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Understanding Plot: "My Brother Sam is Dead" Summary

written by: Peter Boysen • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 7/12/2012

This plot summary should be helpful for middle school readers who have difficulty with the text. Gain a better understanding of the text and the main events in the plot.

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    A War that Split Families

    My Brother Sam is Dead opens in the spring of 1775, when Sam Meeker comes home from college and tells his shocked parents that he will be joining the blue-clad Patriots in their battle against the British occupational force. His parents, as one might imagine, don't want him anywhere near a battle line, but his younger brother, Tim, believes his brother has become a hero.

    The only problem is that Sam has to have his own gun to join with the rebel forces. He wants to steal his father's gun, but he gets into a loud argument with his father about the war and ends up running away. Tim finds him the next day and tries to get Sam to stay home from the war, but Sam refuses. Later, Sam's girlfriend Betsy asks Tim whether he supports the Patriot cause or the British government, like his father.

    Sam leaves, but later returns, but at a terrible time -- Patriots have entered the Meeker home and demanded Sam's dad's gun, but it is with Sam. The parents become hostages but are later released.

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    Tim Gets Involved

    The next section covers Tim's difficult choice -- to support his brother and help the Patriot cause, or to honor his father's allegiance to the King of England. Mr. Heron comes by Mr. Meeker's tavern and asks Tim to run a letter for him. His dad refuses while they are at the tavern, but Sam chases Mr. Heron after he leaves and agrees to do it. Betsy sees him carrying the letter and grabs it from him, but it is not information about Sam, as she had thought.

    Later that summer, Tim goes with his father to do some trading in Verplancks Point, but "cowboys" (roadside pirates) stop them and harass them on the way -- and kidnap Mr. Meeker when they come back. Tim does make it home with the goods and begins managing the tavern upon his return.

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    Resolution

    In 1777, the British invade Redding, Connecticut -- where the Meekers live, and they go about a systematic process of killing the men and boys in the town. Tim is even more conflicted than before: the Patriots have his father, but the British are destroying the town where he grew up. After the British come in, the Patriots do too, and Tim sees Sam -- who has decided to reenlist with the Patriots. Tim is upset, but Sam's mind is made up.

    That fall, Tim and his mother learn that his father has passed away, confined to a prison ship. Tim is now the "man of the house" and has to make several important decisions, including what to do with the cattle that he inherited when his father died. Sam comes back and tells Tim to slaughter the cows and conceal the meat, or else the cattle will be stolen. Before he does this, two other men try to run off with the cows, but Sam catches them. They turn things around and frame him for the attempted theft, and he is executed on February 16, 1779.

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