Hannibal’s population in 1832 was approximately 50 citizens, and ten of these citizens were Presbyterians. On August 19, 1832, Dr. David Nelson, M.D., met with those ten Presbyterians in the home of Abner O. Nash, in the 200 block of Hill Street, to formally organize the Presbyterian church in Hannibal. Ten members formed the original body of the church, all presenting letters of regular membership in other churches. They gathered together to worship, and in doing so, the Presbyterian church became the first religious organization in Hannibal to meet on a regular basis.
By 1837 the village population had expanded to between 400 and 500 people. Services at the Presbyterian church were originally held in a small frame building near the Mississippi River. In 1839 construction of a church building was begun, but due to measles and cholera epidemics, it was not completed until 1843. The first church structure on the present site, at 6th and Center Streets, was built in 1860; however, this was not the current church building.
The political and social strains that later erupted into the Civil War (slavery vs. abolitionism) were mirrored by splits in the protestant faiths, and our denomination was no exception. Beginning in 1837, Presbyterians separated into a northern New School (N.S.) and a southern Old School (O.S.). In Hannibal the church first left the Presbytery of St. Charles to join an independent synod, which in 1843 associated with the New School General Assembly. It maintained this association until 1859 when the congregation voted to move to the Old School church affiliation. It appears that in 1848 the 2nd Presbyterian Church (N.S.) was formed, and a building constructed at the location of the present Hannibal Free Public Library. The two separate congregations existed until 1873 when the two merged and became the First Presbyterian Church of Hannibal, located at the current location. The current structure was erected in 1894-95 and has been renovated several times, most recently in 1983-84.
In its 187 year history, First Presbyterian Church of Hannibal has had 50 pastors and interim pastors.
Hannibal’s Presbyterian Church was also the church of the family of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “Mark Twain,” whose mother attended regularly. According to The Rev. Joshua Tucker, she was “a woman of the sunniest temperament, lively, affable, a general favorite…” but the father was quiet and spoke little. Sam Clemens first attended Sunday school at the Methodist church, but his mother and sister joined the Presbyterian church in February 1841, and Sam then attended Sunday school with them. He returned to the church in 1890 to attend his mother’s funeral, and later visited one last time on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) 1902.