Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6


It is autumn 1773, and the colonies are in an uproar about England’s new tax on tea. Forbes explains England’s reasons for imposing the tax. The monarchy thinks that the tax—which is relatively small—will make the tea cheaper in the long run, and the colonists won’t notice the difference. The Whigs object to paying any taxes at all, because they are not represented in Parliament. So, when the ships arrive in the harbor with tea from India (which will be taxed), the Whigs want to prevent it from getting to American stores. If the tea doesn’t get to the stores, then no colonists will be able to pay taxes on it.

Early Sunday morning, Sam Adams visits the print shop to tell Rab, Uncle Lorne, and Johnny about an impending uprising. He needs Uncle Lorne to print posters urging the public to help stop the English tea from being unloaded. Rab calls an emergency meeting of the Boston Observers, and asks Johnny to inform them while he is out doing his deliveries. During the day, Johnny sees a new sugar basin in John Hancock’s house and is reminded of his past with the Laphams. When he delivers the newspaper to Merchant Lyte, he helps Lavinia dismount from her horse. Although Lavinia is rude and snobbish, Johnny cannot help but be attracted to her great beauty.

Johnny continues his deliveries. Outside Paul Revere’s house, he sees Cilla and Isannah. They have come to meet him as they always do on Thursdays and Sundays, even though Johnny has not shown up to the past few meetings. Now that Johnny has new friends at the print shop and the Observer, he is not as interested in Cilla. He notices that Cilla’s clothes are shabbier than the last time he saw her, and thinks to himself that he is more attracted to Lavinia Lyte. He leaves abruptly when Isannah starts to annoy him. His last errand is to tell Dr. Warren, another Boston Observer, about the meeting. Dr. Warren notices Johnny’s deformed hand and offers to examine it. However, Johnny lies and says the injury was a birth defect and he doesn’t need any help.

That night, Johnny sees some Sons of Liberty brawling with a Tory. He feels sad for the Tory and is upset by the violence around him. Meanwhile, the Boston Observers are meeting upstairs. They will try to reach a peaceful settlement, but will resort to violence if the British do not take the tea back to England in twenty days. Sam Adams seems especially eager to fight with the English forces. Because they need boys to help dump the tea into Boston Harbor, Adams initiates Rab as a fighter for the group. About thirty boys will be recruited for each of the three ships. Paul Revere volunteers to lead one of these bands.

Johnny, of course, will participate is well. He is nervous about being hurt in the raid, and nervous about whether he will be able to chop open chests of tea with his injured hand. Rab tells him to use the twenty days before the raid to practice chopping. Johnny also feels guilty about being mean to Cilla earlier that day.

For the next few days, Johnny practices chopping. An atmosphere of fear and excitement begins to take over in Boston as it becomes clear that the English will not take the tea back to England. On December 16th, the citizens give the ship owners one last chance to turn back. Rotch, the owner of the Dartmouth, wants to leave so his ship won’t be destroyed, but Governor Hutchinson won’t allow it. A group of boys recruited by Rab gathers at the print shop to put on their disguises for raiding the ships––they are dressed like “Indians” (132) in black and red. Rab sends Johnny to Old South Church to get news from Sam Adams about whether the British are leaving or staying.

Adams gives the code phrase––“This meeting can do nothing more to save the country” (134) and Johnny blows a whistle. Many young men begin to yell and run for the harbor. Johnny returns to the print shop, and he and Rab head for the harbor together. Paul Revere promises the captains of the ships that nothing on board will be harmed except for the tea. Captain Hall of the Dartmouth does not resist because he has been expecting a raid for some time now. As the men begin to dump tea into the harbor, Johnny notices that Dove has volunteered to join the group. He is scooping tea into his pockets instead of throwing it into the sea. Johnny worries that this will ruin the event and make the rebels look bad, so he and Rab throw Dove overboard. Although the Tea Party is successful, Johnny and the other men know that the British will eventually retaliate.


Violence is one of the main themes of this chapter. Forbes questions whether it is ever acceptable to use violence to solve problems. Her portrayal of violence in colonial America is morally complex. For example, she writes: “A courageous Tory was chasing the men whom he had found tacking a placard on his property. They had let him chase them thus far to dark Salt Lane and now had turned on him. Such street brawling made Johnny feel sick” (124).

By characterizing the Tory as “courageous,” Forbes shows that even Tories can be good people as long as they truly believe in their political views. She also shows the terrible toll that the Revolution took on the American community; people could no longer trust their neighbors. Forbes also demonstrates that even people who are on the ‘right’ side of the Revolution could abuse the situation. She suggests that the Sons of Liberty sometimes use politics as an excuse to be rowdy and violent.

She even implies that Sam Adams has a similar mentality. He seems to look forward to violently seizing the tea, and she describes him repeatedly as a fox with a pullet in its mouth. This image suggests that Adams is sly and may not be as upstanding as some of the other Whigs in the story, like Paul Revere and John Hancock.

The opportunism of some revolutionaries is contrasted with Johnny and Rab’s noble behavior during the Tea Party. Johnny in particular is very brave and honorable, reporting those he sees stealing tea and even sweeping the decks after the tea has been destroyed. Similarly, Rab shows loyalty by staying behind to wait for Johnny to get back from his trip to the Old South Church. However, the excitement in his eyes before the Tea Party and his willingness to throw Dove overboard suggests that Rab has strong potential for violent behavior, something that we also see in his fight with the butcher.