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Tremain is the gifted apprentice of Ephraim Lapham, a silversmith
in Revolutionary-era Boston. The pious and elderly Mr. Lapham is
more interested in preparing his own soul for death than in running
his silver shop, so Johnny is the chief breadwinner of the family.
Dove and Dusty, Lapham’s other apprentices, are expected to bow
to Johnny’s authority, and Mrs. Lapham is determined to have Johnny marry
her daughter Cilla. Johnny’s enormous talent and his special status
in the Lapham household go to his head, and Johnny often bullies the
lazy, insolent Dove, as well as Dusty and the four Lapham daughters.
Although Mr. Lapham tries to contain Johnny’s arrogance, Johnny
is unwilling to rein in his quick temper or impulsive acts.
The Lapham’s fortune and Johnny’s fame as a silversmith
appear to take a turn for the better when the wealthy merchant John
Hancock puts in an order for an elaborate silver basin. Mr. Lapham
hesitates to take on such a difficult project, but the rash Johnny
accepts the job on behalf of his master. That night, Johnny reveals
his family secret to Cilla. He is related to Jonathan Lyte, a wealthy
Boston merchant. Johnny’s mother revealed his ancestry to him before
she died and gave him a silver cup engraved with the Lyte’s coat
of arms. She instructed him to steer clear of the Lytes unless he
had no other recourse.
Johnny struggles to design the silver basin’s
handles, but he is dissatisfied with the result. After consulting
Paul Revere, Johnny creates a mold for a perfect set of handles.
While he is casting the wax model in silver, Dove deliberately hands
him a cracked crucible. Dove’s intention is only to humble Johnny
by playing a practical joke on him, but his prank results in a terrible
accident that disfigures Johnny’s hand. No longer able to work as
a silversmith’s apprentice, Johnny loses his status in the Lapham
household. After the burn heals, Mrs. Lapham begins to complain
of Johnny’s idleness and the expense of feeding him. She begins negotiating
a business partnership with Mr. Tweedie, a silversmith from Baltimore,
and forbids Johnny from marrying Cilla. Mr. Lapham urges Johnny
to find a new trade, but promises to house him until he finds a
new master. During his fruitless search, Johnny drops into
Mr. Lorne’s print shop, where a Whig newspaper, the Boston
Observer, is published. Mr. Lorne’s enigmatic nephew and
apprentice Rab immediately intrigues Johnny. Johnny confides the
story of his accident to Rab, and the boy promises Johnny a job delivering
newspapers if he fails to find any skilled labor.
Depressed and desperately trying to find a new
craft, Johnny finally decides to approach Jonathan Lyte. He produces
his silver cup as proof of their kinship, but Lyte accuses Johnny
of stealing the valuable heirloom and has the boy arrested. Johnny
appeals to Rab for assistance, and Rab not only finds a lawyer to
defend him for free but also arranges to have Cilla testify in his
favor. After Johnny is cleared of the charges, he tries to sell
the cup to Lyte, but Lyte steals it from him. Only then does Johnny
approach Lorne to ask for the delivery job.
While delivering newspapers, Johnny becomes well acquainted with
the key members in Boston politics and is transformed from an apathetic
political bystander into an ardent Whig. The Lornes treat him kindly,
as if he were a member of their family. Johnny participates in the
Boston Tea Party, and becomes a confidant, small-time Whig spy,
and errand boy for all the Whigs of Boston. During this period of
Whig scheming, in the months leading up the Revolutionary War, Johnny
slowly changes from a selfish, arrogant child into a selfless, idealistic
man. Rab’s quiet influence teaches Johnny to control his temper,
and the colonial situation provides Johnny with something larger
than himself to care about. Johnny also matures through his growing
recognition of his feelings for Cilla, who has gone to work as a
servant in the Lyte home.
On the eve of war between the colonists and Britain,
the Tory Lytes plan to flee to England. Immediately before their
departure, Lavinia Lyte approaches Johnny to tell him that she has
investigated his claims of kinship and found them to be legitimate.
She insists that her father had sincerely believed that Johnny was
lying when he accused him, but admits that both father and daughter
recognize that Johnny has a right to some of the Lyte property.
Rab is mortally wounded when war breaks out
in the battle of Lexington. Johnny is deeply shaken by Rab’s death,
but he vows to continue the struggle for the human rights for which
Rab sacrificed his life. Doctor Warren, an esteemed rebel leader,
examines Johnny’s hand while Rab’s lifeless body lies upstairs.
He discovers that the thumb is fused to the palm by nothing but
scar tissue, and that Johnny’s handicap can be easily remedied with
minor surgery. Although he cannot promise that Johnny will ever
be a silversmith again, he assures Johnny that he will
soon be able to fire the musket that Rab bequeathed to him before
Ace your assignments with our guide to Johnny Tremain!