When the book started, Johnny was an annoying pain who always fought and always made bad comments about people. Ever since his mother had died, he had been a blacksmith's apprentice, working under a man named Mr. Lampham. His mother had arranged it before she died. She left Johnny with a silver cup and it was told to Johnny that if ever all of his hope were lost, and God has turned away from him, then only should he go to the merchant Lyte and present it to him. Johnny kept it in a chest in the attic all locked up.
Johnny was the easiest to teach the art of being a blacksmith. He could read and write, and was a fast learner. This made him the most valuable in the family. He always treated the other learners very badly. This is why one day, they played a trick on him. Johnny and Mr. Lampham had a very important client and they were going to make him a special bowl for his wife's birthday. Johnny was working all week on the handles he was to design. He came close to the end of the week but he still hadn't gotten it perfectly right. On Saturday he was told that he couldn't work because he couldn't work on the Sabbath. When Johnny told Mrs. Lampham about this, she said that he could secretly work on Sunday. While Johnny was working, one of the other workers handed him a broken piece which had a crack in the side. It broke and silver when everywhere. Johnny's hand touched the stove and it was badly burned. It was not treated correctly and his hand was crippled. He couldn't work as a blacksmith so he became useless. Mr. Lampham told Johnny to go look for another job.
Johnny went into town but could not find anything. Finally, he found a job at a Printers wolrk place. He became friends with a guy named Rab, who was two years older than he. Johnny learned to control his temper and became an avid reader. He was also taught by Rab to ride a horse. Johnny learned to ride one of the toughest horses. The horse's name was Goblin.
He continued to see Cill, a girl whom he had met in Mr. Lampham's house. In time, as tension grew between the British and the Americans, he became an active participant in the fight against the British. He took part in the "Boston Tea Party" and was there " throwing tea even with his bad hand". When the Revolutionary War began, Rab joined the army. Johnny later heard that Rab had been a brave soldier and fought hard, but was killed at Lexington and Concord. At the end of the book, Johnny learned to be a better person.