Exploring The Topics in the Novel,
My Brother Sam is Dead, Chapter by Chapter
My Brother Sam is Dead
The story begins in April of 1775. Sam Meeker
returns home from college in uniform and full of excitement.
"We've beaten the British in Massachusetts" are the first
words out of his mouth. This comes as a surprise to his father,
mother, brother, minister and other locals in the taproom
of the Meeker's tavern; they are unaware of the rebellion
brewing in Boston.
topics are vast in the first chapter, the following are topics
you can discuss in the classroom:
- you can discuss the events that
lead to the skirmish at Lexington and Concord
- you can discuss why it took so long
for "everyone" in the American Colonies to know
what had happened in Boston.
- you can discuss the history of colleges
in America and why they would be pro-rebellion. Sam Meeker
was attending Yale College which was a presbyterian college...why
did that matter? why wasn't Sam attending an Anglican college?
- you can discuss the uniform Sam
is wearing, why is an American wearing a red uniform?
- you can discuss what a militia was
and what the purpose of a militia was (if you don't know
In addition to the topics related to
Sam's arrival in Redding. You have a number of other topics
touched on my the Collier brothers in the first chapter:
- you can discuss what a tavern was
and the importance it had in colonial times
- you can discuss why Anglicans would
be opposed to a split with England
- why Americans who weren't Anglicans
would be opposed to a split with England
- why news traveled so slowly in comparison
to today and
- how did news travel? Why was "hear-say"
a problem and how did it influence public opinion
- you can discuss muskets...how they
worked, how accurate they were, how did they make bullets
for them, did everyone own one?, etc...
What do we learn
about the characters in Chapter 1?
1. Sam Meeker:
- Is for the
- Is returning
from college in New Haven (Yale)
- Likes being
the center of attention
- Is in the Governor's
Second Foot Guard under Captain Benedict Arnold
- Has a bad temper
- Often speaks
before thinking about what he's saying
- Is sixteen
years of age and has been in college for less than a year
- Was a triumphant
sort of person
- Has runaway
a few times after arguing with his father
- Plans on taking
his father's gun (Brown Bess) so he can go with his company
to Massachusetts and fight the Lobsterbacks.
2. Eliphalet (Life)
- Is against
- Is practical
- Has a bad temper
- Believes children
ought to keep a civil tongue in their heads and respect
- Has hit Sam
before, mostly for arguing
- Owns a store/tavern
on Redding Ridge
- Is a veteran
of the French and Indian War where he saw several friends
- Is an Anglican
- Sees himself
as an Englishman and subject of the King.
3. Tim Meeker:
- Looks up to
his brother Sam, "Oh, I envied him"
- Finds it funny
that Sam keeps saying "Lobsterback" when he was dressed
in red, too.
- Doesn't like
to see his father and Sam fight
- Is confused
by the topic of rebellion, thinks Sam makes some good points
but figures there is more too it than Sam knew about
- Respects his
father's practical knowledge
- Wants the debating/fighting
to end and for things to be like they used to be
- Knows that
Sam might run away to Warrups' hut if the fighting gets
- Is aware of
right and wrong, what you should and shouldn't do
4. Susannah Meeker:
- Had not seen
Sam since Christmas
- Does not like
it when Life hits Sam for speaking out but believes Life
is right that children ought to keep a civil tongue in their
head and respect their elders
5. Mr. Beach:
- Is the minister
at the Anglican Church on Redding Ridge
- Is against
- Feels loyalty
to England is virtue everywhere in America
- Warns Sam that
"God meant man to obey." As he sees it, King George the
Third is the head of the Anglican Church and thus his subjects
should obey him and should not question his ways.
My Brother Sam is Dead
Tim provides background information about his
town, neighborhood and religion at the onset of chapter two.
Tim: "Redding was divided into two-parts:
Redding Center and Redding Ridge"
- you can discuss Redding,
Connecticut - where is it and why it was divided in
two parts (Anglicans and Presbyterians).
Tim: "Church was practically the only
time we ever saw some of the farmers from farther out in the
parish - places like Umpawaug. They wanted to keep up with
- you can discuss how information
was shared in colonial times and how these methods led to
biased opinions on very important issues.
- you can also discuss Religion in
Sam: "This is Tory Country. Father,
Mr. Beach, the Lyons, the Couches - most of them in our church
are Tories. And they think it's the same everywhere, but it
- you can discuss how a township could
gain a reputation for being "Tory Country".
- you can also discuss who Tories
or Loyalists were and why they were opposed to the rebellion,
what they endured, etc...
The most important
comment Tim makes in chapter two is "What kept confusing me
about it was that the argument didn't have two sides the way
an argument should, but about six sides." Tim is speaking
of "opinions" people had of the British government's policies
following the French and Indian War. These new policies hampered
America's economic and geographical growth via:
- Trade restrictions
- The Presence
of British troops in America (and cost of having them here)
- British efforts
to prevent westward expansion of the colonies
- The Political
corruption of Royal Governors
The anger over
these policies had reached a boiling point and as Tim states:
"..it wasn't going to be just arguments anymore." The reason
Tim's comment is so important is that the debate over rebellion
was a complex topic with many sides that needed to be examined
and decided on by the American colonists prior to a rebellion.
Issues like: economics, government, religion, and safety in
the American Colonies should they gain Independence from Great
Britain were very important questions that really did not
have answers before the events at Lexington and Concord thrust
the American citizens into war with the British.
are some examples of the loyalist's concerns regarding the
Army was powerful and experienced. Many men, 40 years
of age or older, had fought along side the British soldiers
in the French and Indian War. They had experienced, first-hand,
the skill and tenacity of the enemy.
Land to the
West of the Appalachian Mountains was occupied by Indians,
the Spanish and the French, not Americans. Would the colonists
be able to defend themselves from attacks from any one
of them without the assistance of the British Army?
businesses and merchants worried that if America split
from England they would be at risk of losing their prosperity.
Tobacco farmers are an example of those who actually did
suffer as a result of the American Revolution.
plan for self-government in place how would the colonies
My Brother Sam is Dead
Chapter 3 does
not offer much information, Tim explains what life in Redding
is like in the summer of 1775. He misses Sam and is still
confused about the which side he is on.
still hadn't made up my mind which side I was on in the war,
and I didn't care whether Sam was a Patriot or a Tory or what.
All I could think about was snuggling up to him and listening
to him talk about scoring telling points."
The war was underway
but the "…battles all seemed far away- they were just things
we read about in the Connecticut Journal and other newspapers."
As far as Tim is
concerned "it wasn't any different from usual, it was just
normal." What wasn't normal was the topics being discussed
in the tavern, and Betsy Read does her best to linger around
and listen to what is being said. Betsy is looking out for
Sam and his cause. She stated in chapter 2 that: "I'd fight
if I could." She cannot and so her contribution to the rebellion
My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter IV:
Sam has returned
to Redding but Tim's excitement quickly turns to fear when
the Sons of Liberty arrive at the tavern to disarm his father.
When his father explains that his son, Sam, has taken his
gun and run off to join the Patriot army, the soldiers aren't
buying it and start to rough him up. If the Brown Bess cannot
be found Tim fears they will kill his father.
knew the Rebels weren't just playing; they'd kill Father if
they wanted to."
His daydreams of
heading up to Tom Warrups' hut to visit Sam have been replaced
with nightmarish visions:
I could see in front of me was that Rebel officer pushing
a sword through Father's stomach."
March 19th, 1776 Congress recommended a policy of disarming
all Loyalists. Therefore, this scene is historically correct.
Sam has placed his Father in a dangerous position by taking
his gun from him.]
In a panic Tim
races franticly to Lonetown and is able to get the gun away
from Sam, who is asleep, but cannot out run his brother once
Sam discovers what has happened. The brothers face-off in
a confrontation that ultimately defines Tim's position on
the war and alters his view of Sam.
leveled the Brown Bess at his stomach and I said, Don't come
any closer, Sam, or I'll shoot you."
isn't loaded Tim."
don't be crazy. It isn't loaded. Now give it to me before
it gets damaged."
Sam, Jesus, they're down there and they're going to kill Father
if he doesn't give them the Brown Bess."
Who's down there?"
Continentals, with some others from Fairfield."
"Then he lunged. I never knew whether I would have pulled
the trigger because the next thing I was lying on the ground
with Sam on top of me, and he'd got the gun."
would have shot me, you little pig, wouldn't you?" then he
got up. "Are you all right?"
wouldn't tell you if I wasn't... By this time they've probably
The war has forced
Tim to mature and take on responsibilities that he normally
would not have. The events of Chapter Four call for quick
and decisive thinking on his part and Tim has chosen the side
of his father. The glorified view he once had of the Rebel
Troops fighting against the British Lobsterbacks in some far
away place, has been replaced with threatening soldiers in
his own home.
My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter V:
Chapter Five is
a narrative chapter. Tim paints us a picture of the dilemma's
Redding is facing at this point in the war:
have lost their guns, no longer have any protection, cannot
hunt for food, kill wolves, etc...
Food was getting
Cows and Cattle
were being stolen
- Soldiers from
Redding were coming home injured; Some local soldiers had
But for Tim, the
worst part is Sam is not at home. Despite the drama between
Tim and Sam in Chapter Four, time has healed all wounds and
Tim worries that Sam will be "shot or get sick and die or
something else." He even admits that he envies him several
seemed to me that it must feel wonderful to be able to load
up a gun in the casual way he did…He (Sam) seemed so brave
and grown-up, and I wished that I could be brave an grown-up
like him , too…Being a soldier probably didn't have much glory
to it…But still, I envied Sam, and I wished I were old enough
to do something glorious, too."
Tim's envy stops
at Sam, he is still not sure which side is right: the British
have the best uniforms though the gritty, underdog position
of the Patriots is attractive to him, too.
the mysterious William Heron, offers Tim a sound opportunity
to gain some glory of his own…
"Mr. Heron had wanted me to carry some sort of war message
or spy reports or something, and that night as I lay in bed
in the loft, I thought about it. Oh, it would scare me all
right, walking down to Fairfield with spy messages, but I
wanted to do it, because it would give me something to boast
about to Sam. He'd been having all the adventures, he was
going to come home with terrific stories about being in the
army and fighting and all that, and I wanted to have something
to tell, too. Why should he have all the glory? Why shouldn't
I have some, too? I wanted him to respect me and be proud
of me and not think of me as just his little brother anymore."
His father does
not want Tim to carry messages for Mr. Heron, he knows it
is too risky. As he had done with Sam, Life tries to provide
Tim with a sensible explanation of why he does not want him
to carry messages for Mr. Heron.
please, it's dangerous. You think that because you're a child
they won't hurt you, but they will. They've been killing children
in this war. They don't care. They'll throw you in a prison
ship and let you rot. You know what happens to people on those
prison ships? They don't last very long. Cholera get them
or consumption or something else, and they die. Tim, it isn't
foreshadow his own fate, and are very true, many died on prison
ships during the American Revolution and children were amongst
them. Tim's reaction is much different than Sam's but rebellious
knew he was right, that it wasn't worth taking the chance.
I wanted to do it anyway. But there wasn't any use in arguing
about it with father…Two weeks later I figured out how to
The irony is how
Tim figures out how to do it: the idea comes from his friend,
Jerry, who dies on a prison ship later in the story.
My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter VI:
We see the similarities
between Tim and Sam in this chapter:
- Thirst for
- Ignorance of
Tim whistles the
patriotic "Yankee Doodle" on his way to Mr. Heron's, which
is comical because in order to get the job he did his best
to convince Mr. Heron that he's a strong Loyalist. Very similar
to Sam wearing red and calling the British "Lobsterbacks".
As he starts on
his way to Fairfield, Tim meets up with Betsy. Betsy is traveling
too, she has just received news that Sam is in Greenwich (then
Is he in Horseneck?"
shouldn't tell you that. You're a Tory.
do you know Sam's there?"
Heron told me."
Heron? How does he know, he's a Tory?"
I know that, but he said that Sam was there with a commissary
officer, scouting for beef."
how come Mr. Heron didn't tell me about Sam this morning?"
were you seeing Mr. Heron about this morning?"
I just happened to go by his house this morning and he was
there…standing in the yard."
wouldn't have been standing…the letter. Tim, you're lying.
The letter. He gave you the letter to carry….where are you
going with the letter?"
have to go, Betsy."
"No, Tim, you know what's in that letter? A spy report
can't be. Why would Mr. Heron make a spy report on Sam?"
not just on Sam. Can't you see? He found out about Sam and
the commissary officer buying beef, and now he's sending news
to the Lobsterbacks so they'll know where to find them and
kill them and steal the cows. Give me that letter."
She snatched at my shirt, but I ducked back. "Don't, Betsy.
It's Mr. Heron's."
"Tim, it's your brother they are going to kill. Just throw
the letter away and say you lost it."
"I didn't know what to do. I felt awful- sick and scared.
I didn't say anything."
A struggle between
Betsy and Tim ensues and Tim loses. Betsy takes the letter,
reads it and then throws it aside. Tim picks it up to find
it reads: "If this message is received, we will know that
the messenger is reliable." Tim
has failed at his chance for glory.
and disappointing the day has been, Tim is fortunate to have
run into Betsy. Had he succeeded in delivering the message
for Mr. Heron he would have increasingly been placing himself
in dangerous situations in the name of glory, which is precisely
what Sam is doing.
My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter VII:
The summer of 1776
has ended and Tim's family begins preparing for the winter
months in Chapter Seven. The war is still distant and though
no one is really desperate, provisions, like cloth and leather,
are running short locally because the soldiers need them for
clothing and shoes. Sam has sent two letters and Susannah
plans on sending one back to him. Life disapproves but to
Tim's delight is overruled and turns his attention to planning
his annual cattle run to the Hudson River.
was very much a part of colonial america and Connecticut was
very much a cattle rich state that became known as the Provision
State because of its role in the American Revolution.
produced for market is commercial agriculture. During the
seventeenth century Connecticut had marketed its surplus overland
to Boston. In the eighteenth century with the settlement of
new towns and more land clearing, new and better roads were
built. It was now possible to trade with New York via a host
of new water routes. Connecticut farmers bred a sturdy oxen
which pulled in pairs either ploughs or two-wheeled carts
for taking produce to points for shipping. Draft oxen usually
weighed six hundred pounds but they were bred for weights
up to sixteen hundred pounds to pull carts loaded with beef.
Map of Tim and Life's Cattle Route shown with yellow stars.
The cattle run
to Verplancks is essential to Tim's family, as he explains:
idea of our trip was to drive cattle to Verplancks Point where
we could sell them, and then use the money to buy supplies
we needed at the tavern and store."
Yet, a cattle run
across Westchester County was dangerous and Life, knew it:
woods are full of those cow-boys over there. They claim they're
patriots gathering beef for the troops, but really they're
nothing more than thieves. And we don't have our gun anymore."
Despite the danger,
Life doesn't have much of a choice but to take Tim with him,
as he states: "There's nobody else to do it."
Tim is thrilled,
"there would be a lot of exciting things on the trip-" perhaps
something would happen that he could boast to Sam about. As
they make their way out of Redding, the trip is every bit
as good as he imagined:
seemed pretty exciting when we passed a house, especially
if there were some people there. A couple times there were
children staring out the windows as we went by. It made me
feel proud of myself for being a man while they were still
children, and I shouted at the oxen and smacked them on their
rumps with my stick, just to show off how casual and easy
I was with the oxen and how used I was to managing them."
Tim is mimicking
Sam when he shows off "how casual and easy" he is with the
oxen. He may not know how to load a musket but he certainly
knows livestock. Like Sam, his focus is more on the glory
than the danger of the trip, but that changes abruptly once
they near the New York line.
"There were six of them, and they were carrying weapons- mostly
muskets, but one or two of them had swords and pistols. They
were dressed in ordinary clothing- brown shirts and trousers
and muddy boots…They charged up to us, surrounded us, and
calls these men Cow-boys but Cow-boys were loyal to the British
and these men are definitely not fond of the British.; They
are Skinners. Skinners, like the Cow-boys were "land-going"
raiders preying on enemy civilian supplies. Though "Skinners"
sympathized with the Patriots, they were comprised largely
of tramps and bandits, serving their own interests more often
than those of any cause.
The group of men
that come to Tim and Life's rescue are Loyalists. This is
evident in their conversation with Life:
were those people? Cow-boys?"
thieves is a better name. We had reports that they were riding
this morning, and we've been looking for them all day. You're
a Loyalist, I take it?"
interested in making a living, not fighting a war, my boy
and I are just trying to get this beef to Verplancks Point
the way I do every year."
Point? It'll go to New York, then. We'll see that it gets
there. There are still a lot of people loyal to His Majesty
in these parts."
The men escort
them to the New York line and summon another group to take
them to North Salem. To Tim's disappointment New York State
doesn't look or feel any different than Connecticut, it was
just like being home. The reality was that it was not "just
like being home" as Tim states, he is no longer isolated from
war-time activities, he is in the thick of them.
This chapter begins
the symbolic journey of Tim's maturation and position on the
war. Simultaneously, it lays the groundwork for Life's tragic
end. When Life states: "I'm interested in making a living,
not fighting a war." He is exposing a theme in the novel,
which is the unfairness of war. Life is simply a man that
wants to live his life as he always has and that position
has placed him and his son in great danger.
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Brother Sam is Dead Dropbox Account
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