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Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 10 : "Disperse Ye Rebels!" | Summary



Events move quickly in Chapter 10. Johnny is keeping a close eye on the British. On April 15, "all day one could feel something was afoot"; Johnny sees the troops polishing cannons and sharpening their bayonets. But "did all this mean something or nothing?" British transports are also readying their landing boats. Does this mean troops will move down the coast or merely across the Charles River? Or are the British merely trying to confuse the patriots?

The rebels are sure of one thing: the British plan to march on Concord. Sam Adams and John Hancock already have left Boston. Yet, to Johnny, Boston looks calm and unconcerned, and he wonders if the patriots had "made mountains out of molehills, imagined an expedition when none was intended." Rab wonders no such thing; eager to join the men in Lexington, he leaves Boston as well.

On the night of April 18, the moon is high when the British finally begin to mobilize. Johnny helps patriot Billy Dawes (1745–99) prepare to join Paul Revere in alerting the countryside about the British attack. Johnny sees British troops getting into their flatboats and informs Revere, who sends him to find Christ Church's sexton. Johnny is to tell the sexton to hang two lanterns in the steeple, signaling that the British will move across the water to Charlestown.

Johnny watches the troops manning the boats and spies Lieutenant Stranger. After a while he returns to Doctor Warren's house to get some sleep. At dawn he is still sleeping, but "out in Lexington on the Village Green the first shot was fired. ... The war had begun."


Esther Forbes gives an untraditional look at these historic events. Rather than retell the story of Paul Revere's ride, she shows readers his concerns about getting across the bay to Charlestown. Colonial Boston, with its difficult geography, almost becomes another character in the novel.

Forbes uses omniscient narration to good purpose in this chapter. Readers see the British side of the story as men, horses, and munitions are loaded for transport. They also learn of the start of the American Revolution as the exhausted Johnny finally rests in Doctor Warren's house, oblivious to the first shot.

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