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Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain Summary


Here you will find a Johnny Tremain summary (Esther Hoskins Forbes's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Johnny Tremain Summary Overview

In the tumultuous times of Revolutionary-era Boston, a fourteen-year-old prodigy silversmith named Johnny, is the primary earner for the Lapham family business, due to the aging patriarch's fading involvement. Johnny's position and exceptional talent inflate his ego, which often results in him bullying others in the household. Meanwhile, Johnny is privy to a family secret, revealed by his dying mother, that he is a descendant of the opulent merchant, Jonathan Lyte. With a silver cup bearing the Lyte coat of arms as proof, she cautioned him to avoid the Lytes unless absolutely necessary. An opportunity for fortune emerges when prosperous merchant John Hancock requests an intricate silver basin from the Lapham's. Johnny accepts the daunting task and after seeking advice from Paul Revere, he engineers an immaculate design. However, during the casting process, a joke by a fellow apprentice Dove goes awry, resulting in a horrific accident that maims Johnny's hand. No longer fit to be an apprentice silversmith, Johnny's standing in the Lapham household plummets, and he is soon barred from marrying the Lapham's daughter, Cilla. Unable to find work, he eventually lands a newspaper delivery job promised to him by Rab, an intriguing apprentice at a Whig-owned print shop where he sought solace. Without any prospects of a livelihood, Johnny reaches out to Jonathan Lyte, his wealthy kin. The situation escalates when Lyte accuses him of theft and has him jailed. With Rab's assistance, Johnny is acquitted, but Lyte swindles the silver cup from him. Now disheartened, Johnny accepts the delivery job and gradually immerses in Boston politics, morphing from an indifferent spectator to an enthusiastic Whig. Soldiering through the upheavals leading to the Revolutionary War, Johnny matures and realises his feelings for Cilla, who is now a servant at the Lyte's. As war looms, the Lyte's plan to escape to England but not before Johnny's kinship is confirmed and his entitlement to some of the Lyte property is acknowledged. Tragically, Rab succumbs to injuries sustained in the Battle of Lexington, leaving Johnny devastated yet resolute to fight for the cause Rab died for. In a ray of hope, a rebel leader surgeon asserts that Johnny's hand can be repaired through a minor surgery, enabling him to utilize the musket Rab left him before perishing.

chapter 1

The tale sets during the Revolutionary period in Boston, focusing on Johnny Tremain, a 14-year-old apprentice to Mr. Lapham, an old silversmith. Johnny lives in the bustling Lapham house which is also home to Mrs. Lapham, Mr. Lapham's daughter-in-law, her four daughters, and two other apprentices, Dusty and Dove. Known for his remarkable skills, Johnny becomes the most significant source of income for the family, freeing him from the mundane chores that Dusty and Dove perform. However, his prominent role in the family stokes his pride, leading to haughty behavior. He belittles the boys and behaves as their boss. Mr. Lapham, a devout Christian, isn't pleased with Johnny's arrogance and reminds him about the biblical quote on pride, which Johnny arrogantly dismisses. Although Johnny has a tense relationship with Dusty and Dove, he is amicable with the Lapham daughters, especially the younger ones, Priscilla and Isannah. Mrs. Lapham wishes Johnny to wed one of her daughters to ensure the silver business remains within the family. Fourteen-year-old Priscilla, known as Cilla, is considered the most suitable bride. Their interactions, often light-hearted quips, hint towards mutual affection. Cilla, however, reserves most of her love for her sickly younger sister, Isannah. The story takes an exciting turn when John Hancock, a rich merchant, orders a sugar basin to match his tea set, originally crafted by Mr. Lapham. The elder silversmith, doubting his current abilities, hesitates to take the order. Johnny, drawn by the design, accepts the job on behalf of his master. He struggles with the design but is determined to complete the task. One night, Cilla, worried about sick Isannah, asks Johnny to come with them to the wharf for some cool air. Alone in the calm night, Johnny shares a secret with Cilla, revealing his connection to Jonathan Lyte, a wealthy merchant. Before her death, his mother gave him a silver cup bearing the Lyte's family crest and told him to keep it secret unless dire need arises. He shows Cilla the cup, ensuring she promises to keep it a secret.

chapter 2

Johnny seeks out Paul Revere's opinion on his sugar bowl handle design. He's taken aback to learn that Revere already knows of him, and all the master silversmiths in Boston have been observing his work. Revere pinpoints the flaw in Johnny's design—the handle’s curve and ornate elements are off. Revere attempts to purchase Johnny's apprenticeship from Mr. Lapham for a higher price, but Johnny declines, citing his obligations to the Laphams as their chief source of income. Returning home, Johnny implements Revere's suggestions, finalizing his design. However, when he sends Dove for charcoal, Dove returns with subpar charcoal. This incurs Johnny's wrath, which Mr. Lapham disapproves. He advises Johnny to adopt a more humble attitude and suspends his work for the day. Johnny is distressed because the sugar bowl is due Monday morning, and working on Sunday is forbidden both by law and by Mr. Lapham’s religious convictions. Mr. Lapham remains unconcerned about missing the deadline. Mrs. Lapham, less concerned about religious rules and Mr. Lapham’s relaxed work ethic, encourages Johnny to work on Sunday. Johnny begins his work smoothly, until Dove gives him a flawed crucible, intending to make him look clumsy. However, this leads to a disastrous accident. Molten silver spills over the furnace and burns Johnny's hand. Fearful of revealing Johnny's Sabbath-breaking, Mrs. Lapham calls a midwife over a doctor. The midwife botches the bandaging, leaving Johnny's thumb fused to his palm, ending his silversmith career. Johnny, embittered by his altered fate, is further agitated by the Laphams' sympathy and Dove’s audacity. Upon learning of Johnny's Sabbath violation, Mr. Lapham melts down the sugar bowl and informs John Hancock that he cannot fulfill the order. He also reveals to Johnny that Dove was the cause of his mishap and asks him to forgive Dove. Johnny, however, swears to avenge his ruined prospects.

chapter 3

With Johnny unable to work, he becomes a burden to the Laphams, especially Mrs. Lapham who starts to resent his presence. She grumbles about the drain on resources, prompting Cilla to secretly pass him food to avoid confrontations at meal times. Despite the humiliation, Mr. Lapham reassures Johnny he's welcome to stay. Regardless, Johnny wallows in self-pity, desperately seeking a new living arrangement. His search for work, however, is repeatedly thwarted by his crippled hand, with only a butcher willing to employ him. He refuses out of pride, unwilling to settle for unskilled labour. Simultaneously, Mrs. Lapham arranges a business deal with a silversmith, Mr. Tweedie. This further wounds Johnny's pride as he feels usurped, leading to a heated altercation between him and Mr. Tweedie. Meanwhile, Johnny stumbles upon a job opportunity at the Boston Observer, a Whig newspaper, where he meets Rab, a quiet older boy. Rab offers him a job as a paperboy, but Johnny, still hoping for artisan work, declines. He then approaches John Hancock for employment. Hancock is impressed by Johnny's numerical skills and contemplates offering him a clerk position. However, Hancock retracts his offer after seeing Johnny's deformed handwriting. Despite the rejection, Hancock gifts Johnny a bag of silver. Johnny squanders the silver on luxury food, later reflecting on his financial irresponsibility and believing Rab wouldn't have acted the same. He buys new shoes with the remaining money and presents for Cilla and Isannah. Back home, Mrs. Lapham accuses him of theft, but he brushes off her accusations. Cilla and Isannah are thrilled with their gifts, but Isannah's rejection of Johnny's touch due to his crippled hand crushes him. He ends up weeping at his mother's unmarked grave, deciding he's hit rock bottom and it's time to approach Jonathan Lyte.

chapter 4

Johnny insists he can prove his legitimacy to Lyte with a silver cup marked with the Lyte seal. Lyte invites Johnny to present the cup at his house. Before going, Johnny informs Rab of the situation. Rab cautions Johnny about Lyte's duplicitous nature, swapping loyalties between Tories and Whigs as needed. Rab lends Johnny some good clothes for the meeting. When Johnny shows Lyte the cup, he is accused of stealing it, as Lyte states one of his four identical cups was stolen on August 23. Mrs. Lapham and Mr. Tweedie both validate Lyte's claim, leading to Johnny's arrest. While in jail, Rab visits Johnny. Johnny enjoys some comfort in a private cell, as Rab, the jailor, and the turnkey are all part of the Sons of Liberty, an organization opposing British tyranny. Rab inquires if anyone had seen the cup with Johnny before the alleged theft date. Johnny recalls showing the cup to Cilla in July. Rab later uncovers Lyte's scheme to prevent Cilla from testifying by bribing the Laphams with lucrative silver orders. Despite Mrs. Lapham's objection, Rab devises a plan to bring Cilla to the trial. He also arranges a lawyer, Josiah Quincy, to defend Johnny for free. At the court, Rab brings Cilla as promised. He tricked Mrs. Lapham with a sealed letter from the governor, unrelated to the trial. Cilla testifies she saw the cup with Johnny in July. Isannah echoes Cilla's testimony, despite not seeing the cup herself. The judge finds Johnny innocent based on the girls' testimonies and orders return of his cup. Post-trial, Lavinia Lyte, Johnny's object of affection and Lyte's daughter, takes a liking to Isannah, praising her beauty. Isannah cheers up Johnny by kissing his burned hand as they leave the court.

chapter 5

Despite being jobless, Johnny decides to sell his silver cup to Lyte, hoping for a good price as it fits into Lyte's collection. However, Lyte schemes to get Johnny arrested again, alleging that Johnny confessed to a crime. The elderly clerks support Lyte, but Johnny manages to escape after insulting Lyte. Back at the Observer, Johnny inquires about a vacant position. Uncle Lorne, the print shop owner, hires him immediately, thanks to Rab's endorsement. Johnny starts sharing Rab's accommodation above the print shop. He learns to ride the newspaper's horse, Goblin, despite its skittish nature. Witnessing Johnny's swift mastery, Lorne commends him, but Johnny modestly downplays the compliment, imagining Rab would do the same. Riding Goblin forces Johnny to use his injured hand, alleviating his fear of it becoming useless. He also learns to write with his left hand while copying documents for Rab. In his spare time, Johnny delivers letters and enjoys reading from Mr. Lorne's vast library. He develops a bond with Mrs. Lorne's baby, despite trying to hide his affection. Mrs. Lorne sees through his tough exterior and treats him like a son. Living in the Lorne household, Johnny wholeheartedly supports the Whig cause. The Boston Observers, a secret society promoting Whig principles, often conduct their meetings in Johnny and Rab's loft. Johnny looks up to Rab and tries to control his temper. When Samuel Adams's slave spills water on him, he manages to hold back his anger. As a result, Adams hires Johnny to work for the influential Boston Committee of Correspondence. Johnny bumps into Cilla and Isannah, his former best friends, and realizes he hasn't missed them much. He loves his new life and friendship with Rab, although he finds Rab's reticence and independence frustrating. Johnny makes plans with the girls but fails to follow through. Johnny notices Rab breaking his usual stoicism twice: at a party where he dances enthusiastically and during a fight to protect Uncle Lorne's apprentices from a bully. Johnny realizes that people overlook his crippled hand when he doesn't draw attention to it, a fact which Rab affirms.

chapter 6

Johnny's influential Whig acquaintances are displeased with England's decision to tax the American colonists without granting them political representation. When England instigates a minor tax on tea, the Boston Observers plan a meeting to strategize a response. Johnny, tasked with delivering the coded summons, is prevented from including James Otis, the organization's founder, due to his mental instability. Dr. Warren, upon receiving his summons, requests to examine Johnny's hand, a request Johnny declines. The Sons of Liberty, rallying against the tea tax, create placards while Johnny is left feeling anxious after witnessing a Whig mob attack a Tory supporter. At the congregation, the Observers resolve to toss the controversial tea into Boston Harbor should the governor decline to return the ships to London. Rab is assigned to assemble a group of reliable boys for this task. Johnny is told to sharpen his log chopping skills to prepare for the destruction of tea chests. The governor holds firm on his decision, leading to the planned Boston Tea Party. Disguised as Native Americans, Johnny and the others board the ships at night, break open the tea chests, and discard their contents into the harbor. Johnny spots Dove who, instead of discarding the tea, is pilfering it, compromising the protest's integrity. For this, Rab flings Dove into the water.

chapter 7

Britain shuts down Boston's port, demanding restitution for the tea. British troops fill the city, halting trade, but Boston refuses to surrender to hunger. Despite treason risks, Lorne and others persist in publishing Whig papers. Local town militias initiate military training with deteriorating weapons. A number of British soldiers empathize with the colonists, while others wish they were home. One day, Johnny finds Cilla sketching at Lorne's shop, sparking jealousy as he observes her comfortable interaction with Rab. Cilla reveals that Lyte’s daughter, Lavinia, is so fascinated with Isannah that she's invited her to live with them. Mrs. Lapham readily accepts, but Isannah insists on Cilla coming along. Hence, Cilla now serves in the Lyte household, as Isannah becomes a social trophy for Lavinia. When Johnny asks to visit her, Cilla gives a non-committal answer. Rab escorts her home, further aggravating Johnny. Johnny learns that Dove is now a stable boy for English Colonel Smith and is often picked on by other British stable boys. Despite his dislike for Dove, Johnny defends him when he can, his old grudges having faded. He even enlists Mr. Tweedie to repair his riding spurs. Meanwhile, he learns that Madge is in love with a British sergeant named Gale. Colonel Smith’s subordinate, Lieutenant Stranger, attempts to take Goblin for his superior. Johnny allows Stranger to ride Goblin, but with the help of Lydia, the Black washerwoman, they use a flapping sheet to scare the horse and throw Stranger off. Impressed by Johnny's love for his horse and cunning, Stranger offers to teach him to jump hurdles. This earns Johnny admiration from the British stable boys, who help him find feed for Goblin during scarcity. Johnny often visits Cilla at the Lytes' residence. He is irked by Lavinia turning Isannah's head with her attention, and it disturbs him more to see Cilla treated like a mere servant. Cilla's friend and the Lyte's cook, Mrs. Bessie, is a staunch Whig and covert Samuel Adams supporter. She warns Johnny that the Sons of Liberty intend to tar and feather the Lytes at their country residence, but she vows to safeguard Cilla and Isannah.

chapter 8

Fearing harsh treatment from the approaching Whig mob, Mrs. Bessie alerts the Lytes who hastily leave their country house for Boston, equipped with just their clothes. Jonathan Lyte suffers from an anxiety attack amidst the chaos, leading Doctor Warren to advise Lavinia to keep him stress-free. Johnny and Cilla utilize Doctor Warren's horse and carriage to retrieve the costly silver the Lytes abandoned during their hurried exit. Johnny secretly takes Jonathan Lyte's important papers hoping they might intrigue Samuel Adams and stumbles upon a family genealogy in an old Bible. He's taken aback to find his mother's name crossed out, and the document claiming she married a man named Charles Latour, both died in Marseilles due to plague before his birth. Distraught, Johnny burns the genealogy. Cilla recommends Johnny reclaim his cup from the Lyte's silver collection, but he refuses, not wanting any association with the Lytes. Rab gets into trouble while attempting to purchase a gun from a farmer known for selling British muskets. The British soldiers humiliate the farmer by tarring and feathering him, but Rab escapes punishment due to his youth. Johnny struggles to view the British as enemies and not just ordinary people. With Madge eloping with Sergeant Gale, Mrs. Lapham marries Mr. Tweedie to retain the silver shop within the family. Johnny discovers that while Rab had been pursuing Cilla, she reveals her preference for Johnny, who to his surprise finds he reciprocates her feelings. The Observers hold a final clandestine meeting due to the looming threat of exposure. Although not informed, James Otis appears, delivering a motivating speech emphasizing that they are opposing the British to ensure that “a man can stand up,” signifying their battle for universal individual rights.

chapter 9

Paul Revere sets up a surveillance system, involving skilled craftsmen and their trainees, to monitor British troops in Boston. The system's goal is to warn surrounding towns if the soldiers seem to be moving towards them. Lydia hands Johnny torn pieces of unfinished letters that Lieutenant Stranger intended to send to Lavinia Lyte. They contain crucial details about the British troops' movements. This knowledge allows the Whig forces to capture a stash of British war supplies. Simultaneously, Stranger teaches Johnny how to jump hurdles with horses. Johnny is confused by Stranger's seemingly contradictory attitude towards him: he is treated as an equal when it comes to horses, but as a subordinate in any other situations. Johnny uncovers that a significant number of British soldiers are secret Whigs. One such soldier, Pumpkin, seeks Johnny’s assistance to abandon his position. Pumpkin aspires to own a farm, a dream that is unattainable for him in England. Johnny gives Pumpkin a farmer's attire made by his deceased mother and plans for him to be smuggled out of Boston. In gratitude, Pumpkin gives Johnny his old uniform and musket, which Johnny passes on to Rab. Unfortunately, Pumpkin is apprehended and executed by the British for desertion.

chapter 10

The Whigs suspect the British of planning military action in April. Paul Revere and Doctor Warren decide to use lantern signals from Christ’s Church tower to alert distant Massachusetts towns of the British troop movements. Johnny, when overhearing their strategy, falls asleep and experiences a terrifying dream. He visualizes himself cooking lobsters with human eyes, accompanied by John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Hancock is filled with pity while Adams seems to enjoy the scene. Later, Revere sets off on horseback to disseminate the warning of potential British advancement. Rab believes war is imminent and leaves Boston for his duty in Lexington. He tells Johnny that once the conflict begins, the British wouldn't allow anyone to leave Boston, for fear they might join the rebellion. Rab exhibits no sadness, only excitement, about leaving, much to Johnny's agony. Although Johnny offers to join Rab, he is reminded of his importance as a Boston spy, given his inability to fire a gun. Johnny takes his spy role seriously, spending his time at the Afric Queen, Colonel Smith's inn. Two days post Rab's departure, Dove inadvertently reveals that Colonel Smith requested his campaign saddle to be polished, not the normal one. Johnny cleverly extracts information from Dove, deducing that the British plan to move to Lexington and Concord. He rushes to inform Doctor Warren, who instructs him to relay this to those involved in their early warning system. Johnny first notifies Billy Dawes, then Paul Revere, and finally summons the parson to hang two lanterns in Christ Church's tower. Returning to Warren's place, Johnny finds Revere and Dawes at the doorstep. Revere urges Warren to accompany him across the Charles River, fearing the English soldiers might execute the traitor-suspected colonists once the war begins. However, Warren chooses to stay in Boston to keep an eye on British movements. On April 19, as Johnny sleeps at Warren's place, the war's first shots are fired on Lexington Green.

chapter 11

Upon awakening, Johnny learns from Doctor Warren about a skirmish in Lexington. Doctor Warren prepares to depart for Lexington to assist the injured. Johnny, concerned about Rab, wants to accompany him, but the doctor advises Johnny to stay in Boston to gather information and meet him later. In Boston, residents are oblivious to the conflict. They observe British soldiers assembling at the harbor. General Gage mandates the arrest of the colonial opposition leaders, but key figures like Adams, Hancock, Revere, and Warren have already disappeared. Johnny warns Uncle Lorne, a printer, about the round-up. Reaching the Lorne's, he discovers Uncle Lorne hiding in a feather mattress due to lack of escape time. Johnny then visits the Lyte family, who are preparing to leave for London in light of the war. Only Cilla and Mrs. Bessie intend to stay. Lavinia Lyte reveals that Isannah is London-bound with her. Isannah, torn between her sister and Lavinia, chooses London. In a private conversation, Lavinia discloses to Johnny that her father misled him about the number of silver cups that made it to the New World. She unfolds Johnny's family history: His parents fell in love in Boston, eloped to France and died there. Johnny's mother bore him in a convent. Lavinia states that her father wasn't aware of this history during the trial. She assures Johnny he can claim his inheritance once the war ends.

chapter 12

Johnny embarks on a journey to Lexington, seeking Doctor Warren and information about Rab. Upon locating Warren, he discovers Rab was gravely injured during the initial Lexington gunfire. Johnny finds Rab recuperating in a secluded tavern room, who hands him his musket, expressing his regret that it was never used in conflict. Rab then dispatches Johnny to find his family. However, Johnny encounters an empty family home and returns, disheartened, to learn of Rab's death during his absence. Rab had intentionally sent Johnny on a futile mission to spare him witnessing his death. Solo with Doctor Warren, Johnny finally allows him to inspect his damaged hand. The doctor finds that only scar tissue connects the thumb to the palm. Warren proposes that if Johnny can tolerate the pain, he can sever the thumb. Although Johnny may never return to silversmithing, he'd regain the ability to shoot a gun. As Warren readies his medical tools, Johnny meanders outdoors. Surveying the landscape and observing people preparing for more combat, he's engulfed with a profound affection for his homeland.

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