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c. 1810s - June 13, 1858

William Brown, pilot of the steamer PENNSYLVANIA, was one of the most disliked men from Clemens' steamboating career. After an altercation with Brown, Sam left the PENNSYLVANIA in New Orleans on June 5, 1858. On June 13 the PENNSYLVANIA exploded 70 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. Brown was blown into the river and his reported last words were, "my poor wife and children." Clemens' younger brother Henry had remained on the PENNSYLVANIA working as a "mud clerk" and was aboard when the boat exploded. Henry died several days later. Clemens' stormy relationship with Brown and the death of his brother are related in Chapters 18 - 20 of Life on the Mississippi.

Pilot Brown

Pilot William Brown
in the first edition of
Life on the Mississippi

Clemens' comments: The figure that comes before me oftenest, out of the shadows of that vanished time, is that of Brown, of the steamer Pennsylvania - the man referred to in a former chapter, whose memory was so good and tiresome. He was a middle-aged, long, slim, bony, smooth-shaven, horse-faced, ignorant, stingy, malicious, snarling, fault-hunting, mote-magnifying tyrant. I early got the habit of coming on watch with dread at my heart. No matter how good a time I might have been having with the off-watch below, and no matter how high my spirits might be when I started aloft, my soul became lead in my body the moment I approached the pilot-house.
- Life on the Mississippi

I often wanted to kill Brown, but this would not answer. A cub had to take everything his boss gave, in the way of vigorous comment and criticism; and we all believed that there was a United States law making it a penitentiary offense to strike or threaten a pilot who was on duty. However, I could imagine myself killing Brown; there was no law against that; and that was the thing I used always to do the moment I was abed. Instead of going over my river in my mind, as was my duty, I threw business aside for pleasure, and killed Brown. I killed Brown every night for months; not in old, stale, commonplace ways, but in new and picturesque ones - ways that were sometimes surprising for freshness of design and ghastliness of situation and environment.
- Life on the Mississippi

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

William Brown 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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