Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9


Paul Revere starts a spy network as promised, and it expands quickly. Johnny is assigned to spy on Colonel Smith and the other officers who live at the Afric Queen. Revere emphasizes that Johnny must stay close to Dove, who might have information if Colonel Smith is planning an action against the rebels. With the help of Lydia, Johnny discovers a shredded note that Colonel Smith wrote to Lavinia Lyte, who he is courting. Together with Rab and Uncle Lorne, Johnny puts the note back together and figures out that Colonel Smith is going to be part of a large raid on Portsmouth, sixty miles north.

Johnny rushes off to warn Paul Revere about the raid. Revere rides the sixty miles to Portsmouth himself and warns the rebels that the British are coming. They seize the fort in Portsmouth before the British reinforcements can arrive.

Dove is as obnoxious as ever, but Johnny begins to pity him. He and Rab allow Dove to hang around the Observer offices despite the older boy’s angry pro-British diatribes. One day, Dove gloats that he knows military secrets that he can’t tell Rab and Johnny because of their ties to the rebels. Johnny gives Dove some ale spiked with brandy and hopes to learn useful information, but Dove gets drunk and reveals that he actually doesn’t know much at all. Nevertheless, Dove is still a good contact, so Johnny rushes to the stable to do Dove’s work so he won’t be fired for drinking.

When Johnny gets there, Lieutenant Stranger offers to give Johnny and Goblin some lessons on how to jump using the hurdles set up in Boston Common. The lessons become a daily event, and Johnny admires Lieutenant Stranger’s riding skill and the fact that the lieutenant has never again tried to commandeer Goblin. However, he notices that Lieutenant Stranger will only acknowledge Johnny in private; he pretends he is above noticing Johnny when they see each other in the pub.

Mounting tensions make it harder for Johnny to do his job as a delivery boy. British officers often pull him aside and question him. One day, they threaten to flog him simply for walking his horse down the street and being employed by the Boston Observer. However, the soldier who is supposed to do the flogging, Pumpkin, helps Johnny escape by whispering to him to use his spurs. Johnny does so and Goblin bolts away, leaving the British soldiers in the dust.

Goblin is terribly frightened, and runs to the Lytes’ house, where Cilla often gives him carrots. When they arrive, Johnny sees Pumpkin again. Pumpkin reveals that many of the British soldiers are secretly Whigs and support the rebels––that is why so many of them desert. He admits that he would like to desert himself and be a farmer in America. Johnny offers to help him by bringing clothes and putting him in touch with a farmer who will hire him and hide him from the British. He only asks for Pumpkin’s musket, so he can give it to Rab.

The men make the exchange, and Pumpkin escapes. The British search Boston for him for a week but do not find him. Rab is delighted with the musket, which comes just in time. All over New England, people are scrounging for supplies to make bullets and gunpowder in preparation for the coming war.

In April, Johnny takes Colonel Smith’s horses out for exercise on the Common. This is Dove’s job, but Johnny does it to maintain goodwill with him. He notices that several brigades of troops have gathered in the Common and are performing a solemn drumroll. It turns out that Pumpkin has been caught. The young soldier is executed by firing squad for desertion. Johnny is terrified after witnessing this, and finds himself relieved that his crippled hand will prevent him from ever having to go into battle and face a similar death.


As the novel nears its climax, Forbes explores the complexity of life under British rule. Individually, the British soldiers can be very kind and honorable. For example, Pumpkin helps Johnny escape a pointless flogging, and Lieutenant Stranger gives Johnny riding lessons.

However, there are some unpleasant elements to British rule as well. Forbes portrays England as having a very strict class structure, something that carries over in the behavior of the soldiers. Low-ranking soldiers (who often came from low-ranking families) are treated poorly and are subject to harsh punishments. Similarly, Lieutenant Stranger is kind to Johnny in private but ignores him in public because gentleman officers are not supposed to interact with commoners like Johnny. The fact that Johnny doesn’t understand this illustrates that in Forbes’s view, colonial America was less classist than England.

Johnny’s interaction with Pumpkin demonstrates the similarity between English and colonial youths. Just like in the colonies, young people in England have a wide variety of political beliefs. Some of them even support independence for the colonies. And while some of the British stable boys are passionate Tories, many English youths are harmed by the monarchy as well. This becomes apparent in Pumpkin’s harsh penalty for trying to desert and start his own farm.

Johnny’s riding skills play an important role in the plot of this chapter. They allow him to escape the flogging and befriend Pumpkin, and they are also what leads him to be present for Pumpkin’s execution in Boston Common. More importantly, they also symbolize Johnny’s growing maturity. Even in the face of danger, he considers Goblin’s needs as much as his own, and this care and selflessness allows him to ride a horse that grown men would have trouble with.