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Summary

Johnny Tremain Chapter 1 Summary Page 1

Up and About

  • We open with a widescreen shot of the city of Boston waking up on the morning of July 2, 1773. Gulls are screaming, cows are lowing, church bells are clanging—try that for an alarm clock.
  • Then we zoom in to an inside shot of a small house on Fish Street on Hancock's Wharf, where Mrs. Lapham is trying to get her father-in-law's three silversmith's apprentices out of bed.
  • They're in the attic, and she's too fat to climb the ladder, so she has to beg the best of them—our hero, Johnny Tremain—to get the other two up and downstairs.
  • Now we get a look at the pecking order among the apprentices as Johnny bosses Dove and Dusty out of bed and down the ladder. We find out he bosses them all the time, even though Dove is two years older.
  • Dove tries to trip Johnny, and Johnny threatens him.
  • As soon as Johnny lands on the ground floor, Mrs. Lapham's two youngest daughters, Cilla and Isannah, start teasing him about how wonderful he thinks he is. We find out that Cilla and Johnny are engaged—even though they're both only fourteen. This is a business deal: Johnny will marry Cilla, and the two of them together will inherit her grandfather's silver business. Unlike betrothed characters in many other books, they both have a kind of shoulders-shrugging okayness with this.
  • Because Mr. Lapham, the elderly master silversmith, hasn't yet come out of his room, Johnny sets the other apprentices to work and gets started on the day's work himself.
  • When Mr. Lapham finally gets up, the family—Mr. Lapham, Mrs. Lapham, and her four daughters—and the three apprentices sit down to breakfast. Breakfast with a side of the Old Testament, that is. Pious Mr. Lapham makes the boys take turns reading passages from the Bible in order to increase their reading skills and highlight their faults. Johnny already reads perfectly (kind of like he does everything else), but Mr. Lapham asks him to read several passages about the sin of pride. Johnny is trying to help Cilla learn to read, so he keeps his finger on the lines.
  • For a few hours, Johnny does try not to be so prideful, but it's hard when he's so much better at his job than everyone around him, as he'll tell you.
  • And then the Hancock coach pulls up. Yes, that John Hancock. First Founding Father alert.
  • Hancock, one of the richest dudes in Boston, owner of the wharf and of the Laphams's house, wants a new sugar basin to replace the damaged one Mr. Lapham made decades before. Mr. Lapham isn't sure he can do it, but everyone else begs Johnny to take over because this order is a really big deal: if Hancock comes often, their standard of living could really improve. Johnny interrupts his master to tell Hancock they'll do it… and the pride is back.
  • Because Johnny is working so hard and is so valuable, he's allowed to skip dinner, and Cilla has to make it for him when he's ready. When he comes in, Isannah tells him Cilla has been drawing him a mark to use for his silver when he becomes a master silversmith. Cilla has intertwined his two initials, but Johnny tells her he intends to use all three of his initials: J.L.T. Cilla and Isannah have never met anyone with three names, so they are duly impressed, as he intends them to be. (History Alert: in the eighteenth century, having three names meant you were kind of a big deal. Last names had only appeared in recent centuries for those who weren't really rich, so only people of some significance tended to have three names.)
  • Johnny sleeps on a pallet downstairs so he can get up early and get back to work. Cilla wakes him in the middle of the night because Isannah is sick—apparently, Isannah is sick a lot, and Mrs. Lapham has had it.
  • It's hot, and Isannah needs air, so Johnny and Cilla carry her to the end of the wharf. While Isannah sleeps, Johnny tells Cilla his full name: Jonathan Lyte Tremain. Lyte as in Merchant Lyte, one of the richest men in Boston. He also tells her that his dead mother gave him a silver cup that proves his relationship to the Lyte family but told him not to go to them unless he'd reached the end of his rope.
  • Cilla asks to see the cup, and Johnny shows it to her the next morning, but he swears her to secrecy.
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