Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) And His Long-Time Friend John T. Lewis (Inspiration For The character "Jim" In "Huckleberry Finn") 1903

February 21, 2021

Two Good Friends 

In this colorized photo, Mark Twain stands with his long-time friend, John T. Lewis. The picture was featured as part of a spread for the Ladies’ Home Journal, entitled “Three Famous Authors Outdoors: Illustrations Taken Especially for the Journal by Thomas E. Marr.” The photo, from 1903, marked a long friendship between Twain and the man who likely served as the inspiration for the character Jim in Twain’s best-known novel. 

Source: (Reddit).

In this colorized photo, Mark Twain stands with his long-time friend, John T. Lewis. The picture was featured as part of a spread for the Ladies’ Home Journal, entitled “Three Famous Authors Outdoors: Illustrations Taken Especially for the Journal by Thomas E. Marr.” The photo, from 1903, marked a long friendship between Twain and the man who likely served as the inspiration for the character Jim in Twain’s best-known novel. Twain first met Lewis in 1869, when Lewis was working for Jervis Langdon, an abolitionist who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. At that time Twain was courting Langdon’s daughter, Olivia; they would marry in 1870. In 1869, Langdon purchased the Quarry Farm property, intending to use it as a summer home for his family. He then hired Lewis to manage it. After Langdon’s death the following year, Langdon’s daughter, Susan Crane, inherited Quarry Farm, and she rented part of the property to Lewis, and he continued to help with her portion of the land. Lewis moved into the tenant house on the property with his wife, Mary. The Cranes also expanded the main house so that family could visit during the summer, and they added a separate octagonal study for Twain to use as a writing space while there during the summers.  

Who Was John T. Lewis?

The octagonal study where Twain wrote while visiting Quarry Hill. Source: (Center for Mark Twain Studies).

John T. Lewis was born in Carroll County, MD in 1835, the same year as his famous friend. Lewis was most likely a black freeman in a slave-holding society. He taught himself to read and joined the mainly white Church of the Brethren in 1853 in Westminster, MD. He left Maryland and moved to Marsh Creek, south of Gettysburg. He left Gettysburg just before the battle there, and moved to Elmira, NY, where he found work with the Langdons. In August 1877, Twain, who had been living in Hartford, CT, came to visit his relatives. At the time, he had just finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and had begun The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1876. He completed about 400 pages, but he was not satisfied with his work, and so he put it aside. In 1882, he picked the novel back up again, and finished it. The novel was published in 1885.