Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 7 : The Fiddler's Bill | Summary



In retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, Britain closes Boston's port to all commerce: "When that bill came ... the fiddler's bill ... it was so much heavier than anyone had expected." The governor is recalled to England, and the town placed under martial law.

The port's closing affects everyone, from the "Indians" who dumped the tea to moderates and Tories who had faith that England would be fair to the colonies. As more and more redcoats, or British troops, arrive and gather on the town greens, essential supplies grow scarce. Starvation is a threat for many.

Colonial troops, made up of citizens trained and pledged to defend their communities, are drilling outside the city. Rab desperately wants a gun so he can join them. When he and Johnny watch soldiers drill, Rab reaches to touch one of the muskets stacked nearby and is knocked unconscious by a British soldier. A British medical officer stops to take care of Rab and tells Johnny that there shouldn't be animosity between the British and the residents. "We're all one people, you know," he says. When the man asks if the boys know a trustworthy messenger with a horse, Johnny volunteers. The message he carries for the man turns out to expose an untrustworthy British leader in a nearby county. Johnny is now a valuable part of the resistance as other British officers give him assignments.

Johnny finds Cilla in the Boston Observer office one day, laughing with Rab. She is now a maid in the Lyte household. Lavinia Lyte was so taken with Isannah, Cilla's beautiful little sister, that she has "adopted" her and allowed Cilla to come along. Johnny is confused by Cilla's beauty and is even more confused when Rab walks her home.

Meanwhile, Johnny grows better at infiltrating the British and Tory side of life in Boston. While grooming his horse in the tavern stable, he discovers that Dove has become a groom for a British officer. He also meets Lieutenant Stranger, who wishes to buy Goblin and takes him for a ride. With help from Lydia, the laundress at the Afric Queen, Johnny waves a sheet to spook his horse, throwing the lieutenant. Lieutenant Stranger, however, likes Johnny and says he'll teach him how to jump with Goblin.

Johnny also befriends Mrs. Bessie, the Lytes' cook. Mrs. Bessie not only arranges for Johnny to see Cilla, but she also tells him about the Lytes' plans to leave Boston for the countryside. There, Mrs. Bessie says, the Sons of Liberty will tar and feather Jonathan Lyte. Mrs. Bessie says that if there were Daughters of Liberty, she'd be one.


Almost without knowing it, Johnny is learning the tradecraft of espionage:

  • He is cultivating contacts, such as Lydia and Mrs. Bessie, who can feed him information about the British officers who live at the tavern and attend dances at the Lyte mansion.
  • His duties delivering newspapers allow him to pick up news and gossip around the city.
  • He is making himself a trusted and reliable messenger for British officers.

In other ways, though, Johnny remains a naive young boy—especially when it comes to the world of romance. Rab, his hero, seems to attract people without saying a word. Now it seems Cilla is no exception to the rule. Johnny wonders how Rab does it. Johnny still has a lot to learn.

Also in this chapter, Forbes complicates the idea that all patriots are good while all redcoats are bad. The British army surgeon who helps Rab voices the same hopes for unity expressed by many American moderates; Johnny befriends Lieutenant Stranger, who helps him become a better horseman. Sam Adams's thirst for war as seen in the previous chapter casts him in a less-flattering light than the kind soldiers who help Rab and Johnny.

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