Chapter VI. Salt-Water Tea
On a Sunday morning in November of 1773, Sam Adams arrives at the Lorne home with a printing request. He needs Mr. Lorne to print a placard announcing a meeting to discuss the arrival of several tea shipments, tea that the Whigs believe is improperly taxed. The Boston Observers are to meet that evening in the attic above the Observer, and the Sons of Liberty are to post the placards.
Johnny is sent about town to notify the various members of the Boston Observers of the evening’s meeting. When he arrives at John Hancock’s home, he learns that Hancock is not feeling well. Johnny inquires if he might send a note up to Mr. Hancock and recalls how only a short time ago it was nearly impossible for him to write Mr. Hancock’s name. Upon leaving Hancock’s home, Johnny sees Lavinia Lyte returning from a ride in the country. None of the Lytes’ servants are present to help her dismount, so she calls to Johnny for help. Johnny obliges, but Lavinia does not thank him. Johnny then notifies William Molineaux, Josiah Quincy, and John Adams. Quincy tells him not to notify James Otis, as it seems that Otis’s sanity is questionable at the moment.
Johnny eventually arrives at the home of Paul Revere; however, when he nears Revere’s home, he remembers that he has forgotten to meet Cilla and Isannah at the town pump on several occasions. Thus, he is thankful that the girls aren’t at the pump. Johnny confronts Revere, but it seems that Revere already knows of the meeting. To his surprise, when Johnny leaves Revere’s home, the girls are at the pump. Johnny thinks that Cilla looks a little shabby. She tells him some family news: Mr. Tweedie is still debating on a wife, Mr. Lapham no longer enters the shop, and Dusty has run away on a ship. Johnny finds that he isn’t very interested in Cilla’s news and that Isannah annoys him; he is too concerned with the upcoming meeting of the Boston Observers.
When Johnny goes to the home of Doctor Warren, he sees that Warren has noticed his hand. Warren asks if it were “God’s will that it should be so.” Thinking how his prideful actions had brought about the accident, Johnny tells Warren that it was an act of God.
Back at the Boston Observer, the whole town seems to be alive. Johnny can hear loud noises outside as the Sons of Liberty nail up the placards. He listens in horror as a Tory, who has tried to chase down some of the Sons of Liberty for posting a placard on his property, becomes involved in a fight with the Sons. The thought of physical violence makes Johnny uneasy; he asks Rab, who is preparing a punch for the men in the attic, what the Boston Observers might decide tonight. Rab replies that as soon as they go upstairs to deliver the punch they will know. He suggests that Johnny should observe Sam Adams; if Adams seems elated, they will know that the group has decided that it may come to violence.
In the attic the meeting proceeds. When the boys deliver the punch, Johnny notes that Sam Adams has an elated look on his face. The men raise a toast to December sixteenth. Johnny realizes that this is the day the tea shall be destroyed. As Johnny looks over at Dr. Warren, he wants to ask Warren to look at his hand, but he is too embarrassed because of his earlier actions.
Adams addresses the group, noting that they have made their decision and now must work out the details. Adams points to Rab and Johnny and suggests that boys like these would be best to carry out their plan. Adams asks if it’s the group’s wish that the boys be told of the plan. When the group affirms the decision, Adams makes the boys swear an oath of secrecy and then informs them how they want small groups of like-minded boys to board the tea ships and dump the tea into Boston Harbor. Adams asks Rab if he would be one of those boys, and Rab readily agrees. Adams notes that the boys must not steal any of the tea because if they do the entire plan becomes a mere robbery. Adams asks how many other boys Rab might be able to get to agree to the plan. Rab replies fifteen or twenty, and Paul Revere suggests that he could enlist the help of at least twenty more. The boys will not be told of the plan in advance, and they will wear disguises. When Revere suggests that he will lead one of the parties, Dr. Warren reminds him that those who execute the plan must not be known in Boston. Revere replies that he will take the risk. When Adams doesn’t ask Johnny if he will take part, Johnny assumes it is because of his crippled hand.
That evening as the boys lie in bed, Johnny asks Rab if he will be one of the boys taking part in the action. Rab responds, “Of course.” When Johnny expresses some concerns about his hand, Rab notes that Johnny has twenty days to improve his skill with a hatchet. Johnny tries to sleep, but his mind wanders as he contemplates why he didn’t let Dr. Warren examine his hand, why he hasn’t kept up his dates with Cilla, and why—though he loves her—he has treated Cilla so poorly.
Worrying that he might be left out of the action, Johnny practices chopping with a hatchet. Tension increases all over Boston as the other tea ships arrive and the appointed day grows near. Johnny and Rab attend several public meetings and occasionally go to examine the tea ships. One day, Johnny watches as Rotch, a young owner of one of the tea ships, seems trapped: members of the town won’t allow him to unload his tea, and the Governor won’t allow him to sail. Johnny thinks of him as a “ruined man.”
At nightfall on December sixteenth, Rab’s boys gather at the Observer and put on their disguises as “Indians.” Rab divides the boys into three groups, but tells Johnny that he has a special duty for him. Johnny is to go to the Old South Church and await the return of Captain Rotch, who is once more pleading to the Governor to allow the ships to return to England. Johnny is to listen to Sam Adams’ reply to Rotch’s comment. If Adams says, “Now may God help my country,” Johnny is to return to the Observer and the boys will remove their disguises and disband. However, if Adams says, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country,” Johnny is to begin blowing a small silver whistle and is to keep blowing it all the way back to the Observer.
An extremely large crowd has already gathered about the Old south Church when Johnny arrives. It is so crowded that Johnny can’t manage to work his way into the church. Johnny is thrilled by the words of Josiah Quincy, who speaks loudly and passionately, but he is concerned that he won’t be able to hear the more reserved Sam Adams when he speaks. Rotch returns, and he is obviously disappointed. Josiah Quincy calls for silence so that Sam Adams might speak. Adams, who seems to accept the defeat, remarks: “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” Immediately, Johnny begins blowing his whistle, and the crown becomes chaotic. As Johnny races back to the Boston Observer, he fears that all of the action may be over before he returns. He frets that Rab may have given him his duty because of his crippled hand. When Johnny reaches the Observer, he finds that Rab is there, alone. Rab helps Johnny put on his disguise, and the two race off to their ship.
Johnny and Rab are the first boys to reach their ship. They see Paul Revere and give him their password. The other boys soon gather, a signal is given, and the groups slip aboard the ships. The captains do not put up any resistance, and the boys begin unloading the tea, smashing the tea chests, and dumping the tea into the harbor. As Johnny works, he notices that Dove is among some of the “volunteers,” boys who joined the parties at the last minute. Johnny notices that Dove is stuffing tea into a pair of oversized pants he is wearing. Johnny remembers what Adams said about stealing the tea, and he notifies Rab. Rab confronts Dove, dumps the tea he is concealing into the harbor, and then throws Dove in too. When the boys finish dumping the tea in the harbor, Revere has them clean up the ship’s deck. It’s nearly dawn when they finish.
As the boys march to the center of town, they pass the home of British Admiral Montague, who informs them that they will soon have to “pay the fiddler.” Johnny understands Montague’s comment and knows that all of Boston will pay the price for their actions tonight.
This chapter touches on theme of loyalty. Johnny’s sense of loyalty is reflected in the guilt he feels for not consistently meeting with Cilla and Isannah. In addition, the fact that the Laphams’ business and household seem to be falling apart, after the hiring of Percival Tweedie, can be seen as the result of their disloyalty to Johnny.
Johnny’s apprehension at the thought that violence might break out soon shows that he still has a rather naïve understanding of the realities of revolution. In contrast, Rab does not seem to be disturbed by the possibility of violence. In the Sons of Liberty who assault the man who chases them and in Sam Adams, Johnny sees that there are men who will readily fight for their beliefs.
Dove’s attempt to steal tea during the Boston Tea Party offers a clear contrast between Johnny’s “self-less” motivation and Dove’s “selfish” motivation. Though Johnny might eventually gain something from the action, he is not participating in the Tea Party for personal gain, whereas the only reason Dove participates is to earn some easy money. Johnny’s approach resonates with James Otis’s comment that if the patriots are to go to war with England they must not do so for trivial reasons; they must be motivated by more universal ideals.
Johnny believes that he understands Montague’s comment that the patriots will soon have to “pay the fiddler.” However, he doesn’t realize that some of those close to him will have to “pay” with their lives.