While she was researching her nonfiction history book Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, Esther Forbes became interested in the lives of ordinary people in colonial Boston. This interest resulted in Johnny Tremain, a coming-of-age story for...
Esther Forbes was born in 1891, the fifth child of William Trowbridge Forbes, a lawyer, and Harriette Merrifield, an historian. She spent her childhood in a progressive environment; her parents valued learning for both men and women. When Esther was seven, her mother inherited a large plot of land in Worcester, Massachusetts. The whole family moved to Worcester to live on this land, and Esther and her sisters were sent to the prestigious Bancroft School.
Although she was always a creative and curious child, Esther did poorly in school. She was only able to focus on writing after she moved to Wisconsin to live with her sister, Cornelia, who was a teacher at the University of Wisconsin. There, Esther was mentored by scholars at the university, who encouraged her to publish her first short story. The story, "Breakneck Hill," was published in 1915 and won the famous O. Henry Prize.
In 1919, Esther took a job at Houghton Mifflin in Massachusetts, reading manuscripts. She was also married, although this union would be unhappy and she would divorce in 1933. In 1926, Esther published her first novel, a book for adults called O, Genteel Lady! Critics liked her work, and she went on to publish several more novels for adults, many of which were historical fiction based on real events.
Forbes's success as a novelist meant she had the time to research a nonfiction book. She focused on the American Revolution and published Paul Revere and the World He Lived In in 1942. This biography won a Pulitzer Prize, and was praised for the careful research and engaging writing. She used her research for the Revere biography in her next book, a novel for young adults called Johnny Tremain. This was her most successful work; in the nearly 70 years since it was published it has never gone out of print. Esther Forbes died in 1967 while working on a novel about witchcraft.