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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes

Chapters VI–VII

Chapter V: The Boston Observer

Chapters VIII–IX

Summary: Chapter VI: Salt-Water Tea

That worst of Plagues, the detested tea shipped for this Port by the East India Company, is now arrived in the Harbour: the hour of destruction, of manly opposition to the machinations of Tyranny, stares you in the face.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Many American colonists, most notably Johnny’s powerful new Whig friends, resent the fact that England levies taxes on them without allowing them to represent themselves in government. Therefore, when England sends a shipment of tea with a small tax attached, the Boston Observers schedule a meeting to discuss their next steps. Johnny goes to the house of each member, giving the summons for the meeting, which is encoded as a newspaper bill. Josiah Quincy and John Adams prevent Johnny from notifying James Otis about the meeting, even though he is the founder of the organization, because Otis is mentally unstable. When Johnny informs Doctor Warren of the meeting, the kind physician asks Johnny if he can examine his hand, but Johnny refuses. Meanwhile, the Sons of Liberty post placards calling for opposition to the shipment of tea. Johnny is excited by the hubbub, but when a Whig mob brutally beats a Tory right outside the Observer shop, he feels sick and frightened.

At the meeting, the Observers decide to the dump the offending tea into Boston Harbor if the governor refuses to send the ships back to London. Rab is asked to recruit trustworthy boys for the mission but is asked to keep the mission a secret. Johnny asks Rab if he will be included in this trusted group of boys. Rab responds by telling Johnny to practice chopping logs so that he will be able to chop tea chests when the time comes. The governor refuses to send the ships back to London, and the Boston Tea Party takes place as planned. Johnny and the other participants dress up as Native Americans, board the ships at night, chop open chests of tea, and toss the contents into the Boston Harbor. Johnny notices Dove among the participants. Instead of throwing the tea overboard, Dove is stealing tea, thereby undermining the moral high ground of the political protesters. As punishment, Rab tosses Dove into the water.

Summary: Chapter VII: The Fiddler’s Bill

Only that a man can stand up.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

England closes the port of Boston until the colonists pay for the tea, and British soldiers occupy the city. Commerce grinds to a halt, but the city refuses to be starved into submission. Lorne and other printers continue to print Whig papers despite the danger of treason charges. Local militias form and begin drilling with old, worn-out firearms. Many of the British soldiers sympathize with the colonists, and many others would prefer to be with their families than in Boston. Meanwhile, other colonies send shipments of food by land to ensure that Boston does not starve.

Johnny enters Lorne’s shop one afternoon to find Cilla doing a sketch for the Observer. Her easy manner with Rab makes him intensely jealous. Cilla reports that Lavinia, Lyte’s daughter, became so enchanted with Isannah that she requested that the child live with her. Mrs. Lapham was happy to oblige, but Isannah refused to go without Cilla. Thus, Cilla now works as a servant in the Lyte house, while Lavinia parades Isannah around Boston high society like a prized pet. Johnny asks Cilla if he can see her when he delivers the Observer to the Lytes. Cilla is noncommittal in her response. Rab walks her home, much to Johnny’s dismay.

Johnny discovers that Dove is working as a stable boy for the English Colonel Smith. The British stable boys entertain themselves by bullying Dove. Although Johnny does not like Dove, he protects him when he can. His old hatred for Dove has disappeared, as has his resentment of his other old enemies. As an act of goodwill, he hires Mr. Tweedie to mend his riding spurs. While at the Lapham home, he dis-covers that Madge has fallen in love with a British sergeant named Gale.

Colonel Smith’s assistant, Lieutenant Stranger, tries to commandeer Goblin for his boss. Johnny lets the lieutenant ride Goblin. Meanwhile, Johnny helps Lydia, the black washerwoman, hang some sheets. He and Lydia let a sheet flap in the wind to frighten Goblin. Goblin throws Stranger, so Johnny gets to keep his horse. Stranger respects Johnny’s love for Goblin as well as his cleverness, so he offers to teach him to jump hurdles. Johnny’s stunt also wins the respect of the British stable boys, who help Johnny find food for Goblin when supplies run low.

Johnny occasionally visits Cilla at the Lyte family mansion. It bothers him that Lavinia’s attention has gone to Isannah’s head, but it bothers him more to see Cilla treated like a common servant. Mrs. Bessie, the Lyte’s cook and Cilla’s new best friend, is an ardent Whig and a secret ally of Samuel Adams. She tells Johnny that the Sons of Liberty plan to tar and feather the Lytes at their country home, but she promises to protect Cilla and Isannah.

Analysis: Chapters VI–VII

As the rebel colonial forces begin to mobilize, resorting to action instead of just words, Johnny grapples with the complex morality of violent political protest. We see in these chapters that mob violence, rational political theory, and exuberant optimism all drive the Revolutionary fervor in colonial Boston. Whigs engage in acts of random violence, such as tarring and feathering Tory families, as well as in controlled acts of violence under the guise of political protests like the Boston Tea Party. Though Johnny believes in the political rhetoric behind such acts as the Boston Tea Party and the harassment of Tories, he is not convinced that lofty ends justify the violent means. Johnny does not actually examine the issues of Whig violence in an explicit, intellectual way. He is excited by the rational, idealistic underpinnings of rebellion, but sickened by the fact that human beings must be harmed, or even killed, to implement these rebellious ideas. Violence, however, particularly mob violence, is the only tool available to the Whig colonists, who wield no other power over England. Nearly a decade of fruitless boycotts and diplomatic political agitation has taught them that nonviolent means are not sufficient for their end.

In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British government passed a series of legislations known in the colonies as the -Intolerable Acts. The Intolerable Acts not only ordered that the port of Boston be closed until all the tea was paid for, they also -dictated that British officials accused of violence be tried in English rather than American courts, that British troops could be quartered in any town in Massachusetts, and that the Massachusetts charter be amended to greatly reduce the colony’s right to self-government. We see in Chapter VII that outrage over these acts spread far beyond Massachusetts, uniting the thirteen colonies for the first time. Not only did the other colonies provide Boston with food and other provisions, but also the leaders of other colonies began to seriously discuss a plan for a unified secession from Britain.

When the British forces occupy Boston, the idea of war and enemies becomes confusing for Johnny, as it does for many colonists. Though the colonial population resents the ruling British, there is little resentment toward the actual British troops. In fact, many colonials are friends with the British soldiers, as in the case of Johnny’s friendship with Lieutenant Stranger or the romance between Madge Lapham and Sergeant Gale. The soldiers are generally well behaved and not intrusive. In addition, apart from the officers, they are mostly poor boys who are no better represented in Parliament than the colonists. There is still the sense that the soldiers and the colonists belong to the same group, since the colonists thought of themselves as British citizens, and even intense political conflict could not shatter their cultural identity.

The tensions between the British soldiers and the colonists serve to illustrate the origins of many of our country’s most fundamental laws. The British harass Mr. Lorne and other printers of rebellious newspapers, threatening to hang them if they do not cease their seditious propagandizing. The desire of the colonists to voice protests gave rise to the constitutionally protected rights to free speech and freedom of the press. The anger over taxation without political representation led to a government based on democratically elected lawmakers. The constitutionally protected right to bear arms originated in the colonists’ mad scramble to create a fighting force to oppose the well-equipped, better-prepared British troops. In creating their ideal society from scratch, the creators of the new government drew heavily on the recent grievances they suffered under British rule, seeking to outlaw such grievances for the future.

The character of Lydia, the black washerwoman, highlights an often ignored and marginalized portion of the American Revolutionary movement—black Americans. While it is ironic that many of the architects of the American Revolution were also slave owners, it is equally remarkable that free American blacks and slaves also participated in the rebel cause despite their lower status in the colonies. The British often ignored or discounted slaves as a threat, so people such as Lydia were able to serve effectively as spies. The slaves’ position as servants within the inns and homes that the British officers occupied made them ideal for this crucial work. Freed blacks and slaves also served as Minute Men, and gave their lives for American independence. Sadly, despite their aid in the war for American independence, they would not win their own independence for nearly another century.

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