Johnny Tremain, a 1943 children's novel by Esther Forbes, retells in narrative form the final years in Boston, Massachusetts, prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. The novel's themes include the apprenticeship system, the conflicts in Boston between the Sons of Liberty and Loyalists as the war approaches, and the reasons why each character in the novel chooses one side or the other.
Events that were described in the novel include the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the British blockade of the Port of Boston, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
The book won the 1944 Newbery Medal and is the 16th bestselling children's book of all time.
After descending into depression, Johnny is rescued by a kind family who owns a hand-operated printing press, where they do job printing and publish a newspaper, the Boston Observer. He meets Rab Silsbee, who becomes his best friend and role model and introduces him to political views in Boston, revolutionary acts, and helps Johnny mature. Young Tremain joins this household, becomes part of the printshop, and delivers papers to the people of Boston. From this vantage point he and the novel's readers can look on as the events of the American Revolution unfold. Along the way Johnny befriends several historical figures including Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Joseph Warren.
Johnny Tremain The main character of the novel. Johnny is the fourteen-year-old (then ages to a sixteen-year-old at the end of the story) prize apprentice of the Boston silver-smith Ephraim Lapham. Johnny is a talented craftsman, but he is also arrogant, rash, and slightly cruel; he gains pleasure tormenting the two other apprentices, Dusty and Dove, by touting his superiority. When Johnny’s hand is disfigured in an accident, he can no longer work as a silversmith, and his sense of self is imperiled. As the rebellious colonists begin to fight England for their identity, Johnny finds a new life among the leaders of the Boston Whig party and is transformed from a selfish youth into a patriotic young man. In the end of the book he accepts himself as one of the relatives of the wealthy and well known family, the Lytes, after Lavinia Lyte [his mother's cousin] tells him that her father [Johnny's granduncle] would give him the remains of the Lyte estate in Boston after the war.
Rab Silsbee - Johnny’s best friend. With his quiet, unassuming confidence, Rab becomes Johnny’s role model and guide as Johnny struggles to find a new identity. Rab introduces Johnny to the world of revolutionary politics. He's a brave character, although eventually he meets his fate because of his bravery.
Priscilla Lapham - Priscilla, or "Cilla", as Johnny calls her, is a 14 year old girl. She is the third oldest daughter of Mrs. Lapham. Cilla is loyal, selfless, and caring. Although her primary devotion is to her younger sister, Isannah, Cilla’s feelings for Johnny help him to develop into a warm, patient, honest young man.
Ephraim Lapham - A Boston silversmith. Mr. Lapham is a pious and kind man who acts as Johnny’s master before Johnny's hand is accidentally disfigured. Mr. Lapham attempts to teach Johnny humility by referring to the Bible and reminding him of the dangers of pride and arrogance, but Johnny pays little attention to these warnings.
Lavinia Lyte Tremain - Johnny’s mother. Lavinia Lyte Tremain defied her wealthy family’s wishes when she married Charles Tremain, a French prisoner of war being held in Boston. When her husband died, she supported herself and Johnny by taking in sewing. She revealed her wealthy origins and gave him her cup with the Lyte family crest to her son only on her deathbed.
Charles Tremain - Johnny’s father. Charles Tremain, known in Boston as Charles Latour, was a French soldier taken as a British prisoner during the French and Indian War. While he was held as a prisoner in Boston, he met and wooed Johnny’s mother. After they married, Johnny’s parents traveled to France, where Charles died of cholera.
Isannah Lapham - The youngest daughter of Mrs. Lapham. Isannah is selfish and vain, and beloved by Cilla. Isannah’s golden-haired, ethereal beauty attracts a great deal of attention, most significantly from Lavinia Lyte. Lavinia takes Isannah into her care and introduces her to high society, separating her from her family and their lower-class ways of life.
Dove - An apprentice at the Lapham house. Dove is lazy, dishonest, and stupid. He is responsible for Johnny’s hand injury. Has a small rivalry with Johnny.
Lavinia Lyte - Jonathan Lyte’s beautiful, arrogant, and regal daughter. Enchanted by Isannah’s ethereal beauty, Lavinia Lyte takes the child away from her family, and slowly weakens the bond between Isannah and her sister Cilla. She is also Johnny's aunt, which she reveals in the end of the book.
Jonathan Lyte - A wealthy Boston merchant and Johnny's great-uncle. Crooked and cruel, Lyte tries to make a profit by making friends on both sides of the colonial struggle, the Loyalists and the Patriots but as tensions mount in Boston, Lyte is exposed as a Tory (Loyalist). On the eve of war, Lyte and his family depart for London.
Mrs. Lapham Tweedie - Ephraim Lapham's daughter-in-law. Mrs. Lapham is a dedicated, hardworking mother and a no-nonsense taskmaster to the apprentices. She works as the housekeeper in Mr. Lapham’s house.
Dorcas Lapham - Mrs. Lapham’s second daughter. Although Dorcas longs to be elegant and sophisticated, she ends up falling in love with the poverty-stricken Frizel, Jr., and elopes to avoid having to marry Mr. Tweedie.
Madge Lapham - Mrs. Lapham’s oldest daughter. Like Mrs. Lapham, Madge is tough and capable. She elopes with Sergeant Gale, a British soldier.
Dusty - Mr. Lapham’s youngest apprentice. Dusty runs away to sea after Johnny leaves Mr. Lapham’s silver shop.
Mr. Lorne - Rab’s uncle and master. Mr. Lorne owns the print shop that publishes the Boston Observer, a rebellious Whig (Patriot) newspaper.
Mrs. Lorne - Mr. Lorne’s wife. Mrs. Lorne sees through Johnny’s scornful and arrogant exterior to the lonely boy inside. She treats him like a son and becomes like a second mother to him.
Mr. Tweedie - A silversmith who becomes Mr. Lapham’s business partner after Johnny’s accident. When none of her daughters will marry him, Mrs. Lapham marries Tweedie to ensure that the silver shop stays in the Lapham family.
Samuel Adams - A leader of the Revolutionary forces in Boston. Samuel Adams was considered the greatest creator of propaganda for the rebel cause. He wrote numerous pamphlets inciting and inspiring the revolution.
John Hancock - One of the wealthiest men in Boston and a leader of the Revolutionary forces. Johnny disfigures his hand while making a silver basin for him.
Doctor Joseph Warren - One of the leaders of the Revolutionary forces in Boston. He fixes Johnny’s disfigured hand at the end of the novel.
Paul Revere - A master silversmith and one of the leaders of the Revolutionary forces in Boston. Johnny asked him some advice to make the silver basin for John Hancock during the beginning of the novel. Also known for his midnight ride to warn Boston about the redcoats.
Governor Thomas Hutchinson - The governor of Massachusetts. Governor Hutchinson refuses to send the tea ships back to London, which incites the Boston Tea Party. After the tea incident, he is called back to England.
James Otis, Jr. - The founder of the Boston Observers, a secret rebel organization that meets in Mr. Lorne’s print shop. James Otis’s fellow club members acknowledge his intellectual brilliance, but his mental instability frightens and endangers them. The reason he had mental instability was because of a head injury.
Josiah Quincy - A prominent Whig lawyer. Quincy successfully defends Johnny against Lyte’s charge of theft of the little cup with the Lyte crest; it had belonged to Johnny's mother, a Lyte.
Colonel Smith - A British officer stationed in Boston. Johnny keeps close tabs on his movements and reports back to the leaders of the Revolution.
Lieutenant Stranger - A kind and friendly British officer stationed in Boston. He develops a strained friendship with Johnny.
Mrs. Bessie - The Lytes’ cook and Cilla’s only friend in the Lyte household. Mrs. Bessie is an ardent Whig and a confidante of Samuel Adams, but she nonetheless remains loyal to her Tory employers. When the Lytes leave Boston, she and Cilla were told to look after the house during the war.
Lydia - The black washerwoman at the Afric Queen, a tavern where many British officers sleep. Lydia is a rebel sympathizer who, because of her connection to the British soldiers, gathers information for the rebel forces.
Pumpkin - A British soldier stationed in Boston. Pumpkin wants to abandon his duties and buy a farm. Because he is poor, he can only achieve his dream in America. Johnny helps him desert from the army, but Pumpkin is captured and executed.
Sewall - A poor relative of the Lytes who works as a clerk in Jonathan Lyte’s office. Sewall is kind and brave; he runs off to join the Minute Men.
Sergeant Gale - A British officer who marries Madge Lapham, Mrs.Lapham's eldest daughter.
General Thomas Gage - The British general placed in charge of the Boston troops once Governor Hutchinson is recalled to London.