My Brother Sam Is Dead Summary
Spoiler alert: Sam dies.
We know, so shocking. It's not like the title gives anything away…
But actually, a whole ton of stuff happens before Sam dies. And during that time, we grow to love Sam. This means that whole dying thing becomes a serious downer.
So let's set the stage. The setting? The American Revolutionary War. And the characters? The Meeker family and the rest of their friends in Redding, Connecticut. The Meekers are a cozy little family of four: Papa Meeker, Mama Meeker, Sam, and Tim (who serves as our narrator).
Right off the bat, we learn that the Meeker family has some drama coming their way. Sam has decided to become a soldier in the Continental Army. This means he's going to join the Patriots to fight for the American Colonies to be free from England. Mr. Meeker has two reasons for hating this idea:
(1) Father Meeker leans pro-Tory, which means he supports England. Yep, that's bound to brew some conflict.
(2) Sam's dad hates war. Period. War stinks, and Sam's dad knows it.
Tim watches as his dad and Sam have a huge fight and Sam runs away. Sammy joins up with the Continental Army to fight against the English, and that's that. To make matters worse, Sam steals his dad gun (named the Brown Bess). Now that's just putting salt in the wound.
Since his big bro is gone, Tim spends a lot of time wondering which side he should be on. Should he be pro-America, like his brother? Or should he root for the British, like his father? He spends a ton of the book mulling this question over. Lucky for Tim, the war hasn't affected his life in Redding too much, so he doesn't really have to make a decision.
Things start to change when Tim goes on a road trip with his dad. Mr. Meeker and Tim are taking a bunch of cattle to a trading post when they run into a gang of cowboys. Thankfully, the cowboys get scared off…this time. But when Tim and his dad are on their way home, things don't go so well. Mr. M gets captured by the cowboys. Gulp.
This means that our cozy family of four is now down to two.
A few months later, Tim witnesses a skirmish between the British and the Rebels. Let's just put it this way: he sees some pretty gruesome stuff. He's starting to realize that he doesn't like the Tories or the Patriots. Instead, he just hates the war. And he hates the war even more when he learns that his dad and his friend Jerry have died on prison ships.
After another year and a half, Sam comes back to Redding with his troops. It seems like Tim and his mom will get to enjoy lots of visits from Sam, since the army is camping out nearby. But these visits are cut short when Sam is falsely accused of stealing the Meekers' own cows. Don't like where this is heading? Neither do we.
And finally, what we're all expecting: Sam dies. Surprising? No. Sad? Absolutely.
In the Epilogue, we find out that Tim has a decent life after the war. It's like a mini consolation prize, we guess. Very mini.
- 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).
- It's time for Tim to give us some more back story about his family and the place where they live.
- His dad's first name is Eliphalet. (Yep, you read that right.) And he has a super awesome nickname: Life. Hey Life, what's up? Life grew up in Redding, where Tim and his family live now.
- Tim's mother was born Susannah Platt and she hails from New York. Hey Suz! She still has some family there and Life visits them each year when he's selling cattle.
- So Life, Susannah, Sam, and Tim all live in a little town called Redding, Connecticut. This town has two parts: one half is called Redding Center, and it has a Presbyterian Church; the other half is called Redding Ridge. This is where Tim's family and a handful of others live. On this side of town, there's an Anglican church ("'Anglican' meant English Church" [2.4]).
- Since we already know being "English" is a pretty hot topic during Tim's time, the side of town you live on and which church you go to ends up being super important. Most of the people who go to the Anglican Church and live on Tim's side of Redding are Loyalists. They support the English King.
- To be honest, Tim is pretty confused about the debates surrounding England. He's grown up hearing people fight about whether the colonists should be loyal to their king or become rebels and start a revolution. He knows that there are no easy answers and everyone seems to have a different view on things.
- So Tim has found a way to deal with all this confusion: stop listening to the debates altogether. But now that his brother Sam is joining up to fight the British, Tim can't avoid thinking about the war.
- In fact, everyone seems to want to talk about Sam running away to fight. At home, Tim's dad brings it up. And then at church, Tim's friend Jerry Sanford mentions it too. Get this, even Mr. Beach, the preacher, talks about being "loyal Englishmen" and not disobeying your father in his sermon (2.19).
- All this talk has Tim especially nervous of how God might react to Sam running away. He figures that God can punish people who do wrong, so what if he punishes Sam?
- After church, Tom Warrups lets Tim in on a little secret: Sam is hiding out at his place. And Tim can come see him that afternoon.
- Later, at Tom Warrups' hut, Tim gets to see his big bro, Tom, and a woman named Betsy Read, Colonel Read's granddaughter. Betsy has an important question for Tim: "Timmy are you on your father's side or Sam's?" (2.40).
- Yikes. That's a horrible decision for poor Tim to make.
- And Tim says just that. He doesn't want to choose sides because the whole thing is so stinking confusing.
- Tim asks Betsy what side she and her family are on and she says she's a Patriot, just like her family. She hopes there's a way for the colonies to be free without war. But she also agrees with Sam that gaining freedom for the colonies is worth dying for, if necessary.
- Tim is in a serious pickle. Should he side with his brother, Sam? Sam can be pretty convincing when he's trying to get you on his team. Or should Tim side with his father? Tim sure does have a hard time disobeying his Pops.
- Sam makes the situation even tougher for Tim when he asks his little brother to help out the Patriots.
- Sam wants Tim to listen to the chatter around the tavern (and this will be easy because the tavern is in their home). Sam figures there are lots of Tories in Redding who will talk, and then Tim could give Sam a report on what he hears. Sounds like Sam wants to turn Tim into a spy.
- To make things even more complicated, Tim sees Brown Bess sitting in Tom's hut. Yep, Sam has stolen his father's gun.
- So now Tim has a whole bunch of decisions to make about whose side he's on and now he has to keep a secret from his dad about the gun.
- All this is enough to make anybody cry and that's exactly what poor Timmy does.
- Things are about to get crazy because it's the summer of 1775, and the war is officially in full swing. There have been battles at Bunker Hill and Fort Ticonderoga.
- Wait, hold on just a second. According to Tim, the war isn't really changing much in his life. He even calls things "normal" (3.1). These battles may be going on, but they aren't happening inside Redding. This means that so far, not much has changed for Tim, except that everyone talks about the war all the time.
- Well, there is one big change: Sam is gone. But no one in the family talks about Sam. Out of sight, out of mind.
- So these days Tim spends lots of time doing his chores around the tavern. He tends to the livestock and keeps the place clean. Sometimes he gets to hear stories from people who have gone on trips to bigger cities and come back with interesting tales.
- And then there are times when Betsy Read visits the shop (remember, the tavern also operates as a shop for Tim's multitasking family). She's always trying to eavesdrop on Tory conversations, but Tim's mom is always scolding her to not be idle.
- One day, Betsy comes into the store and gives Tim a signal to meet her outside.
- Once they're away from prying eyes, Betsy asks Tim what he'd do if Sam came to town for a visit. Will Tim tell his father? Or will he keep his mouth shut?
- Tim is getting pretty tired of these tough decisions. He hasn't even made his mind up yet about which side of the war he supports. But he does know that he loves his brother so he says that if Sam comes to visit, he won't tell Father.
- Now that he's promised to keep Sam's secret, Tim figures Betsy is going to tell him when Sam is coming back. But sadly for Tim, all Betsy knows is that he's coming "soon" (3.26).
- Poor Tim has to wait for months to see his brother again. He keeps hoping Betsy will give him a sign that Sam is back, but time passes and eventually it's winter and snowing outside.
- Then one day, Betsy comes into the store and gives Tim a sign: "I noticed that she was nodding her head slowly up and down. Sam was back" (3.38). Phew.
- It's time for Tim to see his big bro, and he's so excited he can hardly contain himself. He even says he feels "all sparkly inside" (4.1). That is some serious excitement.
- But in order to see Sam, Tim has to figure out an excuse to leave the tavern.
- While Tim is mulling over some potential excuses, a group of horsemen ride into town and up to the tavern. And these aren't just any men on horses. These are members of the Continental Army (i.e., they are fighting for the colonies and against England). Tim calls these guys Continentals and Rebels. So that means our list of terms for Team American Colonies now includes Massachusetts Minutemen, Patriots, Continentals, and Rebels.
- All these Continentals are wearing blue (while the British supporters wear red). Plus, Tim notices that lots of the Continentals also have a Brown Bess, just like the gun Sam took from their father. So we've got a bunch of Continentals going into the tavern, and we already know that Tim's dad is a Loyalist and supports England. We're thinking this is going to get ugly, and Tim thinks so too.
- To find out what's going on inside, Tim peers into the tavern through a slightly open door.
- And what he sees isn't a pretty sight.
- One soldier is restraining his mom with a rifle and another is threatening his dad with a sword.
- As Tim watches, the soldier with the sword tells Mr. Meeker that he better give them his Brown Bess—or else.
- Tim's dad tries to explain that his son stole the gun, but the Continentals just won't believe him.
- One even goes so far as to hit Mr. M across the face with his sword. Whoa there fella.
- Tim can't stand watching this anymore. He knows there's just one person who can help out "and he was up at Tom Warrups'" (4.16).
- Tim's chance to see his big bro just got a whole lot more complicated.
- So Tim runs as fast as he can over to Warrups's place.
- As he runs, he comes to two conclusions about the war:
- (1) The war has officially arrived in his little town of Redding. They can't ignore it anymore.
- (2) The Continentals want to make sure that the Tories in Redding don't have any weapons to fight with. So that's why they're gathering up all the guns.
- When Tim gets to Warrups's shack, he finds Sam sleeping inside. Sam is the only one in the hut except for a very important piece of weaponry: their dad's Brown Bess. The only trouble is that Sam has the Brown Bess tucked under his arm, sleeping with it so no one will take it.
- Tim figures he's got to take his chance. After a couple of tries, he grabs the gun and Sam still seems to be asleep.
- So Tim takes off running as fast as he can, but soon realizes that Sam is up and running after him. Sadly for Tim, his older brother is stronger and faster so he eventually catches up to Tim.
- Now things get seriously scary. When Sam reaches his little bro, Tim points the gun at Sam and makes a pretty hefty threat: "Don't come any closer, Sam, or I'll shoot you" (4.26). Golly gosh, this is some scary stuff.
- Sam says the gun isn't even loaded, but Tim doesn't know whether to believe him or not. And neither do we. But after another moment Sam has snatched the gun from his little bro.
- The good news is that there'll be no bro-on-bro violence today. But the bad news is that this situation is about to get way more complicated.
- Tim explains that the Continentals are threatening to kill their dad if he doesn't give them the Brown Bess. But then Sam says that he's not even supposed to be in Redding. He slipped away for a day to visit Betsy Read.
- According to Sam, everyone in the army slips home now and again, so as long as he's back soon it'll be fine, and no one will notice he was missing.
- But here's where the real pickle lies: if Sam goes to the tavern to give back the gun, the Continentals will know he left the army for a bit and might punish him as a deserter. Plus, if he gives Tim the gun and returns to his army without his weapon, he might get hanged as punishment. Hmmm.
- Eventually Sam agrees to go toward the house with Tim, so they can see what's going on.
- When they reach the tavern, it looks like the Continentals have left, so the brothers go inside.
- Happily, their dad is alive, even though he does have a bloody cut on his cheek.
- The second Sam sees his dad, he takes off running back the way he came, Brown Bess and all.
- Tim and his dad call after Sam, but he just waves and keeps on running. Well, at least the good news is that so far no one has died.
- But that pesky title about Sam dying has us pretty worried about what's up ahead.
- So for a while it was easy to pretend the war wasn't going on.
- But now that there are Continentals gathering up all the guns in Redding and lots of people telling stories about battles, the war is becoming seriously real.
- Plus, the war is making food a bit tougher to come by. This means that sometimes people in Redding have their cows stolen by hungry soldiers. It also means that prices in the tavern are going way up. (We'd like to interrupt this summary for a Shmoop Mini Econ Lesson: when there's not much food around, people will pay more for it. That means the prices can go sky high. Now back to our regularly scheduled revolutionary programming.)
- For Tim, there's one thing about this war that particularly stinks: missing his big bro. He's constantly worried that something is going to happen to Sam.
- But he also admires his big brother for being brave.
- In fact, thinking about his brother has Tim musing on a very important question: "if I went for a soldier, which army would I join?" (5.8) Sheesh, that's not just a big question, that's the big question.
- Tim doesn't know which side he'd choose. Would he rather have "the best uniforms" like the British? Or would he like to be with the "underdogs" and fight with the Patriots? (5.8) Guess we'll just have to wait to find out.
- One day, Mr. Heron (a rich Tory guy who lives nearby) and Tom Warrups come into the tavern for a drink.
- Actually, it turns out that Mr. Heron is there for more than just a drink: he's got to ask Tim for a favor. According to Mr. Heron, all he wants Tim to do is carry some "business letters" to the nearby town of Fairfield (5.36).
- Tim is seriously stoked about this idea. An adventure! To deliver letters! We're not sure yet, but something about the way Mr. Heron and Mr. Meeker are talking about "business letters" makes it sound like they aren't really business letters, you know?
- Anyway, Mr. Meeker thinks the idea of Tim walking all by himself to another town to deliver these weird letters sounds pretty sketchy.
- Mr. Heron says that Tom Warrups can't do it because he'd draw too much attention, while a boy wouldn't get bothered. Okay, it's official: now we have a seriously weird feeling about these so-called "business letters." Mr. Meeker puts his foot down and says Tim won't get to play postman.
- Tim is bummed, but once Mr. Heron and Tom leave, he finds out why his dad was so anti-adventure: "Those weren't business letters, Tim" (5.51). (Yeah, we know.) Tim figures that these "business letters" are probably some super crazy important war letters. And all he wants is to be part of this war like his brother. He figures that since Mr. Heron is a Tory and his dad is a Tory, it shouldn't be a problem for him to play messenger.
- So he decides to stand up to his dad, Sam-style.
- Let's get real here: this confrontation doesn't go too well. Tim yells, his dad yells, and it looks like Tim loses because he doesn't change his papa's mind. Oh well. Hold up: looks like Tim isn't giving up that quickly.
- He waits patiently for an opportunity to trick his dad, and two weeks later he gets one.
- Tim's friend Jerry asks him to go fishing and Mr. Meeker says sure. Sneaky little Tim's plan has worked: "I had my excuse to get away" (5.77). Yeah, we've got a bad feeling about this.
- In a couple of days, Tim gets his chance to be a sneaky little bugger.
- Mr. Heron comes into the shop, and Tim brings him his rum.
- Tim seizes his opportunity and tells Mr. H that he sure would like to go on that letter-delivering adventure. Yessiree.
- Actually, Tim doesn't just tell Mr. Heron that he wants the job; he lies and says his dad is totally cool with it.
- Turns out Mr. Heron is a pretty smart dude because he knows right away that Tim is lying.
- Even so, Mr. Heron agrees to let Tim take the job. Tim figures it's not really that bad to lie to his dad since his dad and Mr. Heron are both Loyalists. So Tim is just doing his part for Team English Nation, right? Well, that's one way to justify disobeying your old man.
- The next day Tim sets off to Mr. Heron's house while his dad thinks he's going fishing with Jerry again.
- At Mr. Heron's pad, Tim gets very clear instructions that go something like this:
- (1) Walk five miles to Fairfield.
- (2) Find this specific white house with green trim and give a letter to Mr. Burr.
- (3) Walk five miles back to Redding before anyone gets suspicious.
- At first, things are going well: it's a sunny day and Tim is walking quickly. Yay adventure!
- But things get prickly when Betsy Read shows up with a ton of questions.
- She wants to know where Tim is going and guesses he's off to send a love letter. Well, at least she hasn't figured out Tim's secret mission.
- Tim turns the Q&A session around and starts getting Betsy to explain where she's off to on this fine day. Betsy says she's heading to see Sam. Wait, what?! Sam's nearby?
- Tim wants to know how she got that information and she says from Mr. Heron.
- Apparently, Sam and another soldier have been "scouting for beef" (6.56). We're thinking this is code for stealing cows.
- By this point, Tim is totally confused, and so are we. He thinks that Mr. Heron is a Tory, but then how does he know what Sam, a Continental soldier, is up to? And why is he telling Betsy, a sworn Patriot? Things are getting weird.
- While Tim is seriously confused, Betsy is starting to figure out what's going on with all this letter carrying.
- When Tim accidentally mentions that he had his own chat with Mr. Heron that morning, Betsy realizes that Tim has been sent on a letter-delivering mission.
- And she's not going to back down until she finds out just what that letter has to say. You see, Betsy has come up with a theory about the letter.
- She thinks Mr. Heron is sending word of Sam's whereabouts to the Lobsterbacks so they can arrest him for cow-stealing.
- Tim isn't sure all this makes sense and doesn't know what in tarnation he's supposed to do. Should he keep his word to Mr. Heron? Or is he putting his brother at risk?
- Feisty Betsy figures there's only one way to figure out what's happening: steal the letter.
- Since Tim has the letter tucked inside his shirt, they get into a bit of a brawl.
- After some kicking and punching, Betsy gets the letter and runs off with it.
- While running away, Betsy opens the letter and then chucks it.
- When Tim reads it, he's in for a serious shock because here's what the letter says: "If this message is received, we will know that the messenger is reliable" (6.101).
- Looks like Tim is one unreliable postman.
- So that whole letter thing seemed like a huge deal, but apparently Tim gets over it fairly quickly.
- At first things were pretty awkward around Mr. Heron. But Mr. H. never asked Tim about the letter so no harm no foul…we guess?
- Anyway, even with the letter drama past, the war is still brewing all around them. For the most part, it still isn't affecting Tim and his family too much. By the time fall of 1776 comes around, it's time for the annual Meeker outing to Verplancks Point, a trading post in New York.
- Every year, Tim's dad takes a bunch of cattle to Verplancks Point with either Sam or Tom Warrups. This year, it's Tim's turn to join in on the adventure. It'll take a few days for them to get to Verplancks Point, and they'll stop by some family and friends along the way.
- Tim's dad thinks his son is too young to go. But Tim's the only helper his papa has, so hooray for Tim and too bad for Mr. Meeker. All in all, sounds like it'll be good clean family road trip fun…which also probably means something is going to go wrong. Doesn't something always seem to go wrong in this book every time it seems like it'll be easy peasy?
- So Tim and his dad are shuttling their cattle along the road and life is pretty grand.
- Then something goes seriously wrong: "cow-boys" (7.33). These cowboys are some tough dudes, and it looks like they're Patriots (remember, this means they're on Team American Colonies).
- When they learn that Tim and his dad are from Redding, the cowboys realize they're probably Tories. Plus, most of the people who buy cows in Verplancks Point are from New York, and New York is pro-British Army. So even though Mr. Meeker doesn't really want to get involved in the war, turns out he's selling his cattle in a town where mostly Lobsterbacks will get to eat the beef. Let's just say that this makes the cowboys a wee bit angry.
- Actually, they threaten to kill Tim and his dad if they don't get off their horses and abandon their cattle. Tim does as he's told and goes out into the nearby field. But Mr. Meeker stands his ground.
- Tim can't hear what's happening, but he can tell his father is talking to the cowboys, and then he sees them hit his dad in the head. Uh oh. Luckily for Tim, the cowboys end up riding back where they came from and don't kill Mr. Meeker. Why? Because a different group of horsemen have arrived on the scene. These new riders figure out the same three important things about the Meekers and their cattle as the cowboys did:
- Thing 1: Mr. Meeker leans toward the Loyalists.
- Thing 2: Tim and his dad are taking the cows to Verplancks Point to sell them.
- Thing 3: Based on Thing Two, these cattle will feed Lobsterbacks.
- But remember how the cowboys freaked out and started making threats when they figured out these three things? Well, these new riders do just the opposite: they're happy the cows are heading into British bellies. Looks like these are some pro-England horsemen.
- They even escort Tim, his dad, and their cows all the way to New York. Phew.
- Tim and his dad have arrived in North Salem safe and sound. They're stopping here for the night to catch up with some cousins, the Platt family, and then head out for some cattle-trading the next day.
- At the Platt farm, they get some good grub and a cozy night's sleep. Sounds way better than a rumble with cowboys.
- Later that night, Sam has a chit chat with his cousin, Ezekiel.
- They gab about the war and whether Tim is a Loyalist or not. To be honest, Tim still isn't sure which side he's on. He's one confused dude.
- The next day, Tim and his old man head into Verplancks Point. While Mr. Meeker trades cows for goods that they can sell or use in the Meeker store/tavern, Tim gets a peek at what life is like in a different colony. The verdict: Tim kinda wants to stay forever and not have to go back to working in the tavern. Alas, all road trips must come to an end.
- So after a successful day of trading, the Meekers catch some Z's before starting back to Redding.
- While on the road back home, Mr. Meeker realizes they've got a tough choice to make.
- Choice 1: Take the same exact road back. The good thing about this is that it's the shortest route and it looks like snow is coming soon. But the bad thing is that there are those scary cowboy dudes. What if they are waiting for the Meekers to journey back home through the Ridgebury area? We're shaking in our (cowboy) boots just thinking about it.
- Choice 2: Take the longer way home. The upside to this route is that it avoids the Ridgebury area and those creepy cowboys. But the downside is that if it snows, they'll be out on the road for even longer. And no one wants to get caught in a snow storm. Hmmm.
- Turns out, Tim and his dad don't have much of a choice; the snow has already started.
- They take the shorter route, hoping to get home faster. Cowboys wouldn't want to wait out in the snow for them, right? Fingers crossed.
- After tons of trudging, they make it back to the Platts for another good night of rest alongside Tim's cousins.
- The next morning, Tim and his father are up and at 'em again, hitting the road with their wagon full of goods.
- The ground is covered with snow, but at least it's not continuously snowing, so that's good. And they'll just have to cross their fingers that no cowboys show up. To keep watch on the cowboys, Tim and his dad work out a nifty system.
- Tim tends to the oxen, making sure they keep pulling the wagon with all its goodies forward.
- Meanwhile, Mr. Meeker will ride up ahead to keep an eye out for cowboys, and occasionally come back to check on his son. And for a while, this system works out just great. They even make it through that rough Ridgebury area without any cowboy troubles. But later on, Tim realizes he hasn't seen his dad in quite a long time.
- Soon after he comes across a patch of ground with lots of hoof-prints and mud mixed into the snow. Tim just knows what has happened to his father: "The cowboys had […] taken him away someplace" (9.17).
- Tim is scared out of his wits at first. What on earth is he supposed to do? Should he go after his dad, even though he doesn't know where he is? Or should he try to get the goods home?
- Eventually, Tim realizes that his father would want him to take the supplies back to his mom. Without these supplies, they won't make it through the winter.
- So that's exactly what Tim decides to do. Turns out Tim has got his wits about him. He realizes that not only should he head home as quickly as possible, but he should also be prepared to run into the cowboys along the way. And he should also have a story figured out for when he runs into those cattle-stealers.
- Soon, there they are up ahead: three cowboys waiting for him in the middle of the road.
- But Tim keeps his cool. In fact, he asks these jerks if they are his "escort" (9.29). Sounds like Tim has a plan in mind.
- The cowboys are a little confused about this whole "escort" thing, but Tim keeps up with his story. He tells the cowboys that his dad told him to expect an escort and that whenever the shooting starts, his job is to fall to the ground as fast as possible.
- This talk of shooting has the cowboys getting worried. Some of them start wondering if there's an ambush set up, with an escort waiting for the cowboys to attack the boy.
- Lucky for Tim, enough of these cowboys get scared so they decide to ride away. Way to go, Tim!
- All it took was a good story and he was able to trick them into leaving him alone.
- Now he makes it all the way home with all his goods. That is seriously impressive stuff.
- Tim is happy to be home, but he and his mom are pretty worried about his dad. Mrs. Meeker tries to keep her spirits up, saying that her husband is just captured and will be home soon. But Tim isn't so sure.
- Sadly, there's not much she or Tim can do about the situation. Instead, they have to focus all their energies on keeping the store and tavern going, so that they have enough income to live on. Lucky for them, the war means that there are lots of people who need supplies or a place to stay while on a trip, and the Meeker tavern/shop is the perfect place to help these folks out.
- Of course, remember how we realized earlier that the war also means that there are fewer supplies out there and so the price of those supplies goes up? Well that keeps happening, so Tim and his mom have to raise their prices over and over and over again.
- Amid all this hard work, Tim's mom decides that she is going to convince Sam to come home. She and Tim hope that maybe Betsy Read will tell Sam about Mr. Meeker's disappearance in her letters, but apparently she doesn't know where Sam is nowadays.
- So there's a lot of hard work to be done and no Sam or dad to help out. Tim realizes that there's just one thing he can do in this situation: grow up… and fast. So that's just what he does. Tim starts helping his mom in every way he can.
- All throughout the winter, Tim and his mom chug along, working hard and missing Sam and Mr. Meeker. Eventually, the spring of 1777 comes around.
- On April 26, Tim and his mom get a big shock: British soldiers are marching into town.
- As they watch, some soldiers go straight into Mr. Heron's house. Just down the road, there are two main Patriot supporters (Captain Betts and Mr. Rogers) who are meeting together, and Tim's friend Jerry is with them. Tim figures those guys are probably trying to work out how to attack the British.
- Let's put it this way: the war has definitely come to Redding now.
- In fact, the arrival of the British army makes Tim realize something pretty huge: he's a Tory. Wow, it's taken Tim a long time to make up his mind about which side he's on. But now he's decided it's Team English Nation, mostly because of what happened to his dad.
- Besides this epiphany, nothing too dramatic seems to be happening in town, so that's good. But that's all about to change with a quick series of violent events. Here goes…
- Violent Event #1: All of a sudden, a bunch of soldiers charge into Betts' house. They drag Captain Betts, Mr. Rogers, and Jerry Sanford onto the road. Uh oh, this can't be good. Tim thinks he's figured out what happened: "the officers had gone up to Mr. Heron's […] to find out who the Rebel leaders were" (10.45). These three Patriot guys now become captives of the British army.
- Violent Event #2: When the British see a rebel messenger riding into town, they shoot him on the spot. And then they don't even look at his body when they go past him. Now that's cold. Tim gets involved when he's sent for the doctor. He starts hauling his rear end as fast as he can. Good thing Tim is a smarty pants: he runs through the pastures towards the doctor's house so that he can avoid the British troops who are taking the road.
- Violent Event #3: While he's running, Tim hears shooting and stops to look over at the British troops. Sure enough, Tim sees the British firing at Captain Starr's home, where a bunch of rebels are firing back. Tim recognizes Captain Starr and Ned, an African slave owned by a man named Samuel Smith. As he watches, the British storm the house and kill Ned, first by stabbing him in the stomach and then by cutting off his head.
- Yep, this battle is just about as violent as can be.
(By the way, Captain Starr and Ned were real folks and Ned really did get killed this way on April 26, 1777. You can read more about that in "Trivia.")
- With all this violence, Tim isn't all that excited about the British army. In fact, he might just be switching teams: "I didn't feel much like being a Tory anymore" (10.64). Well, we can't blame the kid.
- This chapter starts out with a wee bit of good news: the Continental messenger survived being shot by the British.
- Once the doctor has fixed up his bullet wound and given the man some alcohol, the messenger explains what's been going on. Apparently the British Army is after some ammunition warehouses.
- Meanwhile, the Continental Army dude named General Benedict Arnold has been hunting down the British Army. (If that name sounds familiar to you, it's because we heard about Arnold super briefly in Chapter 1. Hop on back there for a quick refresher.)
- Sam is supposed to be in Arnold's troops. So this means that if the Continental Army comes through Redding looking for the British, Sam might be with them.
- Just as Tim is figuring all this out, Captain Betts shows up at the tavern. Turn out the British army let him go (sadly, they've still got Jerry).
- Betts thinks they should try to chase the British down. He wants Tim to signal with the church bells.
- Tim gets moving but Mrs. Meeker isn't going to take this lying down. Get this: she picks up a hot poker from the fire and threatens Betts to leave her kid alone. Whoa.
- Betts backs off pretty quickly. Don't mess with Mrs. Meeker.
- Around dinnertime, Tim and his mom hear the sound of troops again. Turns out it's the Continentals this time.
- Pretty soon, a few soldiers come into the tavern, and eventually General Arnold joins them.
- Tim knows what this means: Sam might be in town.
- So while the Continentals are gabbing and eating in the tavern, Tim sneaks out to find Sam.
- When the brothers see one another again, it's a seriously sweet scene. There's hugging and tears and all that good stuff.
- Sam tells Tim that he's been afraid to come home. He was worried everyone would be mad at him. Well, Sam's lucky because Tim is a pretty forgiving guy.
- All the same, the brothers get into a squabble when Tim tells Sam that he should try to get their dad set free.
- After a bit of chatting, Tim realizes his mom probably wants in on the Sammy-time.
- So he runs into the house to fetch her and we get another sweet family reunion.
- We also get another squabble, since Mama Meeker doesn't want Sam to stay in the army. Ah, families.
- Enough chit chat. It's time for Sam to be off before he gets in trouble. Wonder when we'll see that guy again.
- Get ready for two pieces of sad news:
- Sad News #1: Mr. Meeker is dead. Tim and his mom find out in June 1777 that he died of cholera on a prison ship. The weird thing is that he actually went to a British prison, not a rebel one. But either way, prison ships were horrible gross places where tons of people died from disease or starvation. Tim and his mom are sad, obviously, but he doesn't really dwell on his dad's death too much.
- Sad News #2: Tim's friend Jerry is dead. He also got sick on a British prison ship and died there. The fact that soldiers lock ten-year-old boys up in prison ships has Tim, his mom, and even Betsy Read fuming. In fact, Betsy used to be all for the war, but now even she is having some doubts. She just wants the war to be over, and Tim agrees.
- But here's some good news to go with the bad. Tim learns that his father sent a message to the family before he died: Mr. Meeker forgives Sam.
- Tim isn't sure he can forgive his brother, but he is sure of one thing: this war is the worst. It's taken his dad and his friend, and Tim is sick and tired of it. But the war isn't ending just yet.
- As time passes on, food is in even shorter supply. This means everyone is hungry, from the soldiers to the people in Redding. In fact, food is in such short supply that Tim is thinking about selling some cows to the British, just to get some grub. He isn't necessarily trying to side with the Tories, he just knows the Brits have more money, and Tim wants food more than anything.
- Things are still looking lean the next time Sam returns to Redding on December 3, 1778. That means it's been about a year and a half since Tim last saw his big bro. While Sam's in town, he gives Tim advice about the cows: butcher them and hide the meat. Sam knows that soldiers will steal the cows if they can because they're so stinkin' hungry.
- Sam also tells Tim and their mom that he'll be nearby all winter. His troop will be camping out along with this Continental dude named General Putnam, who's a seriously strict commander. General Putnam punishes soldiers who disobey his orders, and Sam figures he might even hang some of them soon.
- So all winter, Tim and his mom get visits from Sam, which is kind of cool. He also keeps hounding Tim to butcher the cows before they get stolen. But Tim and his mom decide to wait, just in case they're able to sell the cattle.
- Then one night, there are sounds in the barn, and Sam and Tim dash out there. Someone is stealing the cattle. Sam runs after the cow thieves and Tim tries to round some of the loose cows up.
- It's pretty chaotic, and all of a sudden, things take a turn that we weren't expecting. Sam comes back by the barn, but now he's all bloodied up and held captive by two other soldiers. "They're taking me in as a cattle thief" (12.72).
- Now Sam seriously needs his little bro's help.
- Tim gets cracking trying to help his brother out of this bind.
- First, he goes to see Colonel Parsons, but he's told to come back in the morning. Ugh, don't people realize how important it is to get Sam free? Apparently not.
- So that night, there's nothing else Tim or his mom can do for Sam. Instead, they chop up the one cow that got killed and store the meat.
- The next day, Tim tries again to explain the truth about Sam. But when he goes back to Colonel Parsons, the guy doesn't really seem to care. He just says that Tim better go talk to General Putnam, since he's the dude who'll be making the final decision on Sam's fate.
- By this point, Tim is super frustrated that no one realizes Sam is innocent and that the two jerks who accused Sam were the actual cow thieves. We're with you, Timmy.
- Tim and his mom figure that if anyone is going to talk to General Putnam, it should be Mrs. Meeker. To be honest, Mama Meeker isn't feeling optimistic about this whole Sam business, but she heads out to try her best. We're crossing our fingers that she comes back with good news.
- While Tim waits, he tends the tavern and tries not to think about what might happen to his brother.
- When Betsy comes into the store and learns about why Sam got arrested, she says she'll talk to her dad (remember, she's from a big Continental Army family). Looks like the ladies of Redding are doing everything they can to save Sam's life.
- Mrs. M doesn't come home until the end of the day, and the gal is just plain pooped. She tells Tim that General Putnam didn't really want to spend any time dealing with this cow-stealing stuff.
- It looks bad that Sam was supposed to be helping out Colonel Parsons but instead was hanging out with his family. And it's not like Mrs. M is an unbiased witness or anything. As she puts it: "Why should they believe me? I'm his mother, I'd certainly lie to save him" (13.40). Things aren't looking too great for Sam.
- And a few days later, we get another reminder of that sad fact. Colonel Read comes by to chat with Tim and Mrs. M about the Sam situation.
- Apparently there are a few things working against the kid:
- (1) The two rascals who were actually stealing the cows will say anything to get off the hook. This means they'll totally accuse an innocent man to save their own skins. It's Sam's word against two other dudes'. We're not liking those odds.
- (2) The Meekers are known for being a Tory-leaning family. Even though none of them are hard-nosed Loyalists, it still doesn't look good for Sam.
- (3) Sam's trial is going to be a bit of a sham. The jury will vote whichever way they think will please General Putnam.
- After waiting three weeks for the trial to start, it's finally here. Tim is a nervous wreck as he waits to learn the verdict.
- Once Colonel Read finally comes to the tavern, he tells Tim and his mom that Sam is going to be executed. There's no way around it.
- Mrs. M. says she's known for three weeks that this would be the verdict. And Tim just feels "numb" (12.65).
- Soon after, Tim starts trying to find a way to set things right. There's just got to be something he can do, right? But once again, Colonel Parsons doesn't want to help out. He says that General Putnam wants to make an example out of a soldier, and Sam's as good an example as any. Way harsh, Colonel.
- But at least Parsons gives Tim a note so that he can go see Putnam himself.
- Tim hurries to the encampment and meets with the mean ol' general.
- Tim explains what happened on the cow-stealing night and how Sam is innocent.
- General Putnam just says he'll think about it and that it's fine for Tim to see his brother for a sec.
- At the stockade, Tim has to stand six feet back and talk to his brother through a hole in the wall.
- All the same, at least they get to have a chat. And a sweet brotherly good-bye.
- Did that last chapter have you hoping that maybe just maybe General Putnam would set Sam free?
- Well get ready for another shot of sad news: General P isn't going to let Sam go. It seems like there's nothing left to be done.
- The night before Sam's execution, Tim decides to take matters into his own hands one last time.
- He grabs his bayonet and his coat, and he's out the door to save his brother. His mom thinks this is the worst idea in the history of ideas. But that's not stopping her stubborn son.
- Once he gets to the encampment, Tim comes up with a makeshift plan. He'll kill the stockade guard and try to get Sam free. Or he'll at least try to get the bayonet to Sam so he can escape. Easy enough, right? Um, wrong.
- Somehow Tim chucks his bayonet into the stockade, but then he gets nicked with a bullet once the guard figures out what's happening.
- Lucky for Tim, he's a fast runner, so he's able to escape.
- Unlucky for Tim, the prisoners have been moved from the stockade. So that bayonet won't do Sam any good. Looks like Sam's luck is all run out. Time to break out the tissues.
- The next day, Mama Meeker stays home but Tim decides to go to the execution.
- After the soldiers hang one other prisoner, they bring Sam out with a bag over his head.
- Three soldiers shoot at him, and his clothes burst into flames.
- And here's the worst part: Sam doesn't die instantly; he's on fire and writhing in pain.
- Finally, another soldier shoots him, and Sam stops moving.
- Shmoopers, meet sixty-four year old Tim Meeker. Tim tells us precisely when he decided to write this tale down: "I have written this story down in this year 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of our nation, to commemorate the short life of my brother Samuel Meeker, who died forty-seven years ago in the service of his country" (Epilogue.1).
- Curious to know what happened after Sam's death? Well ol' Timmy is ready to tell ya.
- For three more years, until the Revolutionary War finished, Tim and his mom kept the tavern going. Mr. Heron taught Tim how to be a surveyor (kinda like a colonial era land inspector and real estate agent).
- With the war over and new surveying skills in hand, Tim and his mom moved to Pennsylvania and went into business. They opened a tavern and Tim did the whole surveying thing (which means he inspected, bought, and sold land a lot).
- He even ended up opening a saw mill and a store.
- Oh, and he got hitched to a lady (but doesn't tell us a thing about her) and had some kiddos. And eventually grand-kiddos, too.
- And how about Mrs. M? Well, she was a tough old gal so she kept trucking, even with all the sadness in her life. But she also "never really got over Sam's death" (Epilogue.4).
- Now, for one final word from old Timmy, since he's an old wise man: Tim thinks this country (yep, it's a country now, instead of colonies) is pretty great. He's not going to deny that he likes the United States. But he's also not going to jump on the pro-war bandwagon.
- In fact, after everything he's been through, here's what he leaves us with: "somehow, even fifty years later, I keep thinking that there might have been another way, beside the war, to achieve the same end" (Epilogue.5).