The World of Jack London


1828 – 1897

John London, was born January 11, 1828, in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, and grew to manhood on a farm. He obtained the same meager education as most farm kids in those days.

Little is known of his early days. At nineteen, while working as section boss on the railroad, he fell in love with his boss's daughter and married her. Seven children later, John enlisted in the army during the Civil War. At the close of the war, minus the use of one lung, the result of a combination of pneumonia and smallpox, he moved with his family to the town of Moscow, Muscatine County, Iowa.

Eliza, destined to be a major influence in the life of her stepbrother, Jack London, was born in Moscow. Not long after the birth of another daughter, Ida, John's wife, Mary Jane, died. He was left with nine children. His son, Charles, was injured in the chest playing baseball. The doctor advised that the boy's only hope for recovery was to be taken to California. Hurried preparations provided care for the other children, and John sped West with Eliza, Ida, and Charles. Little Charles died eleven days after they arrived.

Deciding to live in California, John sold his Iowa farm and worked as a carpenter in San Francisco. Eliza and Ida were placed in the Protestant Orphan Asylum until he could establish a home for them.

It was only a short time until he met Flora. He found in her more than the ability to sew fine shirts and decided that she would make an excellent mother for Ida and Eliza. The two girls were amazed when they discovered their new mother to be about their own height and not very pretty. But they welcomed the chance for a home again, and Eliza promptly became a substitute mother for Flora's little Johnny. For the next several years Jack was raised by his stepsister. Flora was delighted because she could spend that much more time with her spiritualism, and not be bothered by Johnny.

John London was a kind, gentle, hard-working man—a person of very high morals and stability. Many attempts have been made to prove that John London was Jack London's real father. This is highly unlikely for several reasons. His high moral character would have prevented his having relations with another man's wife. Flora told Joan, Jack's daughter, how she had first met John London because of the shirts she had made for Alonzo Prentiss, implying that she was first acquainted with John only after her son was born. Joan was thoroughly convinced that her grandfather was W. H. Chaney. On several occasions, she said, her father had insisted that his daughter know the facts regarding his birth. Furthermore, on April 12, 1875, about the time of Jack's conception, John London had signed a receipt in the Treasurer's office in Muscatine County, Iowa, indicating that he could scarcely have been in san Francisco.

It is apparent that John London was not what he would have given anything to be—Jack's real father. He loved Jack as his own son, and Jack loved him as a father. They enjoyed a very close relationship, often being thrown together as refugees from Flora and her seances or temper tantrums. His concern for Jack was such that it is hard to believe that he would have kept the truth from him if he had been Jack's actual father.

Source: Kingman, Russ. A Pictorial Biography of Jack London. New York: Crown, 1979.
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