The story takes place during the Revolutionary War from about 1775 to 1779 in Redding, Connecticut, with some parts taking place in New York and other small towns.
Even though the book is named after Sam, the story is told by his younger brother Tim. We learn everything from Tim’s point of view. At the beginning of the story, he’s just 12 years old, and by the end of the events that marked his life, he’s 14. He is smart just like his brother; he only has different, slightly better circumstances. We meet him timid especially in horrifying situations, and, as he gets older, we see how he gradually finds his courage. When he was younger, he always wanted to do what Sam did, but when he became older and mature, he realizes that he can think for himself. By the end, he is a mature young adult who always does what needs to be done without playing games with his mother to get out of chores. Instead, he gets down to work and is not afraid to get his hands dirty to get things done.
It starts in the 1770s during the Revolution War. Samuel Meeker, or Sam for short, enters the room of the tavern and chiming in to everybody who is waiting to eat, he comes in saying that he’s fighting for the lobsterbacks. His father, Eliphalet Meeker, called Life for short, starts arguing with him. After a while, they calm down and change the subject.
Finally, Tim Meeker, sometimes called Timmy, the narrator and one of the main two characters of the story, goes out to the barn to milk the cow Old Pru, which is one of his daily chores and asks Sam to join him. While Tim is milking Old Pru, he’s talking to Sam about how he has been lately and what he has been doing at home. Sam tells him the truth about why he is back at home – to get the Brown Bess, the family gun. Sam makes Tim swear not to tell Mom or Dad.
Well, in the morning, when Sam tries to get the Brown Bess, his father catches him and they get into a big fight about whether he’s going to fight the British or not and finally, his dad throws him out of the house. While the Meekers are at church, Sam goes back to the tavern, where his family lives and works, and steals the Brown Bess.
Sometime later, the Rebels or the Patriots (or as they are now called – Americans) pass through the town of Redding, which is where the Meekers live. They are going door to door taking people’s guns and goods. When they come to the tavern, they demand their rifle. They don’t believe that their son has stolen it and took it with him to the Rebel Camp and the reason they don’t believe him is because it was a Tori territory. So, they threaten to kill Eliphalet “Life” Meeker if they don’t hand over the gun.
Tim runs out of the door to get Colonel Read since he knew that Colonel Read was a colonel for the Rebels. However, when he got there, he saw Sam sleeping with the gun. He snatched it from Sam and started running back to his house. Halfway out of the house, Sam wakes up and yells at him to stop! Tim doesn’t stop, but since Sam is older and bigger, he manages to catch Tim just as they reach the town of Redding.
Tim explains what happened, and instead of going back, Sam decides to go with Tim just in case. When they get back, their dad is beaten up a bit, but all right. Sam runs out of there like a bat out of hell and he watches Tim and Dad from the safe distance from atop of a rock. He waves and leaves.
The seasons change and, during the winter, Tim and Dad go down to Verplanck’s Point to trade cattle for money and goods. Halfway there, they run into some Cowboys, cattle thieves, who say that they are Rebels. They remark that Eliphalet “Life” Meeker is trying to sell Beef to the Toris, so they threaten to kill him and his son, taking their goods.
By a stroke of luck, some escorts come along and scare off the cowboys, making them very angry.
By the time they get to Verplanck’s Point situated by Hudson River, Eliphalet “Life” Meeker makes his trades. On their way back, Eliphalet “Life” Meeker is very cautious about the cowboys, and while still on the road, it starts to snow, making it hard for them to advance. The next day, Eliphalet “Life” Meeker gets on the horse, and he and Tim leave. About every five minutes or so, he goes up and down to check whether the cowboys are following them. After a while, Tim notices that it’s been some time since he saw his dad, so Tim gets worried. Finally, he gets going again and starts thinking about what he should do if he meets the cowboys again. This time he has no one to protect him, not even his father.
Suddenly, he sees the cowboys, and luckily, he outsmarts them by acting as if thinking they were escorts and asking questions to throw them off the scent. The cowboys play along, so Tim starts acting as if he has no food and whether they were willing to share some. The cowboys get angry because they can’t decide whether the boy is just putting on an act for them or he needs some food. Several cowboys think it’s not worth it, while others want to punish the boy. After arguing for a while, they hear some dogs barking and they believe it’s the escorts. They leave the boy alone.
When they’re finally gone, Tim is so happy that he outsmarted the cowboys; he thought to himself that even Sam would be proud of him! He gets back on the wagon and heads home. When he finally arrives home, he tells his mother what happened to Dad and how he’s been kidnapped and probably taken to prison. They agree that it’s now down to two of them to run the tavern and do all the chores.
After some time, they learn Eliphalet “Life” Meeker’s faith – that he dies together with fifty other prisoners from cholera on a prison ship.
The lobsterbacks come through Redding, and nobody knows their intentions. They knock down the door of a Rebel’s house taking all Rebels that were hiding in there. While leaving the town, Tim follows them. Just as they are about to get out of the area, while they pass an old farmer’s house, they get ambushed by six Rebels hiding in the house. They start to shoot at the British troops, but the British retaliate by breaking down the wall and killing all the men. They even burn the house down.
Sam’s troops set up an encampment in the area not far from town. Tim and San meet happy to see each other after almost two years. During one of Sam’s visits, he advises Tim and mom to butcher the cattle and hide the meat before any of the Rebels take it, even though it’s punishable by hanging if anyone gets caught stealing. Tim is reluctant to do that – he wants to try and sell them because that’s the only way for them to make some money.
While Sam was revisiting Tim, they notice that cows are making some noises. They run out and Tim gets all but the missing cow back into the barn, while Sam chases the thief. When he finally caught up to them, they knock Sam out. They accuse Sam of stealing. Despite the whole family trying to prove that it wasn’t Sam who was stealing, the court decides Sam be shot.
Tim gets so mad that he takes his bayonet and sharpens it as much as he can and goes after Sam. When he reaches the prison area, the guard is asleep, and he briefly considers killing him. In the end, he finds that he cannot take a life, and starts to run. The prison guard wakes up and Tim throws his bayonet over the wall yelling, “Sam catch!” He continues to run trying to dodge the bullets fired at him. On his way up the hill, he feels a tug in his left shoulder. It’s a shot, but he keeps on running. Once on a safe distance, he realizes that Sam probably wasn’t even in his cell; as it seems, nobody was – they were already moved out of there.
Finally, the execution day comes and the crowd is watching. First, two men got a hundred lashings; then, there is a man who’s to be hanged and then – Sam. They put a pillowcase over his face; the three men hold their guns pointed at him. The guns are so close that they’re almost touching. BOOOOM!!! The guns go off, but Sam isn’t dead just yet – they were standing so close that the explosion from the guns set him on fire. He was squirming on the ground, and finally, another man shot him. He stops moving and Tim feels very angry.
After the war, Tim and his mother move out of the town they’ve hated so much. They move to Pennsylvania. Tim marries and starts his tavern. Despite being such a strong woman, Susannah would never talk or even be Verplanck’s to any American because she’s lost a son and her husband due to this war!