J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Johnny Tremain’s Deleted Scene

As I discussed yesterday, Esther Forbes (shown here, courtesy of W.P.I.) removed five pages from her manuscript for Johnny Tremain just before selling the rights to Houghton Mifflin.

That scene is set in February 1775. As briefly described by Prof. Neil L. York in his study of the novel and its film adaptation, Paul Revere hears that Gen. Thomas Gage is about to send a regiment out of Boston to look for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s weaponry. Revere and Johnny—and probably some other men—go out to Castle William, the fort in Boston harbor, to spy on the British troops there.

The military grabs the Patriot observers and and detains them until Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie’s 64th Regiment has departed for Marblehead harbor, thus preventing the Boston Patriots from warning their friends on the North Shore. Revere, Johnny, and their comrades have to stay at the Castle for an extra day.

In real life, Leslie’s regiment did indeed sail to Marblehead and march to Salem on 26 Feb 1775. Forbes wrote about that event in her nonfiction Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, which offered a vivid description of how the silversmith was held at the Castle. Presumably she used some of the same details in her fictional version of the episode.

Forbes deleted that scene, probably to improve Johnny Tremain’s pacing as it moves toward the outbreak of war. And in doing so, Forbes lucked out. Because her understanding of that February episode was based on a misreading of a document from 1775.

TOMORROW: That document from 1775.

1 comment:

coyotebanjo said...

Interesting story. In a way, I'm sorry Forbes left out that scene (despite the historical misinformation with which she was working), as it omits reference, in one of my favorite childhood books, about my hometown: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marblehead,_Massachusetts