In the first chapter we learn that Sam is planning to go and fight for American independence. The chapter opens with his sudden return to the family after some months away (he is a student at Yale). His younger brother Tim, the narrator of the story, looks up to see him at the front door:
My brother Sam was standing there, wearing a uniform.
This reference to the uniform provides a hint right away of Sam’s intentions. His family don’t know then what it signifies, though, as it is not until later that he confides to Tim, when they’re alone together, what he is planning to do. Tim is alarmed and excited at the same time.
Sam’s character as an impassioned young man is established in this first chapter with his voluble account of a skirmish between the British and the fighters for American independence. Tellingly, he refers to the latter as ‘we’. The main family conflict is also set up in this chapter as Sam’s dad immediately takes him to task for speaking disparagingly of those fighting on the British side as ‘lobsterbacks’; Sam's dad is loyal to the British. Later in this chapter, the two of them have a furious argument, which ends with Mr Meeker crying – the first time that Tim has ever seen this happen. The burgeoning conflict within his own family brings home to him the grim reality of war.