It's a dark and stormy night. Yeah, seriously it is. There's a huge storm a-brewing. A door flies open. And we are about to get our first glimpse of that soon-to-be dead guy in the title: "My brother Sam was standing there, wearing a uniform" (1.1).
Apparently, Sam has been gone for a few months. He hasn't been around since Christmas and now it's April, so his family is pretty shocked to see him.
And as soon as Sam gets inside, he's got some big news: "We've beaten the British in Massachusetts" (1.2). Did we say big news? We mean he's got some huge gigantic nation-creating news. Sounds like we've got an American Revolution on our hands here.
But Sam's dad has one super important question: he wants to know who this "we" is that's doing all this beating.
So Sam gives his family the quick rundown on how the Massachusetts Minutemen beat the British with a successful ambush. When Sam tells this story, things get a little complicated because he likes to use a whole bunch of different names to refer to the same groups. But have no fear, we're here to straighten things out.
According to Sam, here's the breakdown of the two opponents:
On the one side, we have Team American Colonies. Sam calls this side the "Massachusetts minutemen" or the "Patriots." He also refers to this group as "we," since he's chums with these American folk.
On the other side, we have Team English Nation. Sam calls them the "British" (because, well, they hail from Britain) and the "Lobsterbacks." It's pretty clear Sam isn't a fan of these guys.
When Sam is done telling his quick story about beating the British, he sits down for some grub with his mom, dad, some local farmers, and Mr. Beach (a minister who lives in a nearby town). Oh, and our narrator is there, too. He's Sam's younger brother, but we don't know his name yet.
Throughout dinner, Sam's dad is super critical of his son, telling Sam not to eat too quickly and that he needs to retell his story "in an orderly manner" (1.12). Uh oh, looks like our soldier is in some trouble.
And when Sam mentions his Captain, a dude named Benedict Arnold, his father doesn't seem any more pleased. (Get this: Benedict Arnold was a real person. Head on over to "Trivia" to read more about this complex fellow.)
So Sam goes back to his story of beating the British and takes us through it step by step.
Interested in the real history behind this story Sam tells? Turns out Sam's story is a fairly historically accurate tale of the battle of Lexington and Concord:
(1) The Lobsterbacks were marching from Boston to Lexington to find Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock. (Hold up, those names sound familiar. Isn't Hancock that guy with the huge signature on the Declaration of Independence? Yep, these dudes are Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
By the way, Sam's dad doesn't like that term Lobsterbacks one bit. Looks like papa is on England's side, so Sam starts calling them the British soldiers instead.
(2) When the British soldiers get to Lexington, there's no Adams or Hancock to be found. These two gents had been forewarned, and instead there are a bunch of Adams and Hancock's friends, the Massachusetts Minutemen, waiting for the British to get to town.
(3) So we've got the British and the Minutemen together in Lexington and they sure aren't happy.
Now here's the crucial step: "Then the shooting started—" (1.23). But hold on just one second, who fired the first shot? That's exactly what Mr. Beach wants to know, and so do we. Sam figures it was probably the British, but says there's no way to know for sure. All he can do is take us back to his step-by-step story.
(4) After some fighting in Lexington, the British headed to Concord, in hunt for some stored ammunition.
(5) After failing to find much ammunition in Concord, the Brits headed back to Boston and the Minutemen launched another sneak attack. This story about the battle starts up a fight between pro-America Sam and his pro-England dad. According to Sam's father, the Minutemen are being treasonous (a.k.a. betraying their own government). He also figures that people in their town of Redding, Connecticut are Tories or Loyalists. We can add these terms to our list of names for supporters of Team English Nation.
So now Team English Nation includes the British, Lobsterbacks, Tories, and Loyalists.
By now, it's no surprise that Sam doesn't agree with his dad one bit.
According to Sam, the British don't have a right to govern the American colonies. He thinks the British are super clueless about what actually goes on in the colonies, so the colonists should get to govern themselves. The whole thing gets pretty heated, until Sam's father shuts the conversation down.
Our narrator (who still doesn't have a name, and we're dying to know it) takes this opportunity to give us some back story on his family.
Apparently, this kind of fight isn't uncommon in their home. Their dad gets upset and sometimes even hits him or Sam. And Sam just says what he thinks all the time, so he's always getting into fights. But even though these fights make our narrator a little antsy, he sure is glad to have his big bro back home. He can't wait until dinner is over so they can go off on their own.
Then Sam can tell his little bro stories about going to college at Yale University. And in thinking about the stories that Sam likes to tell about college, we finally get to know our storyteller's name: Tim. Phew. It sure took him long enough to share that little important detail.
We also learn Sam and Tim's last name: Meeker. So the good news is that Sam is back from college for a bit. But the bad news is that it's stirring up some family tensions. Tim is especially nervous that if Sam and his dad fight too much, then his big bro will run away.
Apparently in the past Sam has run away to this guy named Tom Warrups. According to Tim, he's "the last Indian we had in Redding" and grandson to a seriously famous chief (1.55).
Anyway, Tom Warrups has a hut behind Colonel Read's home, and Sam used to run away to it during spats with his dad.
Once dinner is over, Tim asks Sam to go milk the cows with him.
So Tim heads out to the barn where they keep Old Pru, their cow, along with some other animals that Tim has to take care of. The house also serves as a store and a tavern. So you can go to Tim and Sam's house if you need to buy some flour or if you want a cold drink after a long day of work.
Out in the barn, it's time for some brotherly bonding. Tim milks the cows and Sam collects the eggs.
Meanwhile, they tease each other and talk about why Sam gets in fights with their dad.
Tim wants to know why Sam decided to wear his uniform, since he knew it would make their dad angry.
Sam reveals that he's not just wearing the uniform; he's actually joining up with the Patriots to fight the Lobsterbacks. Whoa.
Thinking about his brother as a soldier has Tim feeling nervous and excited all at once. Us too. Plus, Sam didn't just come back to make his dad angry. He also came back to get his dad's gun, the Brown Bess. This gun is super important to their father, so Tim just knows he won't be happy to have his son steal it. Sounds like Sam is about to get in a huge fight with his papa.
Once they're done in the barn, Sam goes inside to talk to his father and Tim goes upstairs to the loft that he and his brother share.
Tim ends up falling asleep, only to wake up to an enormous screaming match downstairs between Sam and Father.
They're fighting about the gun, but they're also yelling at each other about the war.
Sadly, Sam and Father don't resolve anything.
Sam storms out, and Tim hears his father cry for the first time ever. Things are looking pretty ominous to us. In fact, Tim says it best: "I knew there were bad times coming" (1.166).