We wake in the Boston home of the Lapham family on a beautiful July morning in 1773. Fourteen-year-old Johnny Tremain, the best and brightest of three silversmith apprentices, gets the whole household ready to work for the day. Johnny's future seems set—he will marry Cilla Lapham so he can inherit her grandfather's silver business and become Boston's best silversmith—until the unthinkable happens. He badly injures his right hand making a silver sugar basin for John Hancock, and now he will never be able to make silver again.
Out of a job, Johnny spends the late summer and early fall of 1773 roaming the streets of Boston, searching for another trade. Things look up when he stumbles into the office of the Boston Observer, a Whig newspaper, and meets an older boy named Rab who offers him employment as a rider for the newspaper. Johnny turns the job down but thinks Rab seems cool.
Feeling he has nowhere else to turn, Johnny goes to his dead mother's estranged relatives, the Lytes. The visit turns sour when Merchant Lyte accuses Johnny of stealing the silver cup his mother left him. Good thing Johnny met Rab, because he really comes through in this pinch, getting Johnny a better cell, finding him an excellent pro bono lawyer, and getting Cilla to testify on Johnny's behalf.
Giving up on the Lyte connection, Johnny takes the job as a rider. He leaves the Laphams's house for good, moves into the newspaper office with Rab, and becomes heavily involved in Whig politics during the fall of 1773. He finds out about the Boston Observers, a group of prominent Whigs who meet secretly in the Boston Observer's attic. When we say prominent, we mean prominent: John Hancock, Paul Revere, Sam Adams, and John Adams are all in this bunch. In December 1773, Johnny participates in the Boston Tea Party.
Then we skip to June 1774, when British soldiers arrive to occupy Boston in retaliation for the Tea Party. Throughout late 1774 and early 1775, tensions between Boston and Britain build to a breaking point. Rab spends his free time drilling with the Colonial militia, and Johnny is jealous because he can't fire a gun with his injured hand. However, he helps out by keeping an eye on the British officers, whom he's also been riding for.
In the first days of the American Revolution, which begins on April 19, 1775, Johnny serves as a messenger/spy between Boston and Lexington, partly so he can look for Rab. When Johnny finally finds him, Rab is dying of wounds he received at the Battle of Lexington. He gives Johnny his musket, and Johnny decides to let Doctor Joseph Warren, one of the Boston Observers, operate on his hand—without anesthesia—so that he too will be able to fight.