In his autobiography, Samuel Clemens reveals that an African American man named Daniel Quarles inspired much of his depiction of Jim in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and of Uncle Dan'l in The Gilded Age. Young Clemens grew to know and admire Daniel during his visits to his uncle's farm in Florida, Missouri, where he claims he developed his "strong liking for the [Negro] race." Fondly recalling his childhood companion, Clemens explains that
We had a faithful and affectionate good friend, ally and advisor, in 'Uncle Dan'l', a middle-aged slave whose head was the best one in the Negro quarter, whose sympathies were wide and warm and whose heart was honest and simple and knew no guile. He has served me well these many, many years. I have not seen him for more than half a century and yet spiritually I have had his welcome company a good part of that time and have staged him in books under his own name and as 'Jim' and carted him all around--to Hannibal, down the Mississippi on a raft and even across the desert of Sahara in a balloon. (Autobiography 6)
Clearly Daniel made a lasting impression on both Samuel Clemens, the humanitarian who made efforts to assist emancipated African Americans, and Mark Twain, the famous author who "carted" his memories of Daniel (the man) around the literary world he created. The inspiration provided by Daniel would permanently change how Clemens viewed African Americans, how he interacted with them, and how he portrayed them in literature.
Daniel Quarles has his own story to tell, a story of freedom from slavery and the life he made for his family. He was born a slave of Amos Quarles in Caroline County Virginia in 1798. He was only three years younger than John Quarles, his future owner and Clemens's favorite uncle. When John Quarles moved to Tennessee, he took Daniel with him. In Tennessee, John met and married Patsy Lampton. In early 1834, John Quarles once again uprooted his family as well as his slaves to move to a more promising location in Florida, Missouri. Along with the Quarles family, Daniel and the other slaves set out for Missouri. The whites enjoyed the privilege of traveling on horseback or in a horse-drawn carriages, but Daniel walked with the other slaves.
When John Clemens and his family arrived in Florida in 1835, John Quarles appeared to be a very rich man, owning a store, thirty slaves and a 250 acre farm. Although Samuel Clemens described John Quarles as a kind and generous man with a sense of humor and a knack for storytelling, his slaves may have told a very different story. On the farm, slaves, including young children, worked from before sunrise to after sunset. The men worked in the fields raising flax, grain, and hemp. The women worked as cooks, laundress, gardeners and caretakers.
At the time of the move to Missouri, Daniel was twenty-nine and "married" (slave marriages had no legal recognition or protection) to Hannah, also a slave belonging to the Quarles family. Hannah is believed to be Daniel's first wife. Clemens describes both "Uncle Dan'l" and "Aunt Hanner" as storytellers and recalls having spent many evenings listening to their stories, their superstitions, and their music. Daniel and Hannah had at least three children, Harvey, Frank and Mary. A Texas slave narrative quotes Harvey Quarles (Harre Quarles) as saying, "our massa good to us," despite the fact that Harvey was ultimately taken from his family and "sold downriver". Six years older than Clemens, Mary was both a playmate and a supervisor, charged with keeping Clemens and his cousins out of mischief during their stays at the Quarles's farm. Clemens recalls that he was a guest there "for two or three months every year, from the fourth year after we removed to Hannibal till I was eleven or twelve years old."
John sold the farm in 1852 and began to will his slaves to his children. Despite being emancipated on November 14, 1855, Daniel and Hannah, now bedridden and blind, lived in the slave quarters. Daniel continued to work as a field hand on the Quarles's Farm. Census records indicate that, following the 1865 Emancipation Proclamation, Daniel left the Quarles Farm. Records from 1870 show that he was a farmer living with Hannah in Ralls County, where she died in 1873. The 1878 the Hannibal City Directory indicates that Daniel had moved to Hannibal and was living here with a new wife, Catherine, and children: Frank, George, John, Caroline, and Sally.
Neither Daniel Quarles nor his children had been taught to read or write. With the assistance of Joseph Pelham, the colored school superintendent and pension agent, Daniel may have received a small pension. Catherine worked as a servant for A.B. Adams, and Caroline and Sally worked as servants for J.A. Thompson. Frank worked as a laborer for P.B. Pindell, George for the Northwestern Lumber Company, and John for J.J. Cruikshank, Jr. They were likely students at Douglasville School, Hannibal's first public colored school, opened in 1870.
Evidence suggests that Daniel died in Hannibal around 1880. Soon after his death, his son Frank and third wife, Virginia Buckner Quarles, migrated to California, where Virginia had accepted an opportunity to cook for the Biggs family, friends of the Quarles family and former Hannibal residents.
In 1912, several of Daniel's descendants still lived in Hannibal including John and wife Mary as well as daughters Gertrude and Georgia. They lived at 2120 Gordon Street. Daniel's grandson Edward and his wife Betty were the last colored Quarles in Hannibal. Continued to reside in the family home until 1918. Most likely, a lack of jobs and the harsh realities of continuous racial conflict with former slave owners in the community encouraged Daniel's descendants to leave Hannibal in search of better opportunities.
Today, many descendants of the slaves from John Quarles's farm have migrated to Iowa, Texas, California, and Illinois. The 2013 Grand Opening of Jim's Journey was a memorable affair as special guests included descendants of both "Jim" and "Huck", (both characters from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, generally considered Twain's finest work) including Larry McCarty of Grand Prairie, Texas, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Daniel and Hannah Quarles, and James Blankenship, a descendant of Tom Blankenship, considered a model for Huck.
A photo of Daniel's daughter and Harve's sister, Mary Quarles, is housed at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The photo was taken for a 1911 Harper's magazine story by Albert Bigelow Paine, who scrawled on the back, "This woman was a little colored girl who looked after Samuel Clemens at his family farm."
Though the Quarles family ultimately migrated elsewhere, Jim's Journey traces the development of the African American community in nineteenth-century Hannibal. As we continue to tell these stories, we hope to highlight the courage of those who survived slavery and segregation and to honor the memories of those who didn't.
PHOTO OF THE JOHN QUARLES FARM IN FLORIDA, MISSOURI.