Johnny Tremain | Study Guide

Esther Forbes

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Johnny Tremain | Chapter 9 : The Scarlet Deluge | Summary



Tension is growing in Boston. Paul Revere has restructured the intelligence network—also known as the spy system—to incorporate more lower-class workmen, believing the gentlemen meeting above the Boston Observer were too conspicuous. In the spring Johnny plays an important role with new duties. After Lydia brings from the tavern discarded and torn-up letters, written by Lieutenant Stranger, Johnny pieces them together and learns about plans for a British raid on militia ammunition stores in Portsmouth. Johnny alerts Paul Revere, who gets to Portsmouth ahead of the British and secures the ammunition for the patriots.

Rab and Johnny also befriend Dove, who works for the British but is treated terribly by them. Up to three times a day, Dove visits the Boston Observer office, "where he could get away from the swearing and cuffing from his superiors." Yet, Dove still considers himself part of the British army and brags "about what 'we' were going to do to the rebels." But Dove's loose tongue and desire for company reveal important British plans to Rab and Johnny—including their planned march on Concord to raid the patriots' munitions supplies.

One day when Johnny sets out to deliver papers, he rides close to the British lines, which isn't unusual for him. But this time a British officer detains him and threatens to whip him after seeing he has copies of "that damned Boston Observer"—the newspaper of the patriots. Johnny knows this bit of trouble means the British troops are "getting edgy. Never before had they bothered him." He notices a British private, whom he calls Pumpkin, who has taken hold of Goblin's reins; he's seen Pumpkin before, working at the Lytes' stable. Pumpkin frees Goblin, and Johnny safely spurs the horse forward and escapes. Later, Johnny strikes a deal with Pumpkin, who agrees to give Johnny his musket in exchange for civilian clothes and a safe passage out of Boston. Pumpkin takes the clothes and leaves his gun, but he never arrives at the rendezvous for his ride out of the city. On another circuit of the city, Johnny sees soldiers gathering near the marshlands. There is a drumroll, and among the red uniforms Johnny spies a blue smock and a flash of red hair. It is Pumpkin; he is being executed for desertion.


It wasn't easy being a British soldier in a provincial city whose citizens hated the British. Many soldiers were likely eager to be anywhere else. Returning home to England was a temptation, as was starting a new life in the green farmlands that surrounded Boston.

Colonists were pleased to offer unhappy soldiers a way out. In 1775 there were an estimated 120 to 200 British army deserters in Boston. Like Pumpkin, they were offered farm clothing, means of escape, and sometimes hundreds of acres to begin a new life. And like Pumpkin, they faced death if they were caught.

Negotiating with Pumpkin for his musket shows how Johnny has now become a valuable member of the resistance. He not only obtains a firearm but is playing his old nemesis Dove for a fool. Through Dove, Johnny keeps tabs on the very British officers who will be charged with capturing the militia arms in Concord.

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