New: Brent M. Colley’s Guide to My Brother Sam is Dead is now available at the vistor’s center at Putnam Park. This CD was created to help parents and teachers better understand the topics woven into each chapter of the fictional history novel, My Brother Sam is Dead, and provide them with the resources needed to effectively teach it in their classrooms.
The CD is the product of six years of research and provides all there is to know about My Brother Sam is Dead and what each chapter is about. With this CD, parents and teachers can save themselves hours of preparation while providing their students with a much better understanding of what they are reading about and why.
The CD includes everything from maps to photos to primary source materials from that time period to help parents and teachers strengthen their classroom presentations and improve their classroom discussions.
Contact Brent Colley if you have specific questions or information requests.
Below are summaries and analysis of several chapters in the novel My Brother Sam is Dead that contain information about events that take place in or around Putnam Park.
My Brother Sam is Dead Chapter 12: Summary and Analysis
Tim and Susannah learn that Life is dead; he died on a British prison ship, not a Patriot ship, as they had thought. They had buried him someplace on Long Island, and it was not likely the family would be able to figure out where. During the Revolution, some 11,500 Americans died in British prison ships anchored in Wallabout Bay, on the Brooklyn Side of New York Harbor. Each morning, prisoners collected the dead from the ships, where diseases like yellow fever and smallpox were rampant, and buried them in shallow graves along the shore.
Life’s last words were: “Tell them that I love the, and say that I forgive Sam, he’s a brave boy but he’s headstrong. And now I go to enjoy the freedom war has brought me.” Life’s final comment, perhaps in delayed response to Sam’s quote in Chapter One: “It’s worth dying to be free.”
Two days later Betsy brings news that Jerry Sanford has died on a prison ship too.
Betsy: “Nobody understands it….you can understand why they took Mr. Rogers and Captain Betts, but why imprison a ten-year-old boy?”
Susannah: “What harm could he have done them? This war has turned men into animals…they’re animals now, they’re all beasts.”
Betsy: “I think they are, Sam should come home.”
The way Life and Jerry die hammers home the fact that war creates illogical decisions and circumstances. Tim is well aware of this now and doesn’t want any part of either side of the war.
Tim: “I decided that I wasn’t going to be on anybody’s side any more: neither one of them was right.”
All in all Tim has had it with the war completely.
Tim narrating: “Oh how I hated the war. All of life was like running on a treadmill. I was fourteen, I should have been going to school all this while and learning something. Maybe by this time I would have begun to think about going to New Haven to study at Yale. I wasn’t much interested in Latin or Greek, but in the last couple of years I’d learned as lot about buying and selling and the tavern business, and I wanted to study calculating and surveying and the agricultural sciences: I thought I might have a career in business. I might apprentice myself to a merchant in New Haven or New York, or even London, to learn the art of trade. Sam owed it to me to come home and help Mother run the tavern for a couple years while I started to make my way in the world.”
Tim’s daydreams of school and a better life come in the midst of depressing circumstances at the tavern. Prices continued to rise, merchandise was dwindling, and the Rebels now had control of northern Westchester which included Verplancks so the annual cattle drive was out of the question. Tim knows he must find a British commissary in order to keep the tavern and the store in business. He wants to sell to the British not because he wants to help them but because the British paid in hard money.
Tim narrating: “All through November I tried to find out about the British commissary- whether it really existed or not, and where it actually was…I didn’t want to go until I was sure: If I ran into Rebels I’d lose the cattle and probably be put in prison myself. It was only worth the risk if I were sure where the commissary was: otherwise we might just as well eat the cattle ourselves.”
Tim’s search for the commissary comes to a halt on December 3, 1778; Sam has returned to Redding.
Tim narrating: “He looked thin and tired. There were black circles under his eyes and his uniform was torn in about six places. He’d lost his belt and was wearing a piece of rope around his waist, and his hat wasn’t an army hat but just an ordinary fur cap.”
The description of Sam is an accurate portrayal of a Patriot soldier in the fall of 1778; Each soldier was provided with one uniform for the entire year and thus after twelve months of marching and fighting these uniforms were well worn and raggedy.
In the winter of 1778-79, the Continental Army wintered in Redding, Connecticut. As Sam states, they were situated so they could quickly move West or East to protect the Hudson River and the Coast of Long Island, a secondary reason behind their position was the Military Depot in Danbury which the British had raided in 1777.
Sam’s concern about his family’s cattle and his attempts to convince Tim to slaughter them and hide them or sell the meat to the troops are driven by what Sam has experienced as a soldier. He knows that the soldiers on both sides are desperate for solid food and will break laws both moral and legal to satisfy their hunger.
Sam: “Have you got any cattle, Tim?”
Tim: “Eight, they’re not much to look at.”
Sam: “Butcher them and hide the meat. Or sell it. You can get a good price for the hides from the troops. Sell what you can.. I promise you, the stock will be stolen…Tim, butcher the cattle. Let the meat freeze and hide it in the loft under the hay until you need it…I’m warning you, Tim, sooner or later somebody’s going to get them”
Tim doesn’t listen, business at the tavern is good since the soldiers arrived, but they are still being paid with commissary notes. If they want to purchase more liquor and supplies they will need hard cash and that can only come from selling the cattle to the British. Tim and his Mother know that they must make a decision but choose to wait out the month of January, because of rumors about the British in New York City and the chance that the Continentals may be called on to fight soon.
While Sam, Tim and Susannah sit around the taproom fireplace discussing the war and what Sam thinks will happen in the spring, they hear some commotion outside.
Tim narrating: “Suddenly he stopped talking. “What was that?” I’d heard it too- a kind of thump and then a cow bawling. We listened. There were noises coming from outside somewhere.
“Sounds like something’s bothering the cattle,” I said.
“There are people out there,” Sam shouted. “Let’s go.”
We ran out through the kitchen toward the barn. It was dark, but there was nearly a full moon reflected on the snow and plenty enough light to see what had happened. The barn doors were open. Two cows were standing in front of the barn blinking, and we could see two more behind…four of the cows were gone.
“Pen ’em up,” Sam shouted. “They’ll be butchering the others somewhere near.” He darted around the house toward the road, his eyes following the hoof prints in the snow.
I snatched up a shovel and drove the remaining four cattle back into the barn with the handle…Then I raced across the snow around the house to the road…I saw nothing, but distantly I heard the noise of shouting, off toward the far end of the training ground. I ran in the direction of the sounds, and then suddenly I saw three men walking toward me through the moonlight, side by side. I stopped and waited. They came up. The one in the middle was Sam. His nose bleeding and there was a cut in his chin. His hands were tied behind his back.
“Timmy, get Colonel Parsons,” he cried. “They’re taking me in as a cattle thief.” I went cold. Then I turned and ran.”
Sam is being framed as a cattle thief by his own troops, another illogical circumstance caused by the war. Throughout the novel Sam has placed his country and fellow patriots ahead of his own family and now in a twist of fate he faces court martial and the possibility of death by execution for attempting to recover his family’s stolen cattle.
Chapter 13: Summary and Analysis
Having no luck at Colonel Parsons’ headquarters, Tim locates the missing cows and drives them back home. He returns to the tavern where his mother is waiting and after telling her the bad news, they pray.
Tim narrating: “Mother was sitting in front of the fire, looking worried. “I saw you coming across the road, ” she said. “Where’s Sam?”
“They arrested him,” I said. “The ones who stole the cattle beat him up, and then they said he’d stolen the cattle himself and marched him off somewhere.”
“Back to the encampment?”
“I guess so,” I said. “They’ll let him go in the morning, won’t they? I mean all we have to do is explain it, don’t we?”
She shook her head. “I have a terrible foreboding, Timothy. I want to pray.”
Susannah’s fear is validated the next morning when Tim returns to Parsons’ headquarters. There is more to Sam’s arrest than just whose right or wrong. “Defection from Duty” has become an issue for the Continental troops and to put an end to it General Putnam wants to make an example of somebody to show what happens to defectors under his command.
Tim narrating: “In the morning I went back to Captain Betts’ house to talk to Colonel Parsons…I told him the story, but he shrugged…”He didn’t do it, sir. These other men – -” He held his hand up to stop me. “I know, you told me that. In any case there isn’t anything I can do. They’ve taken him out to the encampment, and it’ll be up to General Putnam to do what he wants. I’d get out there in a hurry, though. The General is determined to make an example of somebody. It could go hard with Sam. General Putnam is a great and dedicated patriot and he does not take defection from duty lightly.”
After a brief discussion about which one of them will go to the encampment and who will watch the tavern, Susannah heads down the road and Tim ponders butchering the rest of the cattle. In this narration Tim explains that taverns were required by law to remain open and serve travelers. Because of their great importance to the community, there were many laws and regulations regarding taverns in the colonial period.
When Susannah finally returns, she is cold, tired and hopeless. The meeting with General Putnam did not go well.
Susannah: “You see what the problem is, Tim. Those two men who brought him in have sworn it was Sam who stole the animals…Sam wasn’t supposed to be here; he was supposed to be on duty with Colonel Parsons at the Betts’ house.”
Tim: “But Colonel Parsons didn’t care, he always let Sam come over and visit.”
Susannah: “Still, he wasn’t supposed to. Officially Sam had deserted his post.”
Colonel Read: “I’ve been down to the encampments. I’ve talked with some of the officers there. I’m afraid it looks bad for Sam.”
Tim: “Why is it bad for Sam, sir?”
Colonel Read: “Here’s the problem. Those soldiers Sam caught with the cattle are scared to death Putnam will simply decide to hang them all as an example. They’re prepared to tell any kind of lie about Sam to get themselves off. If it were just Sam’s word against somebody else’s, it might be different, but there are two of them, and if they tell the same story, they can be convincing.” He shook his head. “Then there’s the fact that Sam comes from a Tory family.”
Tim: “But won’t there be a trial, sir?”
Colonel Read: “Oh yes, a regular court-martial. There’ll be a presiding justice and a board of officers acting as the jury. But we have to face the fact that the board will do whatever they think General Putnam wants.”
Tim: “What can we do?”
Colonel Read: “Pray.”
The trial was set for February 6th, an agonizing three week period for both Tim and his mother. When the day finally arrives Tim is so nervous that he cannot eat, or even sit still. Colonel Read arrives after dark with the news they didn’t want to hear.
Colonel Read: “Mrs. Meeker, I have bad news. They’re going to execute Sam.”
Tim immediately goes to see Colonel Parsons.
Tim narrating: “I can’t help you,” he said bluntly. “The court-martial has decided and that’s the end of it.”
“Then who can help me, sir.” I demanded.
He stared at me. “General Putnam. Nobody but General Putnam.”
Tim and Colonel Parsons debate why Parsons should give Tim a note to see General Putnam and Tim makes some pretty good “telling points” because in the end Parsons agrees to give him a letter to see General Putnam.
Parsons: “Because I happen to believe you, I’m going to give you a letter to see General Putnam. But I am warning you right now that it won’t do a bit of good. The one thing General Putnam cannot do at this point is how clemency. If he is going to make his point with the troops, he can’t start letting people off easily.”
Tim narrating: “He took up a piece of paper, wrote something on it swiftly, folded it and sealed it, and addressed it to General Putnam. Then he gave it to me and I left, running.”
“I ran most of the way out to the encampment over the packed snow…I handed my letter to the guard…he took it and he called over a soldier. “Take this boy to General Putnam,” he said.
As they make their way to General Putnam’s hut, Tim very accurately describes the encampment and the activities of the soldiers.
“General Putnam was sitting behind a rough trestle table they’d set up as desk…He was a big man of about sixty, with lots of white hair. He wore the Continental uniform of buff and blue. He did not look kind.”
Tim: “Yes, sir.”
Putnam: “All right, let’s have it.”
Tim: “Sam wouldn’t steal our own cattle. He just wouldn’t. He’s been fighting for three years, he’s been a good soldier. And he didn’t do it, sir, I swear it. I know because –”
Putnam: “Enough, my time’s valuable. I’ll consider it. That’ll be all.”
Tim is allowed to visit Sam in the stockade, which was a short visit but just long enough for Tim to learn what really happened that night.
Sam: “They knew they were in for it right from the moment I spotted them in the training ground. I only saw one of them at first, and I leveled the musket at him. But the other one was down on the ground in the shadows, gutting the cow, and he came up behind me and stuck his knife point against my back. So they got me. Then they bashed me around a little and took me in. Oh, they were smart. They had a story all worked out about hearing somebody shout “Stop Thief” and seeing me driving the cattle across the training ground, and coming out to get me. And of course I wasn’t supposed to be home, anyway. I was supposed to be on duty at the Betts’ house. So that went against me. And that was that.”
Chapter 14: Summary and Analysis
On Saturday, February 13th, Colonel Read came up from the encampment to let Tim and Susannah know that General Putnam had refused their plea for clemency. The unfairness of war is voiced by both Tim and Colonel Read as it is a very important theme in the novel.
Tim is too emotional to sit through the church service for Sam and the others, his Mother is too depressed to even attend.
Susannah: “I’m not going, they can murder who they like, church who they like, but I’m not going. For me the war is over.”
The tavern is closed and as far as Susannah is concerned it can remain that way. Tim, feeling angry and bitter, sharpens his father’s bayonet with the intention of heading to the encampment to free Sam.
Susannah: “Going to get yourself killed, son?”
Tim: “I’m going to save my brother”
Susannah: “No, you’re going to get yourself killed. Well you might as well. Let’s have it all done with at once. How does that old line go? Men must fight and women must weep, but you’ll get no more tears from me. I’ve done my weeping for this war.”
As they have done in Chapter 13, the Collier brothers paint a picture of the encampment at Redding via Tim’s narrative. Tim’s comments about the lack of trees, the lines of huts, the muddy road, the corrals, etc… are written for more than dramatic effect. In real-life there were not many trees left in the encampments of Redding during the winter of 1778-79, there were lines of huts, muddy roads, wagons and cannons, officer’s quarters. They even place the prisoners in the correct location. The 1778-79 guardhouse was not located within the encampment, but on a road in close proximity to General Putnam’s headquarters. So we are given a glimpse of the winter encampment through Tim’s eyes and entertained by the well orchestrated climatic representation of Tim sneaking around the encampment, stalking guards and dodging bullets as a bonus really.
Tim narrating: “I began to slip down the steep hillside from stump to boulder…I stopped and I stared. I couldn’t see anybody moving around…I glanced at the guard…he didn’t move for several moments…and I suddenly realized that he was asleep. I took the bayonet out of my belt and clutched it tight in my hand. If Sam could killed people, so could I…I stood up and charged…the guard stirred. I drove my feet faster…”Halt.” He shouted. He swept the musket up, the bayonet pointing straight at me, twenty feet away…”Sam” I shouted, and “Sam” again as loud as I could. The guard lunged at me. I lifted the bayonet and threw it in the air. It flashed in the moonlight, spinning lazily over and over and fell into the stockade. Then I turned and began racing as fast as I could across the snow for the safety of the boulders on the hillside. I had gone only three paces when the musket went off with a terrific roar…I dashed onto the slope, and then began staggering upward, zigzagging from boulder to boulder to keep protection at my back. Behind me there was shouting and running and the sound of a horse being wheeled around…I reached the trees at the top of the ridge and flung myself flat. They’d never get me now…I rolled over and looked down…I stared into the stockade. There was no action there, no people moving at all. Lying in the center of that square of snow, something shiny glistened in the moonlight. And I knew it had all been a waste. The prisoners weren’t in the stockade anymore.”
Tim has a bullet wound to show for his efforts at the encampment, but nothing severe. The following day is Sam’s execution and Tim attends knowing Sam would want somebody there, Susannah refuses to go. Tim’s narration of the executions is straight forward, he simply tells us what happened. A sad, abrupt ending, much like the life’s of many soldiers during the War of Independence.