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Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain

by Esther Forbes

Minor Fictional Characters

Character Analysis

Dorcas Lapham: Elegance Denied

Dorcas is the second Lapham daughter. "Poor Dorcas thirsted for elegance" (1.1.49), but she eventually elopes with Frizel, Junior, a tailor, when her mother tells her she'll have to marry Mr. Tweedie. Johnny feels sad that Dorcas will probably never have the elegance she longs for, which shows his increased maturity.

Dusty Miller: The Forgettable Apprentice

Dusty Miller is the youngest silversmith's apprentice at the Laphams's. He fears and reveres Johnny, and later he goes to sea.

Ephraim Lapham: Pointing Out Others's Faults Since 1702

Or sometime around then—he's pretty old. Ephraim Lapham, usually referred to as Grandpa Lapham or Mr. Lapham, is the master silversmith to whom Johnny is apprenticed.

Here's what we know about Mr. Lapham: he's kind, he's pious, and he's ready to retire, but they didn't exactly have retirement plans in the eighteenth century. Johnny and Mr. Lapham are at opposite ends of the career spectrum, which is why they sometimes butt heads. Johnny is ready to work every day and loves his job, but Mr. Lapham is burned out and ready to spend most of his time reading the Bible and napping. While Johnny finds his piety—and the accompanying lectures about how pride goeth before a fall—annoying, it's clear that it's quite genuine. Mr. Lapham practices what he preaches, and after Johnny's accident he does everything he can to help Johnny, offering to give his time to another master for free and to keep him as a member of the Lapham household, both of which are serious blows to his finances.

He disappears from the novel after Johnny leaves the Lapham household, but we find out that he dies in the spring of 1774.

Jehu: Holding His Horses

Jehu is a little boy who is one of John Hancock's slaves. He holds Hancock's horses while Hancock gives the order for a silver sugar basin, and Johnny treats him rather imperiously. This comes back to bite Johnny later when Jehu is the one who delivers the purse of silver that Hancock sends after him after Johnny's humiliation in the counting house.

Jenifer Lorne: Keep Calm and Make Cookies

Jenifer Lorne, sometimes called Aunt Jenifer or Aunt Lorne, is Rab's aunt (his father's sister, if you're paying close attention) and Mr. Lorne's wife.

Aunt Jenifer was born a Silsbee of Lexington, but she says, "I'm just like mother—a mere Wheeler. I can say what hurts me—sometimes before I'm hurt" (5.4.19). Unlike Rab and the other Silsbees, she's very open with her feelings. Aunt Jenifer becomes a mother figure for Johnny, and as a person who values books and learning, she is more like his real mother than Mrs. Lapham ever had a chance of being. Aunt Jenifer welcomes Johnny into the Lorne household and generally pays him all the kinds of attention he never knew he missed. Her real strength becomes evident when she tells Rab, "Weapons before food" (8.3.5) and gives him the money to buy a musket. She is also resourceful and brave, which we see when she hides her husband in a mattress ticking and goes right on sewing while a British arrest squad ransacks her house.

Lieutenant Stranger: He's Not That Weird

How can we not like someone who lets Johnny keep his horse, Goblin? Lieutenant Stranger is one of the British officers who lives at the Afric Queen, and he attempts to commandeer Goblin but thinks better of it when he realizes how skittish the horse is. He admires both Goblin and Johnny, though, and teaches Johnny to jump. Later, Johnny sees him return, wounded, to Boston and wants to be able to help him.

We know that Lieutenant Stranger likes his military career, horses, and Miss Lavinia Lyte. He treats Johnny like an equal outdoors but an inferior indoors, and seems to feel this is perfectly natural. One important thing to note is how often Lieutenant Stranger is compared to Rab—they even look a little bit alike. In a sense, they are the same person, fighting on different sides.

Lydia: Washerwoman and Spy

Lydia is the washerwoman at the Afric Queen. She supports the Whigs, likes and is liked by Rab and Johnny, and passes along lots of important information that she picks up while serving the British soldiers. Most notably, she helps Johnny play the prank on Lieutenant Stranger that convinces Stranger to look elsewhere for a horse and forget about commandeering Goblin. She also finds scraps of paper that reveal British troop movements. Lydia's character reminds readers of the many types of people who contributed to the revolutionary cause.

Madge Lapham: Sleeping with the Enemy

Madge is the eldest of the Lapham girls and is described as a younger version of her mother. When Johnny returns to the Lapham house over a year after his accident, he finds Madge in the backyard in Sergeant Gale's lap. Madge refuses to marry Mr. Tweedie and instead marries Sergeant Gale before the war begins. Johnny sees her again on April 19, 1775, when she throws herself on him sobbing because her husband has to go to war. Johnny's ability to pity and comfort Madge shows that he has forgiven the Laphams for the way they treated him after his accident.

Mr. Lorne: Printin' Ain't Easy

Mr. Lorne, sometimes called Uncle Lorne, is Rab's uncle and master and the printer of the Whig newspaper, the Boston Observer.

Mr. Lorne is one of those background characters who doesn't really jump out on a first reading because staying in the background is so much a part of his character. Unlike many of the other characters, he doesn't want attention—he wants to print, and he lets the written word speak for him. The proverb, "The pen is mightier than the sword," might have been coined for Mr. Lorne.

Mr. Lorne also makes us think about courage and cowardice. "'Even if they hang me,' he said in a proud tremolo, 'I will feel I have not lived in vain.' He was still pretty scared" (11.3.29). He's not by nature a brave man, but he believes so strongly in the Whig cause that he is ready to die for it—even if he trembles all the way to the gallows.

Mr. Tweedie: Does He Wear a Lot of Tweed?

Mr. Tweedie is a silversmith from Baltimore who comes to take over the Lapham silver business after Johnny's accident. He is smart enough to fire Dove—so we have to give him some credit—but mostly he's as creepy as his name sounds. Johnny gets in trouble with Mrs. Lapham for calling Tweedie a squeak-pig, and he's the first person on whom Johnny takes out a lot of his anger about the accident. When Johnny visits the Laphams a year later, he brings a spur that needs to be fixed, and Tweedie treats Johnny with respect now that he's a customer.

Mrs. Bessie: Real Housekeepers of Colonial Boston

Mrs. Bessie is the Lytes's longtime housekeeper and Cilla's only real friend at the Lytes's.

Mrs. Bessie is the person you go to for straight talk. She keeps it real, always telling Johnny and everyone else the truth, whether it's about Isannah's behavior, Cilla's relative happiness, her support of the Sons of Liberty, or Johnny's chances of getting shot for wearing Pumpkin's uniform.

We'd expect Mrs. Bessie to think for herself, and she doesn't disappoint. Even though she's been with the Tory Lytes for decades, she's a Whig; and even though the Sons of Liberty want to attack the Lytes without warning, she warns them anyway:

Johnny liked the old woman all the better that in the end she had been unable to see a considerate master, whom she had served for thirty years, a young woman whom she had taken care of since she was a baby, humiliated, tossed about, torn by a mob. Sam Adams might respect her the less for this weakness. Johnny respected her the more. (8.1.26)

Mrs. Bessie's character gives some good food for thought about the meaning of loyalty. While she supports the Whig cause, she plans to sit out the war taking care of the Lytes's property.

Mrs. Lapham: Real Housewives of Colonial Boston

Mrs. Lapham is Mr. Lapham's widowed daughter-in-law and the mother of Madge, Dorcas, Cilla, and Isannah. She thinks the sun rises and sets in Johnny Tremain when he's the star apprentice, but she slowly shifts her attitude after his accident, eventually believing that he'll end on the gallows.

From Johnny's perspective, Mrs. Lapham is the worst. She wants to kick him out, accuses him of all sorts of bad behavior, and breaks his engagement to Cilla. But it's worth looking at it from her perspective—her behavior is always motivated by taking care of the Lapham household, especially her "poor fatherless girls" (1.1.38).

If she really believes Johnny has become a bad influence, then she's protecting the household, and especially Cilla. She even goes so far as to marry Mr. Tweedie to keep the silver business in the family, and while it might look like she doesn't care about Isannah when she lets her live with the Lytes and when she lets Miss Lavinia take her to London, it just might be because she believes the Lytes can give Issanah a better life.

Johnny's understanding of Mrs. Lapham's character changes when he's no longer living in her household, and when he visits a year later, he seems to appreciate her more:

Even Mrs. Lapham now did not seem so bad. Poor woman, how she had struggled and worked for that good, plentiful food, the clean shirts her boys had worn, the scrubbed floors, polished brass! No, she had never been the ogress he had thought her a year ago. There had never been a single day when she had not been the first up in the morning […] now he was enough older to realize how valiantly she had fought for those under her care. (7.4.1)

Nan: Not Campaign Ready

Nan is one of Colonel Smith's horses. Dove is supposed to care for her, but Johnny does most of the work. Colonel Smith prefers to ride her, but she's still a bit skittish around drums and gunfire.

Pumpkin: Not His Real Name

We never find out his real name, but he's called Pumpkin because of his red hair. Pumpkin is a British soldier who moonlights at the Lytes's stables. He tells Johnny that he and many of the other British soldiers are Whigs, and that his dream is to own some land and be a farmer—something he knows is impossible in Britain. Johnny agrees to help him desert in exchange for his musket, which Johnny wants for Rab; Johnny thinks everything has gone over okay, but then he witnesses Pumpkin's execution. It upsets him, but he tries to take it stoically, as Rab would. Later, Johnny uses the uniform Pumpkin left behind as a disguise to help him get over to Charlestown.

We may be stretching things a bit here, but Pumpkin's nickname is essentially American. Pumpkins are a native American plant that had to be imported to Europe. What do you make of this?

Sandy: Calm Under Fire

Sandy is one of Colonel Smith's horses, and the one he rides on campaigns because Sandy doesn't mind the noise of battle. Sandy survives the campaign, and Johnny sees the horse being pulled out of a pit between Cambridge and Lexington.

Sergeant Gale: #peoplewhoareaptlynamed

Sergeant Gale is part of the British occupation of Boston, and while there, he falls in love with and marries Madge Lapham. Sergeant Gale is a small but mighty force to be reckoned with if you're a private, but he's kind to Madge, polite to Johnny, and an all-around decent guy.

Sewall

Sewall is one of Merchant Lyte's clerks and a poor relation of the Lyte family who has been rejected as a suitor for Miss Lyte by Merchant Lyte. He is kind to Johnny when Johnny comes to see Merchant Lyte. Later, we find out that Sewall has joined up with the rebels.

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