Summary of Chapter 3: The Night
It’s a little after midnight when Levi, the younger brother, has a nightmare and runs to Adam’s room for comfort. Though Adam has had premonitions of something evil, he begins the chapter by saying he doesn’t believe in dreams as prophetic. He identifies himself as rational like his father, so when Levi says he had a dream that the sky was all red and that he died, Adam treats it as a mere dream based on the fact that Levi and the kids at school keep playing war. Adam takes him to the window to show there is nothing there, but they hear hoofbeats on the Menotomy Road. Buckman’s tavern is a way station, and they see lights and hear shouting from there. They realize the rider is an express messenger on Committee business. Moses gets dressed and goes to find out. Granny goes down to make coffee, and Adam gets dressed to follow his father.
Adam tells his mother that he has never disobeyed her before, but he will now if she does not let him go with his father. Granny stands up for him, and his mother relents. He finds all the men and boys heading for the common. The messenger has told the village men that an army is headed out of Boston towards their village. The rumor has been that they mean to stop the militia drilling in the villages. Jonas Parker is the Lexington Captain of Militia, who has been preparing the men in case of conflict, though no one has believed it would happen.
The men question the messenger. He is one of four riding to the villages to warn them the British Army crossed the Charles River, and is heading this way. They are on the way to Concord where the stores are. Someone informed on them. The men don’t understand why they are bringing a whole army just to confiscate the arms and ammunition. There are at least a thousand marching. The messenger goes on to Concord.
The townsmen meet with the Committeemen and the Reverend to discuss what to do. There are four different positions. Jonas Parker wants to muster the militia. Moses Cooper wants to have a Committee meeting at the church to discuss options. The Reverend wants to check the facts. Sam Hodley believes it is a false alarm. The Reverend reminds them they are seventy or so against a thousand. Moses Cooper does not like the cowardice of the Reverend’s remarks and lectures the men on their duty to freedom. Adam is proud of his father’s speech. Jonas says he will muster the militia, and the church bells are rung. Adam is one of the boys who rings the bells.
The boys hear that the militia is signing the muster book at Buckman’s tavern, and older boys are signing it. Adam makes his way there, worried his father will stop him and embarrass him in front of the whole town. Moses, however, looks up surprised when Adam signs, but says nothing. Adam walks home feeling like a man, not a boy. The whole town is awake, and the little boys are running around as in a holiday. The bells are ringing in the distance in Lincoln and Menotomy. Ruth is sitting on the bench by the Cooper front gate. Her father had asked Adam to take her home, but Ruth insists she is fine. She watched him sign the muster book, and she is worried. Adam says he thinks it is just a false alarm; it doesn’t make sense why the British would start a war. Ruth kisses him and then goes home.
At home, Adam overhears his father and mother arguing. Moses says he let the boy sign the muster because he saw he was a man now. Adam goes into the kitchen, and Moses questions him about his intentions with Ruth, warning him not to play games with her. Adam does not answer but picks up his gun. His father gives him advice about how to load and shoot. They pack pieces of bread into their pockets and take water bottles.
Sarah cries as they leave. Granny says good-by to Adam in private, saying she loves him.
Commentary on Chapter 3: The Night
It is clear the colonials do not believe the British will really attack. They still feel they can reason with them, though they have been preparing to back up their talk with their own militia. There have been stories of the British arresting citizens and holding them without trial. Moses, however, trusts that he can reason with the officers who come from the same ethnic and intellectual background as he does. He admits the common British soldier has been recruited from prisons and “the filthy alleys of London” (p. 64). Moses Cooper, as Adam realizes on this night, is an admirable leader of their village. He notices his father as a man for the first time; Moses is handsome, strong, and principled. He is the one who inspires the men to stand up for themselves: “right and justice are on our side!” (p. 64).
Adam is proud of his father and wants to stand at his side. Moses notices a change in Adam, an independent will, and by recognizing his son’s right to sign the muster, he has bonded with his son as a man. He sees that if he did not acknowledge his son’s rite of passage, “I would have lost a son” (p. 73). Cousin Simmons tries to help Adam by telling him his father’s bark is worse than his bite. Simmons is an important support for Adam in the coming days. He recognizes the change in Adam before Moses does: “A boy went to bed, and a man awakened, hey Adam?” (p. 66).
The Reverend tries to remind the men that they are outnumbered, and Sarah Cooper also reinforces this point that adds to the tension. She reminds Moses that they are “ordinary village people, men and boys we’ve known all our lives” (p. 72). She does not see how they can stop an army. Moses thinks if they stand firm, “then they’ll respect us” (p. 72).
Though Moses has accepted the change in Adam, he returns to his lecturing Adam. This time, however, it is about his behavior with Ruth. In this period of history, it was important that both boys and girls remained pure until marriage, but especially for girls. Moses is reminding Adam that he has a responsibility to the girl’s reputation. Adam is dumfounded by this advice because though he has kissed Ruth, he thinks of her as a friend. He himself does not know what his intentions are towards her. The fact that Moses lectures him on sex may mean that he is acknowledging Adam is a man. Adam is too astonished to respond.
The contrast with his little brother Levi helps to accentuate Adam’s transition to adulthood. Levi is like the other little boys running around the green in excitement, not really understanding the seriousness of the crisis. Adam first comforts Levi about his bad dream, then sends him home from the green so their mother won’t worry. The little boys think war is a game that they play at school, and they are feeling “just as important as fate” (p. 69), but Adam does not respond to them because “I didn’t feel like a boy any more” (p. 69).
The seriousness of signing the muster as a ceremony of passage is emphasized by the three men--Moses Cooper, Jonas Parker, the Militia Captain, and Samuel Hodley, the storemaster--sitting at the table with candles and books in front of them. Moses takes notes on who signs, and Adam notes that this is redundant since they have to sign the muster book anyway. Adam interprets this formality as his father’s idea that “the civil and military aspects of the matter should be cleanly separated” (p. 67). The Committee is already acting as a new government in the colonies. Jonas Parker tells Adam he is bound in duty to serve now until released by one of the three men. He has been inducted into the newly forming colonial army.