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My Brother Sam is Dead Summary

My Brother Sam is Dead is told in the first person by Tim Meeker. It recounts the hardships endured by Tim and his family during the Revolutionary War. When Tim's older brother Sam joins the rebel forces, it impacts the rest of his family who wish to remain neutral and/or avoid war with England. Tim's family is Anglican and thus loyal to the Church of England; a split with England would greatly affect them.

Tim Meeker is a metaphoric symbol of one third of the American population during the war. He portrays the American that is uncertain which side is right and does not wish to choose a side until forced to, sometimes referred to as a "fence-sitter". Sam and Life are examples of the other two thirds: the Rebel/Patriot and the Tory/Loyalist.

Through Tim Meeker we learn of the issues, the concerns and the conflicts of the rebellion on a personal level. Each chapter touches on a number of topics and issues that provide readers with a better understanding of the affects the American Revolution had on individuals, their families, their churches, their towns, their neighbors...in short, it allows readers to see the war from the position of those that lived through it. This is one of the greatest strengths of the novel; it quietly weaves all of the topics and issues of the early years of the American Revolution into a tragic story of a 10 year old boy’s role in a war he doesn't understand.

My Brother Sam is Dead begins in April 1775 and ends in February 1779...a very volatile period of the American Revolution as it was not clear which side would win the war. Many 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.

The novel highlights many of the the problems and events that impacted towns like Redding, CT. Several of these topics are:

  • Trying to stay neutral while living in a town that everyone assumes is a loyalist settlement. Redding's Anglican church leader and its members preferred not to rebel from England. This was well known across the State and resulted in Redding Ridge being labeled as an area heavily settled with loyalists/tories.

  • Currency Issues-The Meeker's own a tavern/store, and keeping it running is hard work. Even prior to the Revolution, to make money, each year Tim's Father and brother Sam would travel to New York State to sell cattle they received from people who owed them money. During the war it becomes even more difficult as paper money and commissionary notes destroy local economies and businesses.

  • Sacrifices- Since Sam has sided with the rebels and wasn't there, Tim's responsibilities have increased ten-fold. Jobs Tim and Sam used to share all now fall on Tim's shoulders. Father (Life) takes Tim on his yearly cattle run to New York. They have to travel without a Brown Bess (musket/gun used for protection), which Sam had recently stolen. Life is captured on their return trip, leaving Tim to take care of his mother and himself for the rest of the novel. Tim is forced to grow up over night seeing he is now the man of the house, with his father in prison and Sam fighting with the patriots.

  • Committees of Safety- These committees were formed early in the war to disarm people who could potentially give aid to the British. Life is an Anglican and thus seen as a Loyalist/Tory, by the local Committee of Safety which comes to the Meeker Tavern to disarm him. When Life tells them his son has sided with the Patriots and taken his gun, they initially don't believe him and rough him up.

  • Cowboys and Skinners- Life is captured on their way back to Redding on their cattle run by cowboys. Cowboys and skinners were groups of raiders who harassed and plundered the rural districts of the boundary between American and British forces in Westchester County, New York. Westchester County, was the so-called "Neutral Ground" seeing the British were in the Bronx and the Americans in Peekskill, New York.

  • The British march though Redding and capture several Patriots there on their way to Danbury, CT to destroy the rebels/Patriot's provisions of war which were being stored there. The Patriot soldiers arrive in Redding in pursuit of the British and Sam is with them so he gets to see his mother and Tim again.

  • Winter Encampments- General Israel Putnam's division of the Continental Army encamped at Redding in the winter of 1778-1779 and Sam Meeker is a soldier in one of Putnam’s camps. One evening, Sam slips away from camp and returns home to spend time with his family. While they discuss the war and related topics, Sam hears commotion outside…Patriot soldiers are attempting to steal their cattle! When Sam intervenes he is out numbered and beaten. Back at camp he is falsely accused of and court-martialed for deserting camp and stealing cattle. General Putnam having long dealt with ill-equipped troops, deserters and traitors, feels he needs to set an example in order to maintain discipline amongst his army. Sam, unfortunately, becomes one of the two examples that winter, and is executed.

  • Hardships of War- Tim's Mother goes a little crazy due to the stress of losing her husband and son to a war she doesn't support. Tim lives to be very old. He had a wife, children, even grandchildren. But his mother never recovers from Life and Sam's deaths.

I will continue to provide free content here at the History of Redding, but for those who wish to have access to all I know, I have created a Dropbox account that has everything I've found and created. All can be downloaded from the Dropbox. Access is $12.99 (see below for deep discount) and that is unlimited access. See the video below or read the Word document for details of what's included.

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My Brother Sam Is Dead (1974) is a young adult novel by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier. It was a Newbery Honor book that was also named a Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association and nominated for a National Book Award in 1975. (from http://en.wikipedia.org)

The authors employ an interpretative storyline, focused on the hardships faced by an Anglican family whose eldest son has run away to join the Patriot troops, to portray the American Revolution as a civil war. Christopher Collier is a retired American history teacher and the emeritus Connecticut State Historian; James Lincoln Collier was a journalist and well-regarded author of children’s books.

Read My Brother Sam is Dead Summary and Analysis

The Collier Brothers (James and Christopher) were personifying the War of Independence in writing this novel and they did a very good job of it. Their choice of characters, story line and setting create a captivating saga, rich with courage, drama, and intrigue. "my brother Sam is dead" is a classic, well deserving of the awards and accolades it has received.

Because of the novel's content, most notably an execution and a beheading, it has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000 at number twelve. Learn why My Brother Sam is Dead is challenged.



The novel My Brother Sam is Dead is historical fiction, the authors have woven a story using topics and situations that occurred during the war to give us a better understanding of the war and its impact on towns, churches, families and individuals.

"The Political division between Patriots and Loyalists forms the thematic backbone of the whole story [My Brother Sam is Dead]. The national anti-imperial conflict is personified in the conflict between father [Life Meeker] and son [Sam Meeker]...We portray the war...as both an anti-imperial war for national liberation and a civil war that divided a people against itself."

-Christopher Collier
Brother Sam and All That, Clearwater Press, 1999





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