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By Barbara Schmidt

This paper was presented at the
Fourth International Conference On the State of Mark Twain Studies
Elmira, New York
August 18, 2001


The life of True W. Williams spanned a period of fifty-eight years from 1839-1897. One of Mark Twain's most prominent illustrators, Williams led a life that is bound together with the works of Twain and also with the publishing empire of one of Twain's most notorious enemies--Alexander Belford, the Canadian publishing "pirate." Throughout his career Williams provided illustrations for books by some America's most popular writers. However, history never conceded to True Williams one recognition that he desired and that Alexander Belford's company offered--to be known as an author in his own right.

Most telling is his comment recorded in a letter to author Marietta Holley that was published in Watertown Daily Times, in 1931:

"In whatever way or whenever I can be of any assistance to you, command me. All I ask in return is that you admire my "Frank Fairweather." That is my only weak spot, the only way to my obdurate and fickle heart." (1)

Frank Fairweather's Fortunes was the title of Williams' own book.

True Williams portrait

True W. Williams
photo used with permission of
Jefferson County Historical Society,
Watertown, NY

Truman W. Williams was born on March 22, 1839, in Allegany County, New York to Asa and Louisa Keelar Williams. The Williams family consisted of at least one other child--a daughter named Rhoda Delana. The family later moved to Jefferson County, known as the "North Country" of New York state, to a small community of Burrville and later into the nearby community of Watertown. According to newspaper clip files in Watertown, Asa Williams was a former overseer of the county roads who went West during the gold rush of 1849 and died in California in a drowning accident. True's mother Louisa and his sister Rhoda remained lifelong residents of Watertown, New York. Rhoda married William Wooster Sherman, the eldest son of prominent Watertown banker. Rhoda later became a director of the local orphanage and a leader in the New York women's suffrage movement.

By the time the Civil War broke out, Williams had moved to Illinois. One of his earliest published illustrations that has been found is an illustration titled "Rebel Prisoners at Camp Douglas, Chicago, Illinois" which appeared in Harper's Weekly on April 5, 1862. On December 21, 1863, Williams enlisted on the side of the Union as a Private in Company E of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry. The Muster and Descriptive Rolls of the Illinois Civil War Units describe a twenty-three year old Truman Williams as being 5' 8" with dark hair and hazel eyes. Williams, whose occupation was listed as an engraver, served in detached service as a topographical engineer during General Sherman's march through Georgia. He sustained no battle injuries in the Civil War, but later would claim a life-long battle with painful varicose veins in his legs that arose shortly after the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia "due to severe marching and hard service while in the military and engineer service."(2) Williams last saw active duty on September 16, 1865, and was honorably discharged in Springfield, Illinois on October 9, 1865.

By 1869 Williams had returned to New York and was working for a graphics firm owned by Augustus Fay and Stephen J. Cox of 105 Nassau Street in New York City.(3) Fay and Cox, founded in the late 1860s, was the first syndicated illustration business of its kind and provided illustrations and engravings for the subscription publishing houses located in Hartford, Connecticut. While the door-to-door subscription book salesmen were held in low esteem by the wealthier, upper class of readers--they were welcomed into homes throughout the rural areas of the country. In a letter written years later, Williams appeared to be proud of the fact that his works had appeared in subscription volumes. He wrote that he felt subscription publishing was a way to reach "the many"--the ordinary people.(4)

In 1868, when Elisha Bliss of American Publishing Company obtained a manuscript from a relatively unknown Samuel Clemens for a travel book about a Quaker City excursion, the job of producing the majority of the illustrations for The Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrim's Progress was given to True Williams. The pairing of writer and illustrator proved highly successful and critics across the country praised the book and its illustrations. Mark Twain's colleagues Bret Harte, Joaquin Miller, Charles Henry Webb and Dan DeQuille would also publish books utilizing Williams' talents as illustrator. In addition, more Twain books followed including Roughing It and The Gilded Age.

The year 1874 was the first year that True Williams' name appeared as a Hartford resident in Elihu Geer's Hartford City Directory. From 1875 through 1876 Williams illustrated at least six books for Hartford publishers. Five of these were for the American Publishing Company including Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old which was released in September 1875. Reaction from Clemens' friends to the new volume was positive. Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote it was a "most welcome accession to my library with all its humour and its cheerful good-nature and its pictures of life, dressed so prettily that if the books of the season should have a ball it would be one of the belles of the evening."(5) Sam Clemens wrote a note of appreciation to True Williams stating,

"Friend Williams: Your pictures get a deal more praise than do the sketches of your humble servant, Mark Twain."(6)

Two months after Sketches, New and Old was released, True Williams was handed Clemens' manuscript for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer . Clemens had written to Bliss on November 5, 1875, "You may let Williams have all of Tom Sawyer that you have received. He can of course make the pictures all the more understandingly after reading the whole story. He wants it, and I have not the least objection, because if he should lose any of it I have got another complete MS copy."(7) Williams, sole illustrator for the book, would be the first artist to bring visual life to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. In a letter of January 18, 1876, to William Dean Howells, Clemens wrote, "Williams has made about 200 rattling pictures for it— some of them very dainty. Poor devil, what a genius he has, and how he does murder it with rum. He takes a book of mine, and without suggestion from anybody builds no end of pictures just from his reading of it."(8)

Publishing delays forestalled the release of Tom Sawyer in the United States but the volume was published in England in June 1876. This unillustrated version was soon pirated in July by the Canadian firm of the Belford Brothers--Charles, Robert, and Alexander--a firm that would figure prominently in True Williams' later career.

Alexander Belford, known as "Aleck" to his friends and associates, was the youngest member and leading force behind the Belford firm. Born in Ireland in 1854, his parents immigrated to America when he was an infant. Orphaned at the age of ten, he--like Sam Clemens--had received little opportunity for formal schooling. At age twelve, Alexander was employed by the Toronto Evening Telegraph where he learned the printing and publishing business--another trait he held in common with a young Sam Clemens who also had been employed in his hometown printing establishments. Alexander's older brother Charles held the position of journalist and editor for the Toronto Leader and later the Toronto Mail. James Clarke, also of Irish descent and born in Canada, joined the Belford publishing firm soon after the Canadian company was established.

When the controversy arose over the Canadian Tom Sawyer reprint, Belford asserted that English copyright did not apply in Canada and publishing works by foreign authors without regard to copyright or royalty payments was not illegal on their home soil. Belford Brothers, however, infiltrated the American market with an estimated 100,000 unauthorized copies of Tom Sawyer. Their pirating dashed Clemens' hopes for any substantial profits.

Sam Clemens was so incensed by the Canadian pirating of his works that he incorporated his hatred for the Belfords into one play titled "Cap'n Simon Wheeler, The Amateur Detective. A Light Tragedy." In Clemens' play a desperado by the name of Jack Belford is referred to as "the black-souled pirate himself!"(9) Clemens attempted to rewrite the play into a novel format. In "Manuscript of the Missouri-Wheeler Detective Story" Clemens wrote of the character named Jack Belford, "The desperado Jack Belford--This inhuman miscreant who is to be hung next month & his crime-blackened soul sent to that place unmentionable."(10)

For years afterward Clemens would engage in numerous maneuvers trying to outwit the Belfords. When the Canadians established Belford's Monthly Magazine in Toronto in 1876, they offered to pay Clemens for the right to reprint his Atlantic magazine contributions and threatened to pirate them in the event he refused their offer. And they did. Clemens wrote to his colleague William Dean Howells, "If there is another magazine in Toronto (or Montreal) I want to give it advanced sheets.--Belford Bros., the miserable thieves couldn't buy a sentence from me for any money."(11)

Not only were works of Clemens being pirated, but also those of other American authors published by the American Publishing Company including Bret Harte and Marietta Holley, a writer with whom True Williams developed a close friendship. Some called her the female Mark Twain--a feminist who utilized humor and a quirky dialect when she wrote on behalf of women's suffrage, the temperance movement and a host of other women's issues. Holley was born in 1836 in the "North Country" of Jefferson County, New York not far from True Williams' hometown. She was a reclusive farm girl who never married but wrote under the pen name "Josiah Allen's wife." Holley's first book for Elisha Bliss' company in 1872 had been titled My Opinions and Betsey Bobbet's and contained several illustrations True Williams had drawn for previous American Publishing Company volumes including Mark Twain's Roughing It.

Following the success of Holley's My Opinion's and Betsey Bobbet's, Elisha Bliss was eager to publish additional works from his newly discovered author. Holley, shy and reclusive, refused Bliss' offers to visit Hartford and meet other writers including Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Charles Dudley Warner. However, Elisha Bliss, True Williams and Williams' sister Rhoda--who shared a passion in common with Holley for advancing women's rights--were among the few visitors Holley welcomed in her home. When he wasn't drinking Holley thought that "no one could be more delightful to visit with than True Williams."(12)

Holley's second volume for American Publishing Company, released in 1877 was titled Josiah Allen's Wife as a P.A. and P.I.: Samantha at the Centennial. Sole illustrator for the volume was True Williams. In a review of the book, Helen Rich writing for The Woman's Journal: Boston praised Holley's second book:

Miss Mariette [sic] Holley, of Pierpont [sic] Manor, Jefferson County, New York, has done grand service to the doctrine of Woman's equality with man. Her second volume is an improvement on the first, and in the words of Mark Twain, "It is brilliant and profound." I trust it will find its way to every household in the land.(13)

Holley later recalled in her autobiography how Williams confided to her that Mark Twain was actually quite jealous of her success. Williams had stopped by to see her on his way to Watertown to visit Rhoda and his mother:

John Barleycorn's influence was so overmastering that the true bright wit of True Williams was entirely obscured. He was full of babble, he said: "Mark Twain is jealous of you, yes jealous! And the company don't pay you half enough. They are cheating you."(14)

Holley dismissed Williams' warnings and attributed it to his drinking.

Williams' work through 1879 and into the next decade included illustrations for The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, known as Buffalo Bill: An Autobiography which was released in 1879 by Elisha's son Frank Bliss and Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad which proved to be the last book Williams would help illustrate for Twain. On March 5, 1880, Clemens wrote to William Dean Howells of the pirating threats from Canadian Belford concerning A Tramp Abroad:

Orders received for 25,000 copies— not a very satisfactory start, but the diligent Canadian has warned everybody that he will glut the market at half-a-dollar within ten days after we issue; proclaims that he has bought advance-sheets right along from pressmen & understrappers in the three printing-offices, attending to the matter in person here under an assumed name. Such is Belford!"(15)

Clemens' fears proved correct and Canadian editions rapidly materialized.

Two months after A Tramp Abroad was issued, Elisha Bliss retired from American Publishing Company in failing health. Upon his death in September 1880, Frank Bliss assumed control of American Publishing Company. Marietta Holley had just completed her third volume for the Company titled My Wayward Pardner. Williams was sole illustrator.

By early 1881, Holley's play titled Betsey Bobbet was being presented in amateur productions in New York. The summer found True Williams in New York acting on Holley's behalf to get her play into production. One of at least two surviving letters written by True Williams to Marietta Holley was written while he was in New York. Dated June 2--no year is given--it was most likely written during this time frame due to the fact that the letter discusses Elisha Bliss' death.

Letter to Miss Holley

First page of Williams' letter to
Marietta Holley

Complete text of Williams' letter to
Marietta Holley

New York June 2nd

Dear Miss Holley,

This happens to be one of my very few evenings when I have nothing to do and as M.T. says, "don't care to whistle":

I had a sheet of paper before me and somehow your name came into my mind and aimlessly I scribbled it.

I had a long talk yesterday with one of the oldest and one of the only two publishers from Hartford for whom I have any particular respect-- Old Mr. Thos. Belknap in the business thirty years-- a gentleman-- white as snow-- and I suppose the reason of my writing you this tonight my mind reverted to things bygone and as days add their number I am brought more & more to an understanding of the past--

Would you believe that when Bliss became responsible to you for the Am Pub Co as it were-- above paying his debts he did not own a dollar in the world?-- I am sure that you did not know it because I had many more opportunities than yourself-- being on the filed as it were-- Frank Bliss is worth some money but it will never go where his father's went. He has all of the old gentleman's perniciousness but none of his speculative enterprise.

E Bliss Jr had one virtue and it was a cardinal virtue looked at from some standpoints. He never ceased to look after the welfare of his children. I never knew him to spend a cent foolishly ie without considering and considering well-- in my life-- He did not spend as much on himself as many draymen I have known.

His salary at the Am Pub Co was at one time $9,000 per year.

He dipped into real estate it was the old, old story. He became loaded down with non productive property-- waiting waiting, waiting for a rise experiencing only declinations. Bliss was one of the hardest-working most indefatigible men I ever met-- I am sorry for his family's sake that things turned out so poorly.

He left one of the brightest children about six years old that I ever met-- horribly plain but very bright.

I enclose you a clipping. Mr. Howells, editor Atlantic Monthly last 20 years, is an acquaintance of mine and there is no doubt that your books would outsell his by subscription so far as to leave him in the shade entirely. His readers are of Beacon St. Boston and the aesthetics of other cities-- he is never heard of among "the many." The exceedingly nice, the aesthetic, the goody goody or the prolix author has no chance at best with the people now-a-days-- I often threaten myself that I will take the first opportunity-- the first opportunity with leisure and write Miss Holley a careful and well considered letter that is considered according to my capabilities-- I'm such a recless scribbler and at the best of "such homily wits."

Truly your friend True Williams (16)

The story of the two women True Williams married appears to lead to a single door. The Hartford census of 1880 lists the Horace Heath family of Hartford residing at the corner of Park and Prospect streets. A family of five--fifty-two year old Horace and his forty-seven year old wife Margery; two teenage daughters, Carrie, fifteen and Rose, thirteen; and two sons, William, twenty, and Dwight, age seven. Although previous city directories listed Horace's occupation as a pen artist, by 1880 he and his twenty year old son William were employed as bookkeepers in the Secretary of State's office.

Truman W. Williams and Carrie M. Heath were married on April 19, 1884. Carrie, born in 1862, was over twenty years younger than True who was in his forties when they married. True took his bride to visit Marietta Holley who recalled

She was a beautiful girl and once when she was out of the room, I ventured to say to him: "Now Williams, you have got something to live for. You must make good for the sake of this sweet girl." No doubt he loved her and meant to make her happy, and she was devoted to him, but that invisible and invincible enemy was even then hovering over them destined to ruin their happiness.(17)

Williams, whose alcoholism was widely discussed among his contemporaries, battled the affliction throughout his life. At one point years later Frank Bliss was quoted, "He was a well-read and pleasant fellow, whose convivial habits frequently led him astray, but these were overcome in the latter years of his life, I am happy to say, causing Mr. Clemens to declare that he was the greatest combination of hog and angel he ever saw.(18)

In 1884 True Williams and Carrie left Hartford to make Chicago their home. Williams' career in Chicago led through the doors of major Chicago publishing dynasties of the nineteenth century--Rand, McNally and Company and the former Canadian Belford, Clarke and Company which had relocated from Canada to the United States. Rand, McNally and Company traces its 1856 beginning to a Chicago print shop founded by William Rand, a young printer from Boston who was joined two years later by Andrew McNally, a young Irish immigrant. By 1881 Rand McNally had become the largest mapmaker in the United States and by the year 1888 Rand McNally sales topped $1,000,000.(19) As Andrew McNally's wealth grew he built lavish homes for his family and married children near Lincoln Park in Chicago. Helen, one of McNally's daughters married Alexander Belford. Young Aleck Belford--Canadian pirate--had, in effect, ascended to the top rung of Chicago society and its publishing world.

When Charles Belford's health had begun to fail, the Canadian company had gone through several reorganizations which resulted in Alexander Belford and James Clarke relocating the company to Chicago in late 1879 and Robert Belford relocating to New York to manage a branch office. Within a few years, using notorious marketing methods, Belford had established what was said to be the largest publishing firm west of New York.

Sam Clemens continued to battle Belford on American soil. Clemens filed one lawsuit against Belford, Clarke and Company on September 30, 1882, claiming violation of his trademark nom de plume when Belford, Clarke and Company had published Sketches by Mark Twain in 1880. The lawsuit came before the U. S. Circuit Court in the Northern District of Illinois. In January 1883 the court ruled against Clemens because the sketches involved in Belford's reprint had never been copyrighted. The court further ruled that a nom de plume offered no greater protection than any other name when works had never been copyrighted.(20)

[Click here to read the legal records regarding the lawsuit.]

Without an international copyright law, noted foreign authors of works that had been copyrighted outside of the United States went unprotected by American copyright law. A close associate of James Clarke explained their notorious marketing methods which consisted of publishing or pirating complete sets of noted authors' volumes and selling them below list prices:

They offered their publications first to booksellers, but if book-dealers for any reason declined to handle the Belford, Clarke publications, an enterprising member of the firm would approach the clothing-store nearest to the rebellious bookseller and install a stock of these sets at the risk of the publishers. These clothing-merchants not only did a large business in these books but it proved to be a most excellent method of advertising. So far as my knowledge goes this was the starting-point of bookselling in other than bookstores--the forerunner of book-sections in department stores.(21)

However, an opposing viewpoint is that Belford, Clarke and Company--with their cut-throat pricing methods and wildcat competition in pirated works--"did more to disorganize and demoralize the book trade in this country during the 1880's than did any other publishing firm."(22) Belford, Clarke and Company, in effect, flooded the country with low cost, inexpensive reprints by major foreign writers which, for a brief period of time in the 1880's, stalled the development of American literature by making it unprofitable to publish a book by native writers who were entitled to a royalty payment. Sam Clemens, in speaking in support of an international copyright law, explained the problem in this manner:

Publishers, as it happens, are constructed out of pretty much the same material as other people, and they are not likely to pay a royalty on a book by an unknown American author when they can get works by established authors for nothing....This, then, understand is not simply a question of protecting American authors....It is a question of maintaining in America a national literature, of preserving national sentiment, national politics, national thought, and national morals.(23)

On July 25, 1885, Carrie M. Heath Williams died after being a resident of the state of Illinois a little more than a year. Her attending physician listed the causes of her death as phthisis and premature childbirth. According to Carrie's death certificate, she had suffered from phthisis, also known as consumption or tuberculosis, for a year and a half. Carrie died in Hinsdale, Illinois just outside of Chicago. Williams' premature son Truman Paul did not survive. Carrie and Truman Paul were buried in Torode Cemetery, about five miles northwest of Hinsdale, Illinois.

On May 26, 1886, a fire destroyed the Belford, Clarke and Company's Chicago headquarters located in the Adams building at the corner of Wabash and Congress. The Chicago Tribune headline the following day read "A Great Blaze of Books." The newspaper reported that among books lost were 100,000 copies of General Grant's book--a book being published by Mark Twain's Webster and Company publishing house--and reportedly being distributed by R. S. Peale and Company. Whether the Grant volumes were legitimate copies or bogus editions has never been determined. One of Belford's works in progress that had been lost in the fire was the large annual collection of illustrated children's stories and poems. Williams' talents were called into service to help reconstruct Belford's Annual 1886-87.

On July 27, 1886, a year and two days after Carrie's death, True Williams and Rose Heath were married in Waukegan, Illinois. Throughout the next several years Williams would illustrate frontispieces for reprinted works by George Eliot and James Fenimore Cooper as well as works by Henry Ward Beecher, John Draper, Mrs. Henry Wood, George Wilbur Peck, Bill Nye, numerous children's volumes edited by Thomas Handford, and travel guides published by Rand McNally. And in an ironic twist of fate several years later, Clemens own publishing firm of Webster and Company was put into the position of requesting permission from Belford to reprint one of Bill Nye's stories when it was selected for inclusion in Mark Twain's Library of Humor.

In June 1888 Robert Belford in New York issued the first American edition of Belford's Magazine which was edited by Donn Piatt, a former Washington journalist. Belford's Magazine focused upon political issues of the day and each issue of the magazine contained a complete novel. Authors whose literary contributions appeared in Belford's Magazine during its American run included Henry Watterson, Joaquin Miller, James Redpath, and Walt Whitman. Edward H. House who had been engaged in a bitter lawsuit with Clemens throughout 1890 over play rights to The Prince and the Pauper contributed a portion of his adaptation of that play for the December 1890 issue. Young Albert Bigelow Paine of Fort Scott, Kansas, a writer who would later gain a spot in literary history as Mark Twain's biographer, contributed numerous poems and a short story. Many of the magazine's advertisements were for Belford, Clarke and Company books and True Williams' name appeared frequently as illustrator for numerous volumes.

During his brief one year tenure as editor, Donn Piatt wrote to Sam Clemens on behalf of Belford's Magazine on January 5, 1889. The letter was a form questionnaire requesting "Clemmens" provide information about his favorite works of fiction and further stated "By complying with this request, you will entertain the public, so much interested in your own efforts." Clemens penciled "No answer" across the envelope.(24)

By 1889, the well had begun to run dry on the number of titles of foreign editions that had not yet flooded the American market and book prices continued to fall as publishers tried to unload their surpluses. On July 7, 1889, the New York Herald printed an interview with Robert Belford as he summed up the state of affairs:

The law of evolution applies to the reprinting business as to everything else. The fittest will survive. And the fittest should survive whether he be a 'pirate' or a 'courtesy of the trade publisher,' as I see you call them....The present unprofitable state of the reprinting business is not an unmixed evil. It is driving the publisher who heretofore got a living easily by stealing to hustle around for his daily subsistence. He is concocting all kinds of schemes, compiling books of biography, history, travel, etc. Competition has made and is making legitimate publishers out of men who had drifted into being a sort of legalized thieves."(25)

Rand and McNally did not suffer the financial woes that Belford and Clarke were experiencing. As the country continued to expand westward, the fortunes of Rand, McNally and Company continued to expand upward. By 1890, the company was moving into a new building at 166-168 Adams Street--a skyscraper built at the cost of $450,000.(26) Rand McNally had become a respected powerhouse printing and publishing business of Chicago. At the height of his prosperity, Alexander Belford's wealth was estimated to be approximately $1,000,000 and his wife, Helen McNally Belford, was later estimated to have a fortune twice that in size at $2,000,000.(27)

With the agility of a cat that always landed on its feet, Alexander Belford engineered his company's reorganization after an 1889 financial failure and the stream of Belford, Clarke and Company volumes illustrated by True Williams continued almost seamlessly and unabated. By May 16, 1890, Belford, Clarke and Company had registered for American copyright the first American Encyclopaedia Britannica, Revised and Amended. The British version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had been revised by Belford and now included more American topics and Rand McNally maps.(28)

One volume of interest copyrighted by Belford Clarke in 1890 was a book titled Kings of the Platform and Pulpit by Melville De Lancey Landon (Eli Perkins) --a writer whom Clemens detested if we are to judge by Clemens marginalia in one copy of Landon's book that he did own. There's no evidence that he owned this one. The book was a collection of biographies of noted writers and lecturers of the day including Mark Twain. The brief biography of Twain allowed True Williams to submit for literary history a correction of the famous fence whitewashing illustration in Tom Sawyer. Williams' new Tom Sawyer fence for Kings of the Platform and Pulpit is a vertical plank fence.

Tom Sawyer's fence horizontal

Illustration of Tom Sawyer's fence using horizontal planks from the 1st edition of
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer's fence vertical

Illustration of Tom Sawyer's fence using vertical planks from
Kings of the Platform and Pulpit


True Williams' own book titled Frank Fairweather's Fortunes was released in time for the Christmas buying season of 1890. Published by Belford, Clarke and Company, the volume received extensive advertising through the spring of 1891 in Belford's Magazine which described Frank Fairweather 's Fortunes as "more entertaining than Robinson Crusoe." Frank Fairweather's Fortunes--a large octavo volume with gold embossed illustrations on the cloth cover--was printed on a heavy weight, smooth finish paper and listed for $2.50 per volume.

Frank Fairweather's Fortunes
First edition of
Frank Fairweather's Fortunes

Williams dedicated Frank Fairweather's Fortunes to his niece Bertha who was Rhoda Williams Sherman's only surviving daughter and acquaintances around Burrville and Watertown believed some of the characters in William's book were based upon people from his old hometown. Frank Fairweather's Fortunes comprises 374 pages and is the greatest body of written material from Williams' own hand that is available for providing any insights into his ability as a creative writer. Partially set in Nicaragua, the book is geared toward the juvenile audience and proves that Williams was an extremely literate and able communicator, well read, and had studied the history and geography of the regions about which he wrote.

Under the Open Sky, the second of Williams' literary endeavors, was released simultaneously with Frank Fairweather's Fortunes during the Christmas season of 1890. Both volumes were prominently advertised in Belford's Magazine which described Under the Open Sky as "the most beautiful illustrated holiday gift book of the year." Williams was both editor and illustrator for the volume which contained a lengthy introduction and thirty-six full page illustrations accompanying a collection of Williams' favorite poems and verses relating to the beauty of nature and environment. With the publication of both of his books, True Williams' career had reached its apex.

On October 7, 1891, Rose Heath Williams began divorce proceedings against her husband--case number 95996 in the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago, Illinois. The court documents paint a bleak picture of the marriage. Although no mention was made of True's previous marriage to Carrie Heath, details from the testimony indicate Rose had moved to Chicago at the same time True and Carrie had relocated to Chicago from Hartford. Rose told the court that immediately after their marriage Williams began the excessive use of liquor and for the previous two years had been an habitual drunk who was quarrelsome and abusive and rendered her life intolerable. Williams did not appear in court to dispute the charges. On January 5, 1892, the divorce decree was entered into public record. The marriage was dissolved and Rose was allowed to resume her maiden name of Rose Heath.

The year 1892 also saw the final breakup of Belford, Clarke and Company. Newspaper obituaries written years later at the time of Alexander Belford's death attributed the beginning of Belford, Clarke and Company's failure to the devastating fire which had caused considerable destruction to the Company's office on Wabash street. Other historians attribute the company's financial failure to their reckless wildcat price competition. The International Copyright Act of March 1891 that went into effect on July 1, 1891, brought an end to such reprint price wars. By December 1892 the R. S. Peale Company (formerly identified as the Western agents for General Grant's book) and the Werner Printing and Lithographing Company had consolidated and absorbed the encyclopedia publications and subscription books of Belford, Clarke and Company. Alexander Belford, the second largest stockholder in the Werner publishing conglomerate, was enlisted as vice president and general manager of the publishing department of the realigned Werner Company with assets estimated to be $3,500,000. Belford's office address for the next several years was listed at 160 Adams Street--the same street address as the Rand McNally building.

While Chicago was celebrating the opening of the Columbian Exposition in May 1893, Williams was also fighting a bureaucratic battle to obtain financial assistance from the federal government in the form of a Civil War veterans' pension. On May 20, 1893, Williams' chambermaid Jemima Scott submitted a sworn affidavit on his behalf stating that she had known him for over a year and was in charge of doing his cleaning and laundry. Scott related that Williams lived alone and had no particular friends or acquaintances. She also revealed that he used daily medication for pain relief and wore an elastic stocking to support his leg that was plagued by varicose veins. Scott confirmed that Williams complained of his failing eye sight which often prevented him from doing his business. She also swore that none of Williams ailments were due to any "vicious habits."

On May 23, 1893, Williams submitted his own sworn affidavit. He stated that his varicose veins arose soon after the battle of Kennesaw Mountain and that he did not know of any person who could confirm the circumstances attending this incurrence because he was on detached service as a topographical engineer. Williams stated that he was a "stranger at headquarters" and did not know the names or whereabouts of anyone who could confirm the facts of his story.(29)

In spite of his faltering eyesight and declining health, Williams continued to illustrate as well as battle the government for a veteran's pension which was finally awarded in November 1895 at a rate of $8 a month--equivalent to approximately $153 in year 2000. Williams place of employment on official documents continued to be listed as either Rand McNally Company or Werner Company at 160 Adams Street in Chicago.

During the summer of 1897 Williams built a cabin retreat for himself near his old hometown of Watertown, New York in the Adirondack Mountains near a site called Star Lake. According to Williams' niece Bertha, he never had a chance to occupy his cabin retreat which was still standing in the summer of 1938.

Williams remained aligned with Belford until his death. The last works Williams was involved in illustrating were the lectures of John L. Stoddard which were copyrighted and published by Belford, Middlebrook and Company of Chicago. Williams was in the midst arranging the illustrations for the Stoddard project at the time of his death on November 23, 1897. Belford, Middlebrook and Company copyrighted the first four volumes of Lectures in 1897. After Williams' death, the remaining six volumes of lectures were copyrighted under the imprint of Balch Brothers of Boston in 1898.

True Williams died at age fifty-eight. His death certificate states he was found dead at 43 Sheldon Street in the eleventh ward of Chicago on November 23, 1897. The coroner's report lists the cause of death as hemorrhage due to the rupture of an aortic aneurism [sic]. The Chicago Daily Tribune ran only a two-line announcement of Williams' death with the statement that the funeral would be private. Williams was survived by his mother Louisa Keelar Williams; his sister Rhoda Delana Williams Sherman; and his niece Bertha Sherman--all of Watertown, New York. Williams was buried in Hinsdale, Illinois in Torode cemetery alongside his wife Carrie and his infant son Truman Paul Williams.


1905 - Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), on December 21, 1905, fondly remembered True Williams in a speech given before the Society of Illustrators Dinner, Aldine Association Club, in New York. Clemens, speaking of his early days at American Publishing Company stated, "That publisher of mine in Hartford had an eye for the pennies, and he saved them. He did not waste any on the illustrations. He had a very good artist-- Williams--who had never taken a lesson in drawing. Everything he did was original. The publisher hired the cheapest wood engraver he could find, and in my early books you can see a trace of that. You can see that if Williams had had a chance he would have made some very good pictures. He had a good heart and good intentions."(30) There is no currently available evidence that indicates Sam Clemens was ever aware of Williams' alignment with Alexander Belford.

1906 - Alexander Belford died September 7, 1906, in Los Angeles, California. Belford's Chicago publishing career had ultimately ended in financial disarray and Alexander left Chicago to join his brother Robert in a business venture in California. His wife Helen McNally Belford filed for divorce on grounds of desertion in 1904. In September of 1906, Belford succumbed to a stroke and it was reported that on his deathbed he asked for his wife and children. Belford, a reported agnostic, was buried in Evergreen cemetery in Los Angeles. One newspaper report listed his pallbearers as undertakers' assistants. Publishers' Weekly wrote in a tribute to Belford

Belford loved to read, but had a silent contempt for the mere scholar—his life was one of intense action. Though frail of body, weighing about 125 pounds, the energy he expended seemed to those who knew him intimately bound to shorten his life; still, in his short life, he certainly did more work in forty years--he began work at twelve--than most men accomplish in three-score and more.(31)

In a personal interview and correspondence with Belford's granddaughter, she reports that her grandfather was never discussed within the family and that his grandchildren were never told anything related to their grandfather except that he had been a publisher who invented the paperback book.

1912 - Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's official biographer, wrote in Mark Twain's biography that True Williams was "a man of great talent--of fine imagination and sweetness of spirit--but it was necessary to lock him in a room when industry was required, with nothing more exciting than cold water as a beverage."(32) Paine had apparently forgotten the days his own poetry and True Williams' book advertisements had appeared together in the pages of Belford's Magazine.

1921 - Rhoda Delana Williams Sherman died on November 23, 1921--the same day of the year that her brother True had died. Rhoda was eighty-five years old at the time of her death and was survived by her daughter Bertha. Rhoda was buried in the family cemetery plot at Brookside cemetery in Watertown, New York.

1926 - Marietta Holley died on March 1, 1926. Holley bequeathed her photos of True Williams to the Jefferson County Historical Society along with his letters and her copies of his autographed books. Five years later in 1931 the Watertown Daily Times published in serial format Marietta Holley's autobiography including her reminiscences of True Williams.

1949 - Bertha Sherman Rhines, True Williams' niece and closest surviving family member died on May 13, 1949, and was buried in Brookside cemetery in Watertown, New York. Among Bertha's possessions from True Williams' estate had been a signed note from Sam Clemens regarding the work Williams had done on Sketches, New and Old.

1960s - The graves of True Williams and his wife Carrie were moved to Butler Cemetery in Oakbrook, Illinois. Butler Cemetery is located just south and adjacent to Bronswood Cemetery, North Madison Street in Oakbrook. The Williams' graves were moved to make way for tollway access and other local development. There is no indication that any remains of Williams' infant son Truman Paul were found for reburial. New gravesite markers were provided for True and Carrie circa 1970. Photos of the Williams' graves are online at:

Related resource: Chronology of books with True Williams' illustrations.

(1) True Williams to Marietta Holley, reprinted by Marietta Holley, "The Story of My Life," published serially in the Watertown Daily Times, Watertown, N.Y., 5 February to 9 April 1931. Chapter 24. (The work is divided into chapters spread over different days' editions. Citations are available by chapter number only.)

(2) True Williams affidavit, National Archives file no. 898.293, Washington, D. C.

(3) Mark Twain's Letters, Volume 3: 1869, ed. Victor Fischer and Michael Frank, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 142.

(4) True Williams to Marietta Holley, letter dated 2 June [no year], Watertown, New York, Jefferson County Historical Society.

(5) Early Tales and Sketches, vol. 1, 1851-1864, ed. Edgar M. Branch and Robert H. Hirst, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 649-650.

(6) Nathan M.Wood, "True Williams, Pen Drew Literary Giant of Old," Watertown Daily Times, August 30, 1938, p. 11.

(7) Samuel Clemens to Elisha Bliss, 5 November [1875], reprinted in Mark Twain's Letters to his Publishers 1867-1894, p. 92.

(8) Mark Twain-Howells Letters, edited by Henry Nash Smith and William M. Gibson, (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1960), p. 121.

(9) Mark Twain's Satires & Burlesques, ed. Franklin R. Rogers, (Berkeley: University of Califonia Press, 1967), p. 287.

(10) Gordon Roper, "Mark Twain and His Canadian Publishers," American Book Collector, June 1960, p. 20.

(11) Samuel Clemens to Williams Dean Howells, 5 December, 1876, Mark Twain-Howells Letters, p. 167.

(12) Holley, chapter 24.

(13) Helen Rich, "The New Book By Miss Holley," The Woman's Journal: Boston, 22 June 1878, p. 197.

(14) Holley, Chapter 24.

(15) Samuel Clemens to William Dean Howells, 5 March 1880, Mark Twain-Howells Letters, p. 290.

(16) True Williams to Marietta Holley, letter dated 2 June [no year], Watertown, New York, Jefferson County Historical Society.

(17) Holley, chapter 24.

(18) Merle Johnson, A Bibliography of the Works of Mark Twain, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1935), p. 155.

(19) Janice A. Patterchak, Mapping a Life's Journey, The Legacy of Andrew McNally III, (Rand, McNally and Company, 1995), pp. 1-10.

(20) Court records for Samuel L. Clemens v. Belford, Clarke and Company, Circuit Court, Northern District of Illinois, September 30, 1882 - January 20, 1883, National Archives - Great Lakes Region, Chicago, Illinois, no. 625.

(21) George H. Doran, Chronicles of Barabbas, 1884-1934, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1935), p. 97.

(22) Raymond Howard Shove, Cheap Book Production In The United States, 1870 to 1891, (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1937), p. 82.

(23) "Mark Twain and His Book." New York Times, 10 December 1889.

(24) Donn Piatt to Samuel Clemens, 5 January 1889, Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley.

(25) "Cheap Books, But Not Too Cheap. Inside Views of the Reprinting Trade and What Reprinting Means. Literary Piracy Unprofitable. The Advisability of a Book Trust An Open Question With the Men Most Interested," New York Herald, July 7, 1889, p. 21.

(26) Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III: The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), p. 169.

(27) Typescript from Chicago Historical Society titled "Belford, Alexander," Chicago Record-Herald, September 4, 1906.

(28) Paul Kruse, The Story of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1768 - 1943, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1958), p. 206.

(29) National Archives file no. 898.293.

(30) Paul Fatout, Mark Twain Speaking, (University of Iowa Press, 1978), p. 474.

(31) "Alexander Belford," Publishers' Weekly, October 20, 1906, p. 1099.

(32) Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain, A Biography, Vol. I, (New York: Harper and Brothers), p. 366.

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