Clark Mills lost his father at a young age and went to live with an uncle. He ran away when he was thirteen, however, and wandered from town to town working in a variety of unskilled jobs. After getting frostbite from cutting timber in a swamp, he moved to Charleston and resolved never to work again as a common laborer. He trained as a cabinetmaker, a millwright, and an ornamental plasterer before finally finding his calling as a sculptor. He developed a new technique for creating life masks that was quicker and cheaper than the existing method and as a result received many commissions for sculptures. In 1847, Mills traveled to Washington to study the statuary in the Capitol. He was selected by Congress to create an equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, winning the commission over the artist Hiram Powers. This piece was the first monumental equestrian statue in the country to be cast in bronze, and Mills established his own foundry in order to complete the work. Subsequently, he created a huge sculpture of Washington, also on horseback, and cast the colossal Freedom statue above the Capitol dome, after Thomas Crawford’s design.