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Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in the town of Florida, Missouri, to John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton, both Virginians. Marshall Clemens, a storekeeper and lawyer, cherished ambitions of wealth—a drive that rendered him a distant parent. His wife was an affectionate mother who struggled to instill her Calvinist beliefs in her seven children. In 1839 the Clemens family moved to nearby Hannibal, a town on the Mississippi River, where Samuel spent his boyhood and which later served as model for the fictional Saint Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. With the death of John Clemens in 1847, the young Samuel was forced to leave school to help support the family, working first as a printer's apprentice and later as a printer, which would be his craft for ten years.

At twenty one Clemens planned to set out for South America to seek his fortune but ...