May 302011

Below is a timeline of events of interest leading up to the publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s not exhaustive, by any means, simply a jumping off point.

1619 Jamestown, Virginia: The first slaves, approximately 20, arrive in the colonies that will become the United States. The slaves had lived in Africa in what would now be Angola. This Washington Post article provides some history and back story for these largely anonymous men and women.
1776 Members of the Continental Congress produce the Declaration of Independance, setting the stage for revolution and separation from England.

The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution is adopted. It includes a provision supporting the return of runaway slaves according to the laws of the state from which they escaped.

The Missouri Compromise prevents the union of the United States between anti-slavery and pro-slavery interests from breaking under the weight of competing interests. Under this compromise, Missouri, Mark Twain’s boyhood home state, enters the Union as a slave-holding state.
One of the influential organizations in the abolitionist movement, the American Anti-Slavery Society is founded.
Samuel Clemens is born in Florida, Missouri.

Illustrated bust of Elijah P. Lovejoy

Elijah P. Lovejoy published The St. Louis Observer, a strong voice calling for the abolition of slavery. Strong sentiment against Lovejoy and the destruction of his printing press forced him to move from St. Louis, Missouri, across the Mississippi River to Alton – located in the non-slave state of Illinois – eighty miles downriver from Mark Twain’s Hannibal.

In November a pro-slavery mob descended on Lovejoy’s new press. Lovejoy was shot to death defending it.

The Clemens family move to Hannibal, Missouri.
1842 John Clemens, Samuel’s father, serves as a juror in a criminal prosecution of three abolitionists from Illinois, Thompson, Work and Burr. The abolitionists had tried to enlist slaves in Marion County, Missouri, to flee slavery and seek refuge across the river in Illinois. The jury would return guilty verdicts, and the judge sentenced the abolitionists to twelve years.
Samuel Clemens’s father dies, leaving the family to face financial uncertainty.

Anthony Burns

The Compromise of 1850 produces the Fugitive Slave Act. The act requires the federal government to assist slave owners reclaiming runaways from the free states. The law becomes a lightning rod in the deepening divide between slave and non-slave holding states. Thousands of black men and women migrate from the North to Canada to avoid a possible return to slavery.

Samuel Clemens begins working as a journeyman printer for local newspapers.
Clemens lands a position on a Mississippi steamboat, learning the trade of riverboat pilot. Nearly two years later, Clemens obtains his pilot’s license, an accomplishment he viewed with great pride.

In March, the United States Supreme Court delivers the Dred Scott decision. The decision rules that former slaves and their descendants can never obtain U.S. citizenship.

The U.S. Civil War erupts. Among other disruptions, the war kills the Mississippi River trade.

Clemens briefly joins the Missouri State Guard, but spends only a tedious month or two before he will travel to the West, where he sits out the war, plying his newest trade, newspaper reporter. He also writes some humorous sketches under his pen name, Mark Twain

1865 The Civil War ends after the deaths of 620,000 American soldiers – two percent of the population. There’s not a man or woman unaffected by the war.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery in the United States. It is first of three amendments of the Reconstruction period.

1866 The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution bestows the rights of citizenship on freed slaves and their children – in effect, reversing Dred Scott.
1867 After publishing other humorous sketches of frontier life, Mark Twain publishes The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Twain would soon begin a series of popular lectures across the United States.
1869 Twain publishes The Innocents Abroad; it’s successful and lucrative.

Olivia Langdon Clemens

Mark Twain marries Olivia (Livy) Langdon. Her family were active abolitionists before the Civil War.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified; it prohibits the states from barring a citizen the right to vote based on race.

1876 Mark Twain publishes The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  He quickly begins work on the sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but does not complete it for another eight years.
1879 The last federal troops leave South Carolina, ending the Reconstruction.
1881 Jefferson Davis, the defeated President of the Confederacy, publishes The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy. It helps establish a revised view of the Civil War: that slavery was not a cause for the war, merely a tangent to the true motives of both sides. It’s also one of many works that looks back on slavery with a sentimental whitewash.
1884 Mark Twain publishes Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in England, in America a year later.





 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>