfather. A resident of Lee County, Iowa from
1850 to 1892,
Thomas owned property and lived in Pleasant Ridge
Township, and Keokuk, the town where Samuel Clemens
lived and worked in
his brother Orion's printing shop in 1855-1856.
Thomas Sawyer ran
for and was elected to the Iowa State Legislature
during the time Sam
Clemens was in Keokuk. It is certain that Thomas
knew several of
Sam Clemens' relatives who lived in Lee County.
family (Sam, his mother Jane, brother Orion, and
Mollie) were very close to and in regular contact with
relatives who lived in Lee County, Iowa, both through
and in-person visits.
Thomas Sawyer's wife was Eliza
Snodgrass. Eliza's parents lived in West Point,
Iowa from 1850
until their deaths in 1860 and 1877. They are
buried in the West
Point Cemetery very near Sam Clemens'
great-grandmother Jane Montgomery
It is well-documented
that the Tom Sawyer character is based on the real
adventures of Sam
Clemens and his boyhood friends in Missouri, but we
propose that our
ancestor's name was known to Sam Clemens, either from
reading it in the
Iowa newspapers, or from having personally met the
family, and when he wrote his book Tom Sawyer the name
invented, but was recalled from Sam Clemens' memory,
as was the name
SNODGRASS, which Clemens several times used as a
Mortals Only Copy
"We mortals can't create. We can only
copy." This was Mark Twain's reply in August
1895 to a reporter's
query whether Tom Sawyer was based on a real
person. A Portland,
Oregon reporter was interviewing Twain on his world
Many authors have thoroughly
discussed the sources of Twain's' literary characters
who were drawn
from or inspired by family, friends, and
acquaintances, so it is not
necessary to repeat them here. (2)
Thomas Sawyer and
in Lee County, Iowa
Thomas and Eliza's infant son Samuel died 3 March 1850
Miami Co, OH and was buried there. They must
have left Ohio very
shortly after that, because Thomas bought land in Lee
County, Iowa June
18 of that year and they are listed in the 1850
census for Lee
County (enumerated Sept 17, 1850). They
lived in Pleasant
Ridge Township of Lee County 1850 to 1865; Montrose
Twp 1865-1882, then
bought a house in Keokuk and retired there in 1882.
Thomas Sawyer was a devout Presbyterian.
He was a leader in the West Point, Montrose, and
Keokuk churches where
he lived. He was chosen by the Presbytery
of Iowa as a
delegate to the General Assembly which met at
Cleveland, Ohio in 1866.
(3) Many of Sam Clemens' Iowa relatives were
Thomas Sawyer was elected to the Iowa
Legislature's House in 1856 to succeed R.P.
Creel. Thomas was
succeeded by J.A. Casey. Both Creel and Casey
are Sam Clemens'
relatives. (4) These three men must have known
each other, and it
is documented that the Casey and Creel and Snodgrass
families knew each
other from church activities in West Point. (5)
During Thomas' term the Iowa Legislature voted to move
capital to Des Moines, and they adopted the State
This exciting news was published in all the Iowa
newspapers and eagerly
discussed by all residents. Thomas Sawyer's name
was also in the
local newspaper several times in 1856 and 1857 in
connection with the
Lee County Fair. He was Superintendent of Judges
Productions. (See following section on Clemens
Keokuk and Lee County) Sam Clemens was
interested in politics and
local activities, and when he lived in Keokuk he
likely read many Lee
County newspaper articles about the election,
legislative actions, and
the County Fair.
Thomas Sawyer owned property
in downtown Keokuk at 4th and Blondeau, just 2 blocks
from where Orion
Clemens' print shop was located at what is now 202
Main Street, and one
block from Orion's law office at 5th and Blondeau. (6)
Thomas Sawyer's in-laws, Samuel and
Martha Snodgrass, had moved with their children to Lee
before January 1851 when they bought a lot in West
Point and acreage in
West Point Township. Samuel died in 1860, Martha
They are both buried in the West Point City Cemetery
just yards away
from Twain's great-grandmother's
headstone. Thomas and
Eliza Sawyer lived near West Point from 1850-1865.
Thomas was the
executor of his mother-in-law's will, and spent a lot
of time in West
Point working on her estate.
Eliza Snodgrass Sawyer died in Keokuk in 1882 and
died there in 1892. Both are buried in Keokuk's
and their joint headstone still stands.
River Rat Connections
Jim Ramsey relates an interesting family story about
Thomas Sawyer and
Samuel Clemens. The story was told to Jim's
mother by his great
grandmother, Isabella Horne Sawyer, wife of Thomas and
son William. Isabella (1853-1939) and her family
Montrose, Iowa about 1857, and she and William Sawyer
there in 1874. Jim's mother, Florence Gretchen
wrote the following: "According to my maternal
Isabella Horne Sawyer, her older brother met Clemens
when they were
both what she referred to as 'river rats' on the large
boats constantly plying the Mississippi River in those
were frequent visitors for that period at the Keokuk
home of Thos.
& Eliza Sawyer."
We have done research on Isabella's family in an
attempt to verify this
story. Of Isabella's four older brothers, Wilson
probably the one referred to above. Wilson was a
Samuel Clemens; they were both born in 1835.
Wilson lived in or
near Montrose, Iowa. Prior to his enlistment in
the Civil War in
Keokuk in 1862, Wilson worked on a Mississippi
riverboat. He was
a laborer for Johnathan P. Barber, a riverboat pilot
who lived in
Montrose and piloted over the rapids from Montrose to
Wilson died in Montrose in 1866 as a result of
contracted during the War.
We are encouraged to have
confirmed parts of this intriguing story, and will
investigate the "river rat" connection. We may
find a connection
through one of Sam Clemens' many Keokuk friends -
Edwin Brownell, Billy
Claggett, Dick Higham, Oliver Isbell, George Rees - or
riverboat pilot connection - Dan Able, Horace Bixby,
Bart and Sam and
Will Bowen, William Brown, David DeHaven, George
Ealer, Beck Jolly,
John Kleinfelter, Zeb Leavenworth, Isaiah Sellers. (8)
Samuel Clemens in
While living in Keokuk and working
in his brother Orion's printing shop in 1856, the
20-year old Sam
Clemens rediscovered girls and had an active social
life. He took
piano lessons at Mr. O.C. Isbell's studio on the floor
shop, and he joined a glee club. He lived for a
while at Ivin's
House on the river front, and later moved in with
Sister-in-law Mollie's relatives--the Pattersons,
Stotts and Taylors--
were among Keokuk's leading families and had several
pretty, witty, and
musical girls. (9) The Pattersons and Stotts
members of the Presbyterian Church, and could have
known Thomas Sawyer
through the church.
Sam Clemens' first, and reportedly hilarious, public
January 17, 1856 at a printer's banquet in
Keokuk held on the
anniversary of the 150th birthday of the famous
printer Benjamin Franklin.
Sam put an ad in the Keokuk
newspapers in October 1856 reporting his find of a $50
(10) It illustrates his reliance on local
This money eventually helped him to become a riverboat
In the fall of 1856 Sam Clemens left
Keokuk and traveled down river to St. Louis.
From there he wrote
a letter to the Keokuk Post and signed it "Thomas
Snodgrass". He soon returned to Keokuk and
agreed to write more
Snodgrass letters for $5 each. This was the
material the young Sam sold. Then he left for
he stayed until March 1857. From there he wrote
letters to the Keokuk Post, dated November 14, 1856,
and March 14,
1857. (11) Sam's three Snodgrass letters were
published in the
Keokuk Post November 1 and 19, 1856 and April 10,
It is possible that Sam
invented the pseudonym Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass
after meeting our
Snodgrass family. Samuel and Martha had a son
Washington Snodgrass. Sam may have met George
while in West Point
to visit his great grandmother Casey's grave and his
cousins. Sam's memory of George Washington
Snodgrass could easily
have led him to think of using "Thomas Jefferson
Snodgrass" when he
wanted a pen name for his published letters (Mortals
Sam's many close relatives and friends prompted
visits to Keokuk after his initial residency period of
In the spring of 1859 Sam became a certified riverboat
pilot on the
Mississippi River between Keokuk and New
Orleans. He asked his
mother, Jane, to invite a friend of hers and to
chaperone his second
cousin, Miss Ella Creel of Keokuk on a trip on the
"City of Memphis" as
he piloted it down river to New Orleans. At the
end of the boat
trip, Sam proudly escorted all three women on a tour
Sam Clemens visited Keokuk in July 1860. His
book Life on the Mississippi relates an anecdote
about Henry Clay
Dean speaking in Keokuk in 1861. (14)
In 1861 Sam accompanied his brother Orion, the newly
Nevada Territorial Secretary, to Carson City, where he
August 1861 until May 1864. From there Sam wrote
two letters to
the "Keokuk Gate City" newspaper and signed them
"Josh". It was
also during his Nevada years that Sam started using
the pseudonym "Mark
After a cruise to the Hawaiian Sandwich Islands, Sam
Keokuk, registered at the Tepfer House and on April 8,
1867 gave his
Sandwich Island lecture at the Chatham Square Church
which stood at
Morgan & 7th Streets. (16) Orion's Keokuk
law office at 5th
and Blondeau was Sam's lecture headquarters.
Many chairs were set
up for visitors and "half the town dropped in".
(17) Was one of
these visitors our Thomas Sawyer?? Sam wrote at
length about this
visit in letters to the San Francisco Alta California
they were later published in Mark Twain's Travels with
In August of 1870 Mark Twain attended the
races in Keokuk.
Sam started writing Tom Sawyer in New
York in April 1874. (18) It was published in
On May 17, 1882 Sam was in Keokuk
to collect information for his book Life on the
Jane Clemens moved into Orion and Mollie's large
Keokuk house in September 1882. It was fixed up
financial help from brother Sam. Jane liked to
walk and visit
with neighbors. Orion lived at 628 High Street.
Thomas and Eliza
Sawyer were then living at 604 Grand Avenue, five
Sam passed through Keokuk again on January 14, 1885 on
a lecture tour.
"Almost everybody who could afford the admittance
(20) Later that year, on July 4th, he returned
to Keokuk for a
family reunion. His mother and brother were
still. He spoke at the holiday gathering at Rand
was agog with interest." (21)
In summer of 1886 Sam, wife Livy and
their three children visited at Keokuk, staying at the
One of Orion's lodgers, school principal George
intrigued Sam Clemens by wearing a shockingly white
suit during the
very hot and very sultry weather, all the while
appearing cool and
immaculate. Sam Clemens noted the fact that it
took courage to
wear white because people tended to stare. After
this remark, he soon took up the habit himself,
and a white suit
became one of his trademarks. (22)
Sam was called to Keokuk
August 19, 1890 to be with his ill mother. He
stayed awhile with
brother Orion at 806 N. 7th St. (23)
Sam had maintained close
relationships over the years with the many friends he
made, and drew
heavily on those relationships when he began writing
his many books.
Sam Clemens' Casey
Creel Relatives Lived in West Point and Keokuk,
Iowa, near the Sawyers
Sam Clemens' mother's maternal grandmother was Jane
Casey. At the age of 76 she moved to West Point,
Iowa, with her daughter-in-law Janie Casey, and her
grandchildren. They settled on land that had
been claimed by her
son Green Casey, who died before his family moved to
Illinois. Jane died in 1844 and was buried in
John Allen (J.A.) Casey, son
of Green and Janie Casey and a first cousin of Samuel
grew up in Lee County. He was Superintendent of
Agricultural Implements for the Lee County, Iowa Fair
Thomas Sawyer was Superintendent of Judges of
for the same Fair. (25) We can assume that the
attended meetings together, and that Thomas Sawyer and
J.A. Casey knew
J.A. Casey and his brother William
P. Casey lived with their families near West
Point. J.A.'s wife
Mildred and William's wife Susan were co-founding
members of the Female
Benevolent Society of the Old School Presbyterian
Church of West Point
in 1855. Three of Eliza Snodgrass Sawyer's sisters,
and Harriet, were also founding members of that
Snodgrass and Casey families were neighbors and shared
Jane Montgomery Casey's daughter Mary married John
also lived in Lee County. Their son Robert Paxton
(R.P.) Creel was
elected to the Iowa State House in 1854. Thomas
him in 1856, and was in turn succeeded by J.A. Casey.
must have known both of these men, who were related to
each other and
to the Clemens family. R.P. Creel was the father
of Miss Ella
Creel of Keokuk, who was friendly enough with her
second cousin Sam
Clemens to be invited to take a trip to New Orleans on
William Casey Creel, a brother of R.P.
Creel, lived very close to the Thomas Sawyer family in
Twp, Lee Co as seen in the 1860 census. Creel
was on pg. 240
dwelling #39, Thomas Sawyer was on pg. 239, dwelling
#29. It is
very likely that these farmers knew each other.
William Patterson, father-in-law of R.P.
Creel, was a leader in the Presbyterian Church in West
Point and later
in Keokuk, and was active in politics for many
years. He was
elected as Iowa Territorial Representative in 1838,
1839, 1841, 1842,
1845. In 1857 he was a delegate to the third
Convention (27), and he was elected Mayor of Keokuk
1865 and 1866. (28). We know Thomas Sawyer was
politics, and it is likely that his interest included
politics and politicians.
Sam Clemens' mother Jane was the oldest grandchild and
namesake of Jane Montgomery Casey. Jane Clemens
was a first
cousin of J.A. Casey, William P. Casey, R.P.
Creel, and William
Casey Creel. The last letter written by Granny Jane to
Jane the year Granny died invited them to visit her in
(29) It is likely that Jane urged her sons Sam
and Orion to
travel to West Point to visit Granny Casey's grave and
ties with Casey and Creel relatives still living
When Orion was courting Mollie Stotts of Keokuk, Jane
Orion of their family connections in West Point.
Jane, with her
youngest son Henry had stopped in Keokuk when on a
Hannibal, Missouri and Muscatine, Iowa and Jane
had met Mollie
Stotts during the stopover. (30)
If Sam and/or Orion Clemens did visit
their great-grandmother's grave and the Casey/Creel
families, it is
very possible that they also met the Snodgrass and
Sawyer families who
William & Eleanor Patterson (grandparents
of Ella Creel) were original members of the
church in Iowa, organized June 24, 1837 at West Point.
Sawyers and Snodgrasses were also members of that
Jane Clemens had joined the Presbyterian church as an
adult after letters from her Granny Casey in Iowa told
her about some
of its tenets. Jane's son Orion and daughter
Pamela also joined.
In March 1851 Thomas Sawyer and other church
trustees filed in county books the Articles of
Incorporation for the
Reformed Presbyterian Church of West Point. (33)
As mentioned earlier, in 1855 three of
Eliza Snodgrass Sawyer's sisters were co-founding
members of the Female
Benevolent Society of the Old School Presbyterian
Church of West Point,
IA along with Clemens relatives Susan R. Casey and
Mildred Casey. (5)
Thomas Sawyer and wife Eliza
were lifelong members of the Presbyterian
church. Thomas was a
trustee of the West Point Presbyterian Church, Lee
Iowa. He was chosen by the Presbytery of
Iowa as a delegate
to the General Assembly which met at Cleveland, Ohio
(34) He was an elder in the Montrose
Presbyterian church in 1879.
(35) He later joined the Westminister
Presbyterian Church in
Keokuk, which had been organized in 1851 by Revs.
James Sharon and J.G.
Wilson, and had among its fifteen original
relatives the William Pattersons, Mary Stotts and Mary
(36) Orion Clemens was expelled from this
church about 1879
for heresy after giving a lecture at the Red Ribbon
Hall (Red Ribbon
was a Temperance Movement) titled "Man the Architect
Religion". His lecture was the basis for a
treatise Orion was
writing with the strong encouragement of brother
Since the Sawyers and so many of Sam Clemens'
relatives were devoted and active Presbyterians, it
seems very probable
that they knew each other.
Sam Clemens lived and worked in Keokuk for less than
two years as a
young man, but encouraged by his outgoing mother, he
relations with the many relatives who lived in and
near the town. That
and the friendships he made so easily kept drawing him
back to Keokuk
for 35 years after he left. It is no wonder
then, that he had so
many memories of the people and the town, and it is no
surprise that he
recorded his memories in his many writings. We
think one of those
memories was of our ancestor, Thomas Sawyer.
The authors of this essay are eager to hear
from anyone who has comments on our theory or who has
information on Thomas Sawyer, the Snodgrass family, or
time in Lee County, Iowa. Please contact Ann
Stroupe at 321 S.W.
327th Place, Federal Way, WA 98023, phone
email: HLS3@gte.net; or Jim Ramsey at 52
Lexington, MA 02420, phone 781-861-6896,
JamesRams@aol.com. Contributed by Ann Stroupe and Jim
(1) Glickstein, Don. "Twain's Great Northwest
The Evergreen State Magazine. Vol. 3, No. 4,
1986). p. 47.
(2) "An Unpublished Manuscript by Mark Twain", Life
December 20, 1968, pg 32.
Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A - Z. New York: Oxford
paperback, 1996, p. 37, 355, 384, 420.
Varble, Rachel M. Jane Clemens, The Story of Mark
Twain's Mother. New
York: Doubleday, 1964, p. 25, 142, 158, 180.
Hoffman, Andrew. Inventing Mark Twain, The Lives of
Clemens. London: Phoenix Giant Paperback, 1998, p.
Meltzer, Milton. Mark Twain Himself. New York: Bonanza
Books, 1960, p.
Allen, Jerry. The Adventures of Mark Twain. Boston:
Little, Brown and
Company, 1955, p. 188.
(3) History of Lee County, Iowa 1879. Chicago: Western
1879, p. 764.
(4) Ibid., p. 546.
(5) Lee Co, IA Record of Incorporation, Vol. 1, pp.
108, 137-138, Lee
County Courthouse, Keokuk, IA.
(6) History of Lee County, p. 689.
(7) Civil War pension file of Adeline E. Horne,
of Lee County, p. 757.
(8) Hoffman, pp. 42, 44, 51-61.
(9) Varble, p. 223.
(10) Neider, Charles, ed. The Autobiography of Mark
Twain. New York:
Harper & Row, 1975, p. 103.
Harnett, T. Kane. Young Mark Twain and the
Mississippi. New York:
Random House, 1966, p. 105.
(11) Rasmussen, p. 434.
(12) Varble, p. 230.
(13) Ibid., p. 243.
(14) Rasmussen, p. 290.
(15) Varble, p. 261.
(16) "Keokuk and Samuel Clemens". Pamphlet printed by
Public Library, no date.
(17) Varble, p. 271.
(18) Meltzer, p. 162.
(19) "Keokuk and Samuel Clemens".
(20) Varble, p. 341.
(21) Ibid., p. 349.
(22) Ibid., p. 349.
(23) Keokuk, IA newspaper article dated Aug 19, 1890.
(24) Menke, Carolyn. "Great Grandmother of Mark Twain
Buried in West
Point", Gate City and Constitution. Keokuk, Iowa, Feb.
(25) Keokuk Valley Whig, April 22, 1857.
(26) History of Lee County, p. 546.
(27) Ibid., p. 545.
(28) Ibid, p. 664.
(29) Varble, p. 155.
(30) Ibid., p. 219.
(31) History of Lee County, p. 667.
(32) Varble, p. 153.
(33) Ft. Madison District, Lee Co, Iowa, Deed Book 4,
(34) History of Lee County, p. 764.
(35) Ibid, p. 676.
(36) Ibid., p. 641.
(37) Varble, p. 316
.Written and contributed by Ann Stroupe and Jim Ramsey
information in paragraph entitled Summary).
Mark Twain photo contributed by John Stuekerjuergen