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Johnny Tremain

Esther Forbes

Chapter X: ‘Disperse, Ye Rebels!’

Chapters VIII–IX

Chapter X: ‘Disperse, Ye Rebels!’, page 2

page 1 of 2


In April, the Whigs sense that the British are planning to take some military action. Paul Revere and Doctor Warren arrange to warn the outlying Massachusetts towns of the British troops’ movements by using lantern signals from the spire of Christ’s Church. While Johnny listens to Revere and Warren hash out their plan, he drifts off to sleep and has a frightening dream. In his dream he sees himself boiling lobsters with human eyes and beside him are John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Hancock looks away, pitying the pleading lobster eyes, but Adams relishes every moment. That evening Revere leaves by horse to spread the warning throughout the countryside that the British troops might advance.

Rab is convinced that fighting will break out before the week is over, so he also leaves Boston to report for duty in Lexington. He explains to Johnny that once fighting begins, the British will not allow any man to leave the city of Boston for fear that he will join the rebel forces. Rab seems to feel no grief and only excitement about leaving, but Johnny is devastated by his friend’s departure. Johnny offers to accompany Rab to Lexington, but Rab gently reminds him that he is more useful as a spy in Boston than as a soldier who cannot shoot a gun.

Johnny takes his job as a spy seriously, and he spends all day hanging around the Afric Queen, the inn where Colonel Smith sleeps. On April 18, two days after Rab leaves Boston, Dove lets slip that Colonel Smith asked him to polish his campaign saddle rather than his usual saddle. By subtly prodding Dove, Johnny pieces together enough information to surmise that the British are planning an expedition to Lexington and Concord. He runs to give this news to Doctor Warren. Doctor Warren sends Johnny out into the soldier-filled streets to repeat this message to the various players in the elaborate relay system. First Johnny alerts Billy Dawes, who will ride across land to warn the rebels in Lexington and Concord. Next, he alerts Paul Revere who will travel to the same towns by way of the Charles River. Finally, he summons the parson and instructs him to hang two lanterns in the spire of Christ Church.

When Johnny returns to Warren’s place, Revere and Dawes are in the doorway. Revere is urging Warren to accompany him across the Charles River. Once the fighting begins, they assume that the English soldiers will round up colonists suspected of treason and hang them. Warren, however, wants to stay in Boston and keep watch on the British movement until the last possible minute. At dawn on April 19, while Johnny sleeps in Doctor Warren’s place, the first shots of war are fired on Lexington Green.


Rab’s departure is cataclysmic for Johnny because it forces him to reevaluate his own identity and his relationship with Rab. Until now, he has not been forced to think for himself and instead has depended on Rab for guidance and support. Without Rab, Johnny must become his own man: instead of modeling his behavior after Rab’s, he must use his own thoughts and ideas. Rab’s casual attitude as they part ways hurts Johnny by reminding him how unequal the relationship has been all along: Johnny has always needed Rab, but Rab has never needed Johnny. Rab, as Johnny noted soon after they first became friends, is self-contained—he knows who he is and how he wants to behave. However, Rab’s self-containment reminds Johnny of his own lack of a strong identity, and also reminds him that he will never be as important to Rab as Rab is to him.

Johnny’s dream about boiling lobsters with human eyes highlights his personal feelings about the conflict between the British and the colonists. He feels pity for the British soldiers, known as “lobsterbacks” because of their red uniforms, and is unable to think of them as merely enemy targets. However, because his best friend is in a precarious position as a Minute Man in Lexington, it seems strange that Johnny is dreaming of dying British soldiers instead of dying colonists. Perhaps the idea of Rab’s death is too frightening for Johnny to think about directly, so instead he contemplates the deaths of Rab’s battlefield enemies.

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