Lynchburg's Link to Mark Twain

John Marshall Clemens was born on August 11, 1798, in Bedford County, Virginia. This section of Bedford County would later become Campbell County. The first documentation of the Clemens in Bedford County is the marriage bond of Samuel Clemens and Pamela Goggins in 1797. John M. Clemens, who went by Marshall, was their firstborn child. They would have four more children after Marshall, three girls and one boy. The Clemens would remain in Bedford County until all four of their children were born. 

In 1803, the Clemens family moved to modern day West Virginia. Samuel Clemens became involved in tax revenue procedures that his son observed and later followed in his life. However, two years after Samuel became involved in commerce, he was accidentally killed at a house raising.  Pamela moved the family back to the Lynchburg area, where Marshall began to take on a more mature role. He started to work in the iron foundries that were prominent in the Lynchburg vicinity. The iron industry was a vital part of Lynchburg’s economy and many furnaces were built between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is believed that Marshall Clemens worked for the Ross Furnace, also known as the Oxford Furnace. The Ross Furnace was one of the larger foundries of the area and was located about six miles outside of Lynchburg by Beaver Creek until it closed in 1837. 

The Clemens family did not remain in Lynchburg long as Pamela is documented as remarrying in Kentucky. All of her children likely followed her because in 1823 Marshall married Jane Lampton, a woman born and raised in Kentucky. They would build their family together as they lived in Kentucky, Virginia, and Missouri. Of particular note is the time that they spent in Missouri. While they were residing there, they had a son. They named him Samuel, though he would become known as Mark Twain. Samuel L. Clemens was born in 1835. He would travel to various parts of the United States throughout his lifetime and not adopt the name Mark Twain until the early 1860’s. Twain did not publish much about his extended family and only wrote a biography that was meant for 100 years after his death. Because of this, not much is known about Mark Twain’s genealogy. What has been traced of his heritage leads him to the Lynchburg area.  

John Marshall Clemens was the father of Mark Twain and born in Campbell County, Virginia in 1798. He spent five years in Virginia before his family moved away. It was not a permanent departure from the area, however, because he would return to Lynchburg and work in the iron industry for several years. Mark Twain’s genealogy provides a direct connection to Virginia and Lynchburg. His father’s early childhood was spent in Virginia and he worked in Lynchburg. Although Marshall's life would take him to other states and provide various experiences. His time in Lynchburg is not lost to history. 

1. Donnell, Kevin Mac. “How Samuel Clemens found ‘Mark Twain’ in Carson City.” Mark Twain Journal 50, no. 1-2 (2012): 9+ Academic OneFile 

2. Paullin, Charles O. “Mark Twain’s Virginia Kin.” The William and Mary Quarterly 15, no. 3 (July 1935): 294-298. JSTOR

3. Dixon Wecter Letter – May 30, 1950

4. Capron, John D. “Lynchburg and the Iron Industry.” Lynchburg Historical Society Museum 3, no. 4

By Emily Bordelon
Lynchburg Museum Staff