Joseph Hopkins Twichell (1838 – 1918)

Joseph Twichell

Joseph Hopkins Twichell was born in Southington, Connecticut in 1838. He graduated from Yale University in 1859 and moved to New York to attend Union Theological Seminary. Before becoming ordained, the Civil War broke out. Twichell was strongly pro-abolition and felt a calling to serve in the war, thus, he enlisted as a chaplain. In July of 1861, Twichell and the rest of his brigade were given orders to begin their service in Washington, DC as the 71st New York State Volunteers.

Following his service in the Civil War, Twichell finished seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. In 1865, he married Harmony Cushman and was installed as the first pastor at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford where he stayed for 47 years. Twichell and his wife purchased a home in the Nook Farm community.

Twichell and Samuel Clemens (A.K.A Mark Twain) met in 1868 at the home of Elisha Bliss, secretary of the American Publishing Co. Bliss wanted to publish some of Twain’s work and had invited Twain to stay at his Asylum Avenue home. Twain, viewing a picture of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in the Bliss home remarked, “Why yes, that is the Church of the Holy Speculators.” Hearing him, Mrs. Bliss whispered “Sh-h-h! Its pastor is right behind you and wants to meet you.” From that moment, Twichell was Twain’s constant companion and counselor, both in his daily and literary life.

When Twain’s literary well ran dry, it was Twichell who inspired the idea for Old Times on the Mississippi, published in the Atlantic Monthly. Hearing Twain recount his old Mississippi River days, Twichell responded, “What a virgin subject to hurl at a magazine.”

The pair’s adventures included walks to Talcott Tower and a trip to Bermuda. In 1878, a voyage to Germany and Switzerland became the basis for Twain’s A Tramp Abroad and its character Harris was developed based on Twichell. While working on A Connecticut Yankee, Twain sought refuge at Twichell’s home. He wrote to a friend, “I am here at Twichell’s house with the noise of the children and an army of carpenters to help.” Inviting his Atlantic Monthly editor for a visit, Twain promised to bar all friends saying, “I’ll close the door against them all, which will fix the lot of them–except Twichell, who will not hesitate to climb in the back window.”

In 1870, Twichell performed the marriage ceremony for Twain and his beloved Olivia. He officiated at the funerals of three of the couple’s four children and returned from a trip to be at Suzy Clemens’ side when she died. He officiated at Olivia’s funeral in 1904 and, most painfully, at Twain’s in 1910.

Joseph Hopkins Twichell died in Hartford on December 20, 1918, joining his Nook Farm friends, Charles Dudley Warner, Isabella Beecher Hooker, and Joseph Roswell Hawley at Cedar Hill.

Asylum Hill Congregational Church. History. Accessed at on July 26, 2010.
Courtney, Steve.  Joseph Hopkins Twichell: The Life and Times of Mark Twain’s Closest Friend. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2008. Accessed at on July 26, 2010.
Wikipedia. Joseph Hopkins Twichell. Accessed at on July 29, 2010.

Photo Credit: Joseph Twichell, Public Domain