History of Redding > My Brother Sam is Dead > Chapters  

Exploring The Topics in the Novel, My Brother Sam is Dead, Chapter by Chapter

My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter I:

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.

Teachers: The 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 email me)

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 rebellion
  • 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) Meeker:

  • Is against the rebellion
  • Is practical and to-the-point
  • Has a bad temper
  • Believes children ought to keep a civil tongue in their heads and respect their elders
  • 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 die.
  • Is an Anglican church member
  • 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 bad enough
  • 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 the rebellion
  • 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 Chapter II:

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 the news…"

  • 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 colonial times.

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 isn't."

  • 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:

  • Taxes
  • 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.

Below are some examples of the loyalist's concerns regarding the rebellion:

  • The British 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?

  • Successful 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.

  • Without a plan for self-government in place how would the colonies function politically?

My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter III:

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.

Tim: "I 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 is information.

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.

Tim: "I 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:

Tim: "All I could see in front of me was that Rebel officer pushing a sword through Father's stomach."

[On 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.

Tim: "I leveled the Brown Bess at his stomach and I said, Don't come any closer, Sam, or I'll shoot you."

Sam: "It isn't loaded Tim."

Tim: "You're a liar."

Sam: "Timmy, don't be crazy. It isn't loaded. Now give it to me before it gets damaged."

Tim: "Jesus, Sam, Jesus, they're down there and they're going to kill Father if he doesn't give them the Brown Bess."

Sam: "Who? Who's down there?"

Tim: "Some Continentals, with some others from Fairfield."

Tim, narrating: "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."

Sam: "You would have shot me, you little pig, wouldn't you?" then he got up. "Are you all right?"

Tim: "I wouldn't tell you if I wasn't... By this time they've probably killed Father."

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:

  • Loyalists have lost their guns, no longer have any protection, cannot hunt for food, kill wolves, etc...

  • Food was getting short

  • Cows and Cattle were being stolen

  • Soldiers from Redding were coming home injured; Some local soldiers had been killed

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 times:

Tim: "It 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.

His neighbor, the mysterious William Heron, offers Tim a sound opportunity to gain some glory of his own…

Tim narrating: "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.

Life: Tim, 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 worth it."

Life's warnings 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 non-the-less.

Tim: "I 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 do it."

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:

  • Rebelliousness
  • Thirst for Glory
  • Ignorance of Danger

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 called Horseneck).

Tim: "Sam? Is he in Horseneck?"

Betsy: "I shouldn't tell you that. You're a Tory.

Tim: "How do you know Sam's there?"

Betsy: "Mr. Heron told me."

Tim: "Mr. Heron? How does he know, he's a Tory?"

Betsy: "Well I know that, but he said that Sam was there with a commissary officer, scouting for beef."

Tim: "Betsy, how come Mr. Heron didn't tell me about Sam this morning?"

Betsy: "What were you seeing Mr. Heron about this morning?"

Tim: "Oh I just happened to go by his house this morning and he was there…standing in the yard."

Betsy: "He 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?"

Tim: "I have to go, Betsy."

Betsy: "No, Tim, you know what's in that letter? A spy report on Sam."

Tim: "It can't be. Why would Mr. Heron make a spy report on Sam?"

Betsy: "It's 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."

Tim narrating: She snatched at my shirt, but I ducked back. "Don't, Betsy. It's Mr. Heron's."

Betsy: "Tim, it's your brother they are going to kill. Just throw the letter away and say you lost it."

Tim narrating: "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.

As embarrassing 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.

Droving 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.

"Agriculture 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. "

View 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:

Tim: "The 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:

Life: "The 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:

Tim: "It 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.

Tim narrating: "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 stopped."

Tim continually 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:

Life: "Who were those people? Cow-boys?"

Man: Cattle 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?"

Life: "I'm 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."

Man: "Verplancks 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.

Want the rest?

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Word Document that explains what is at the Dropbox: My Brother Sam is Dead Dropbox

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Please feel free to email me with any questions @ bcolley@colleyweb.com.









Each chapter of My Brother Sam is Dead covers in important issue(s) and/or topic(s).

My Brother Sam is Dead begins in April 1775 and ends in February 1779...the early stages of the war, a very volatile period of the American Revolution as it was not clear which side would win the war. Many Americans were either still confused about the issues or unwilling to solidify a position on the issues.

As the story unfolds the consequences of the war prove devastating to the Meeker family as the rebelliousness of Tim’s brother, Sam, and the pacifist postion taken by Tim’s father, Life, result in the ironic deaths of both, symbolizing the atrocities and unfairness of war.

Chapter One:

The Meekers are an
  Anglican family living on Redding Ridge. They own a Tavern/Store.
Sam Meeker, their son,
  has returned from college and has some disturbing news...there is a rebellion brewing in Boston and he's happy about it!
Sam plans to take his
  father's gun to go join the rebels.
Sam's father does his
  best to explain why he doesn't want Sam involved in the rebellion.
Sam exclaims that he
  is "…going to fight to keep my country free."





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