Making a connection to
history through literature…
Summary of Johnny Tremain
• Esther Forbes gives readers a glimpse into
the life of American colonists during the
beginning of the American Revolution in her
269 page historical fiction novel, Johnny
Tremain. Johnny is a rebellious young man
who joins the Sons of Liberty and
participates in events such as The Boston
Tea Party, Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, and
the Battle at Lexington and Concord.
The Lead Characters
• Johnny Tremain
A very talented fourteen-year-old silver-smith
apprentice. He burns his hand and loses
all hope of becoming an artisan. As he
struggles with how he will fit into society,
he meets Rab. They become good friends,
and Rab introduces Johnny to the Sons of
Liberty. Johnny and Rab play important
roles in gathering and transmitting
information for the Patriots.
The Lead Characters
• Rab Silsbee
A calm and reflective sixteen- year-old
newspaper printer. Rab prints the Boston
Observer, a newspaper that propagates the
Patriot cause. When he meets Johnny, he
does not offer pity like many others. He
accepts Johnny’s disability and helps
Johnny realize that his crippled hand does
not define Johnny. Rab draws Johnny into
the Patriot cause.
The Lapham family
• Mr. Lapham
– Master Silver-smith
• Mrs. Lapham
• Madge Lapham
– Oldest daughter
• Dorcas Lapham
– 2nd daughter
• Cilla Lapham
– 3rd daughter, Johnny’s friend. She adores Isannah.
• Isannah Lapham
– Youngest daughter. Becomes tied to the Lytes
Johnny meets up with some of the most
famous revolutionaries. Their fictional
roles in Johnny Tremain align with
What can we learn from
• The types of jobs people had in the
• How people learned their trade
• What education was like
• Social Class
• What life was like in the 1770s
• How the conflict affected colonists
• Literary Connections
Working for a living
Some of the colonial occupations are stated outright
and some can be implied.
Can you think of any other
How did people learn their
• It was very common for people to start
out as an apprentice.
What is an Apprentice?
• Johnny Tremain was a silversmith’s
• In 1773, it was common for people to serve
a master as an apprentice in order to learn
a trade. An apprenticeship is like going to
• An apprentice served his master for seven
years. After seven years, his educational
debt was paid and the apprentice could be
his own master.
• None of the children in the story went to
– Colonial governments did not require children to
go to school.
• Aside from the master, Mr. Lapham,
Johnny was the best reader in the house.
Mr. Lapham required the children to read
verses from the Bible.
• When Johnny read, he never stumbled on
words, and he liked to listen to the words
roll from his lips. He was a very dramatic
How did Johnny learn how to read?
– The book says that his mother made sure that
Johnny knew how to read before she died.
• Who was Johnny’s mother?
– Because she taught her son how to read, that
tells us something about her background.
• Johnny’s mother must have come
from a wealthy family.
– Only wealthy families educated their children. Any ideas
• Upper class
– Could afford to sustain the family without the labor of
– Children from wealthy families received a formal
• Everyone but the Upper Class
– Needed the labor of their children to financially sustain
– Children learned the family trade and household chores.
– No time for school.
• The characters in Johnny Tremain
– Were not wealthy. The children learned the family trade
and household chores.
Life in the 1770s
• Land Travel
– Horse and wagon
• Transatlantic travel
– Ocean vessel
How is that different from today?
In 1773, there were a lot of animals in
the city limits
– Horses provided transportation and
performed a lot of heavy work.
– Hens and cows for eggs and milk
– Cats took care of rodents
• How is that different from today?
• Did you notice that when Johnny was
looking for work that there were a lot of
different types of shops?
People went to the butcher for meat
The cobbler for shoes
The tailor for clothes
The clockmaker for a clock
The carpenter for furniture
How is that different from the way we shop?
Tories and Patriots
– Colonists who supported King George.
– Merchant Lyte was a Tory.
– British colonists who opposed English imperial
policy (e.g. Stamp Act, Townsend Act)
– Paul Revere, James Otis, John Hancock, and
Joseph Warren were Whigs.
The power of print
• The Whigs were very effective at using the
printing press to propagate the Patriot
– Literate adults could read the articles.
– Illiterate adults took meaning from political
What forms of media shape our world view
A cause worth fighting for
• The Sons of Liberty met in secret to
avoid British persecution.
• The Sons of Liberty were wealthy
colonists who risked losing all of their
wealth in order to be relieved of
• Printers, carpenters, butchers, and
farmers transformed into soldiers.
Many gave their lives for freedom.
Conflict and colonists
• Colonists formed militias to stand up
against the British soldiers.
The Turning Point
• It is important to remember that it
took a long time for the colonists to
rebel. Forbes is writing about a
• Forbes, E. Johnny Tremain. 1943. Dell
Publishing: New York, NY.