by Esther Forbes
Major Historical Characters
Check out the links we've provided in the plot summary to find out more about who these guys really were. Here, it's all about how they function in Johnny Tremain.
Doctor Joseph Warren
Doctor Joseph Warren is a medical doctor and a member of the Boston Observers. While he's certainly not the most famous Founding Father, we would argue that he's the most important Founding Father character in Johnny Tremain. He has far more personal interaction with Johnny than the others do, and he's the only one who keeps pushing the issue about Johnny's injured hand.
Doctor Warren is just an all-around decent human being: "He was a fine-looking young man, with fresh skin and thick blond hair and very bright blue eyes. Even a horse boy merely entering that surgery would feel confidence in him and his skill" (6.2.19-20). He's kind, brave, generous, curious, and persistent. Check out the evidence.
He treats Merchant Lyte after his attack even though Lyte's a Tory and Warren doesn't like him, loans Johnny and Cilla his chaise and mare even though he doesn't want to, and actually asks Johnny about his hand while everyone else ignores it. When the fighting begins he goes straight into it, and he doesn't give up on Johnny's hand situation even after Johnny is rude the first time he asks about it.
Doctor Warren's most significant scene comes at the end of the novel. He is there when Johnny loses Rab and finally convinces Johnny to let him examine his hand and ultimately operate to free the thumb. As the novel ends, Doctor Warren is preparing his instruments for the operation that will allow Johnny to fight in the war.
Paul Revere is a successful silversmith and a member of the Boston Observers.
We know he's successful because he doesn't live and work in the same place. Instead, he has a silver shop, which Johnny visits when he needs advice on the design of the sugar basin for John Hancock. It's a testament to Johnny's skill that Revere offers to pay Mr. Lapham extra to buy the rest of Johnny's time.
Paul Revere is portrayed as a typically steady man with enormous amounts of energy:
Only Paul Revere showed no signs of the hard physical strain he had been under all the night before. Not long after dawn he had started on horseback for New York and Philadelphia with an account of the Tea Party. He could chop open tea chests all night, and ride all day. (6.6.43)
He makes numerous risky rides before the most famous one on the night of April 18, 1775. Paul Revere is usually the person Johnny reports any information to, and he also organizes a spy ring in the fall of 1774.
Sam Adams is a leading member of the Boston Observers and one of the most outspoken Whigs in Boston; he is heavily involved with the Sons of Liberty.
The phrase "the end justifies the means" might have been written for Sam Adams. All his appearances in the novel indicate that he "will work for war" (8.5.25). He does not believe that any reconciliation with Britain is possible, so he's determined to bring about the split quickly.
The characterization of Sam Adams is certainly not altogether positive. His hands are dirty, and he challenges any notion that the Founding Fathers were all nobly working for higher goals. Often, he is not noble. Johnny believes Adams would not respect Mrs. Bessie if he found out she warned the Lytes about the attack, and James Otis tells Adams he will never understand what the break with Britain is all about: "We need you, Sam. We must fight this war. You'll play your part—but what it is really about… you'll never know" (8.5.62).
In the end, Adams hightails it out of Boston before the shooting starts, knowing if war begins he'll be first on the list to be hanged.
John Hancock is a wealthy merchant and a member of the Boston Observers.
Johnny encounters John Hancock frequently in the first part of the novel, but Hancock gradually fades from view, although he is always present at the Boston Observers's meetings.
Hancock unwittingly sets the whole story into motion when he orders the sugar basin Johnny injures his hand making. Then he sends Johnny away from his counting house with a few harsh words after Johnny fails to write Hancock's name neatly. On both occasions, he gives out money. First, he gives all three apprentices a coin, which Mr. Lapham sees as a bribe. Then, after he sends Johnny away, he sends Jehu after him with a purse of silver. Hancock's not a bad guy, but he's one of those people who thinks that the answer is always to throw money at problems, maybe just because he doesn't know what else to do.
Hancock shows up again as a member of the Boston Observers. Here's our question: is that not awkward at all? He may not know that Johnny injured his hand making him a sugar basin, but surely he recognizes Johnny from the interview. Or maybe not. Maybe Johnny looks so different that he doesn't recognize him.
Hancock appears to be magnanimous and rather fastidious, and he doesn't like to look at unpleasant things. This quality is so pronounced that Johnny dreams about it:
He had been hard at work down on Hancock's Wharf boiling lobsters—he and John Hancock and Sam Adams. The lobsters had men's eyes with long lashes and squirmed and looked up piteously. Hancock would avert his sensitive face to their distress, "Go away, please" (but he kept pushing them under with his gold-headed cane). (10.1.13)