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c. 1802 - March 6, 1864

Isaiah Sellers, a noted steamboat captain who was the first writer, according to Sam Clemens, to use the pen name "Mark Twain" in a series of newspaper contributions to papers in New Orleans and St. Louis. (However, diligent searches of newspaper microfilm files by scholars over the past decades have failed to turn up any articles Sellers may have written using the name "Mark Twain.") Clemens wrote a burlesque of Sellers' articles using the pen name "Sergeant Fathom" in May 1859 in the New Orleans Daily Crescent and caused the old Captain considerable embarrassment. (Read a side-by-side comparison of the two articles.)

Regarding his burlesque Clemens later recalled:

That poor old Captain Sellers was deeply wounded. He had never been held up to ridicule before; he was sensitive, and he never got over the hurt which I had wantonly and stupidly inflicted upon his dignity.
- Mark Twain in Eruption

According to one newspaper account of the Clemens and Sellers relationship:

Sellers was a tall, fine looking person, as straight as an Indian, and carried a distingue air. He was a man to attract attention anywhere, and he also had his peculiarities and mannerisms. One of the latter was a passion to sleep, and that oft-times a little beyond the middle watch when the other pilot of the boat was compelled to do more than his share of duty because of Sellers' somnolent appetite. Mark Twain, in those days an apprentice, or cub pilot on the same boat, and the opposite watch to Sellers', used to be sent on repeated errands to arouse the heavy sleeper. On one occasion 'tis said Twain was suddenly struck square on the nose by a heavy boot, and he didn't like it much. Some time later he wrote an ironical but humorous sketch...It was a burlesque, of course, and poor Sellers never forgave Mark Twain for it.
- "Big Tows - Mulberry Sellers," Cincinnati Daily Commercial, 29 January 1880, p. 7.


A very remarkable and unusual personality that one could not by any possible means forget him once you had seen him. He was 6 feet 2 inches tall, his complexion was vividly florid, and at all hours of the day he wore a dress suit, silk hat (or plug hat as it was then called), patent leather boots, standing collar and one of those old-fashioned high black satin stocks in which he could scarcely turn his head. He had the reputation then of shaving himself every morning. There is a monument of him over his grave in the Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, which is a marble statue of himself, with his hand on the pilot-wheel. His home in the old steamboating days was on a farm on the river in Eastern Missouri, opposite Thebes. The place is now called Gray's Point.
- from an interview of John Downing in Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 12, 1909.

Sellers' monument

Monument in Bellefontaine Cemetery St. Louis, Missouri

Seller's monument is featured in this Youtube video.

More info about Isaiah Sellers at the Mississippi River Museum web site.

Index | Intro | Cub Pilot | Licensed Pilot | River Tour 1882 | 1902 Farewell | Steamboat Men | Glossary

Isaiah Sellers is featured in:

reference book
Mark Twain A to Z, The Essential Guide to His Life and Writings
edited by R. Kent Rasmussen
available from amazon.com

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