Download Drums Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Drums Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

John Fraser lived with his mother and father in the backwoods of North Carolina. Squire Fraser, a strict but kind Scotsman, was determined that his son should have a gentleman’s education, and so he sent John to the coastal town of Edenton to be tutored by Dr. Clapton, an English clergyman.

While there, John made many friends. Sir Nat Dukinfield, a young rake, asked John to go riding with him one afternoon. They parted close friends. Through Dr. Clapton, John met Captain Tennant, the Collector of the Port at Edenton. Captain Tennant took John home with him and introduced him to Eve, his daughter, who overwhelmed John and embarrassed him with her coquettish manners. Captain Flood, a riverboat skipper, was another of his friends. The old man taught him some sea lore and, on his trips up and down the river, acted as a messenger between John and his parents.

John went often to visit Captain Tennant and Eve. One evening, two other gentlemen arrived at their house, Mr. Hewes, a shipbuilder, and Mr. Battle, a young lawyer. A bitter argument began among the gentlemen over the new tax on tea. Autumn came, and Squire Fraser sent for John to come home for a short vacation. Captain Flood took John up the river to Halifax. There he stayed overnight at the plantation of Wylie Jones, a rich young landowner.

After three years of schooling from Dr. Clapton, John became a young provincial gentleman. The only cloud on his horizon was the report of troubles with the British in Boston. Many people were angry; some predicted violence. John thrust dark thoughts aside, however, for tomorrow was the day of the races. Sir Nat was to match his horse against a thoroughbred from Virginia. Everyone seemed to be excited over the holiday except Mr. Hewes, Mr. Battle, and Wylie Jones. The three sat apart at a table in the tavern and talked seriously among themselves while the rest of the company sang songs. At last, Wylie Jones rose and announced that the ministers in Parliament had requested the king to declare the American Colonies in a state of rebellion.

The next day, John rode to the races with Sir Nat; Eve was going with fat Master Hal Cherry, a repulsive but rich boy. Sir Nat’s horse was in perfect condition; his jockey, who had been drunk the night before, was not. He lost the first heat to the horse from Virginia. Then Sir Nat turned to John and asked him to ride. John rode the next two heats and won both of them. His friends celebrated the victory he had won for North Carolina.

Spring came. Sir Nat, putting no stock in rumors of war with the Colonies, volunteered for the English cavalry; he wanted to fight the French. The day after Sir Nat left for England, John learned of the battle fought at Lexington.

Squire Fraser sent a letter to his son with instructions to come home at once if British authority were overthrown at Edenton. John went to say goodbye to Captain Tennant and Eve, and then, following his father’s instructions, he took leave of Dr. Clapton and went up the river with Wylie Jones. At Wylie’s plantation, he met Paul Jones, an adventurous seaman who had taken Wylie’s last name. Mr. Battle, Paul Jones, and Wylie discussed a naval war against the British. They urged John to decide soon which side he would take. He rode sadly home from Wylie’s, but he brightened when he met Sally Merrillee, an old playmate. He suddenly decided that he liked her backwoods manners, so different from those of Eve Tennant. Later, a company of militia camped on the Merrillee property, and the officers were billeted in Sally’s house. John became angry at Sally’s attentions to the militia officers and ceased courting her. Finally, Squire Fraser sent John to England to put the family money in a safe bank. John was happy at a chance for an honorable escape from his problem. When he went to say good-bye to Sally, however, she had only contempt for him. Her brother had gone with the militia.

In London, John became the clerk of an importing firm and again met...

(The entire section is 1,143 words.)