Tim, the narrator, stands just on the brink of adolescence. During the course of the story, he watches the older and more experienced people around him and wonders which their ideals he should take as his own. Tim is frightened of his father, who is a powerful, all-knowing force in the Meeker household. This fear is balanced and at times outweighed by Tim's adoration of his older brother Sam, who is everything Tim wants to grow up to be. Throughout the novel, Tim considers the opposing influences of his brother and father and chisels out a sensibility of his own. Tim is a clever, hard-working, and introspective boy, and he often takes quiet, intelligent paths through trying situations, as opposed to his father and brother, who share a boldness and impetuousness. Both Mr. Meeker and Sam suffer grave consequences as a result of their boldness. Up until the end of his brother's life, Tim is determined to prove himself to Sam in everything he does, whether with his cleverness in the face of the cow-boys or his mature ability to run the tavern. Tim's desire to impress his brother and also forge himself in contrast to his role models pervades the novel. Tim's struggle to grow up during the war parallels the new nation's struggle to break free from the forces ruling it, while at the same time preserve some of its mother country's more cherished and indispensable influences.
As Tim's older and only brother, Sam is admired by Tim for everything he is and does. Sam's stories of college glory are bedtime stories for a rapt Tim. Sam is aware of this attention and enjoys being the center of it. His decision to join the war is appropriate to his personality, since he is one who loves to compete, whether in college debates or in heated arguments with his equally fiery father. Sam also craves the glory of being part of something great and worthy of talk and admiration. He is full of advice and pride, acting with a casual ease that he knows Tim envies, ready for adventure and drama and not stopping to worry about the people who are at home worrying about him. Sam's decision to enlist can be attributed partly to teenage rebellion, and greatly to his desire for adventure and involvement. Sam is the center of Tim's first person story and the worry on everybody's mind when the war comes into conversation, as it often does. Sam's girlfriend, brother, parents, and even the town preacher speak of him on a regular basis, partly because he has a forceful and recognizable personality, and also because he is fighting for the underdog, the rebel army, a decision which is not highly respected in his primarily Tory hometown. But Sam grins when he speaks of the dirtiness and lack of food, and he seems to feel glad that he can speak from firsthand experience of the deaths and blood of the war. At the end, Sam dies as he lives, bravely, publicly, and watched closely by his younger brother.
Father is the older, wiser, more conservative force guiding Tim, and he always winds up arguing with Sam. Mr. Meeker experienced war in his younger years and has no interest in ever involving himself with it again, and although he opposes treason toward the British monarchy, he does not necessarily side with the Loyalists. He simply pleads disinterest and goes on running his tavern, selling his goods, trading at Verplancks once a year, and not caring who eats his goods so long as he can make a living. He is stubborn, like Sam, and often hotheaded, but he has an aged cautiousness that Sam does not live long enough to cultivate. Mr. Meeker simply does not want himself or his family placed in harm's way. When Sam announces his plan to fight, Father banishes him from the house until he loses his uniform, and then sits down to cry. Mr. Meeker loves his family but guides them with very strict principles based on safety, economics, and morality. Mr. Meeker's wife, Susannah, bases her life more on religious principles. In the first chapter when Sam arrives home, the first thing Father says is to shut the door, and Tim notes, "That's the way Father was—do right first, and then be friendly."