My Brother Sam is Dead is a novel by James Lincoln Collier about a boy named Timothy Meeker living during the American Revolutionary War. Timothy's father is a loyalist and his patriot brother is forced to leave home, eventually joining the Continental Army. After his father dies and the family begins to fall apart, Timothy witnesses many horrors of the war and his brother is eventually killed. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on themes of loyalty and bravery and the tension between family and ideology.
Tim Meeker is a young boy who lives in the town of Redding, Connecticut, around the time the American Revolution begins. Tim does not exactly care about politics, but his father is a loyalist to Great Britain, much like the rest of Redding. Tim's entire family welcomes his brave and head-strong teenage brother, Sam, when he returns from Yale. However, his father is outraged when he learns that Sam has joined the Continental Army to fight against the British.
Sam is not afraid to voice his opinions, and this causes him to eventually be forced out from the family tavern (their home and business). After this, Sam steals his father's Brown Bess to use as a weapon during battles. Sam leaves Redding to fight. At home, things become harder, gradually separating the family. On Sam's rare visits home, Tim is the only one who talks with him.
In one instance, Tim delivers a "business letter" to New York for a "moderate" neighbor against his father's wishes. Sam's girlfriend opens the letter, which says "If you receive this message, then the messenger is reliable." The note was a test note, meaning that future letters will be spy reports on soldiers. Tim throws it away.
While on a trip with his father to sell beef to loyalists in New York, they are stopped by a band of brigands who presumably abduct him. Tim goes home, and watches one of his friends be decapitated, and another friend get captured by the British. Tim begins to have stronger feelings about the two sides.
The next year Tim finds out that his father and friend have died on a prison ship due to an outbreak of cholera. After this, Tim's mother begins to drink heavily. Meanwhile, prices of food and drink go up and the Redcoats even show up in Redding to seize weapons and fight the few Patriots there.
The last time Sam returns, he is framed for stealing cattle. His own army executes him as a warning to soldiers who might do the same thing if faced by extreme hunger.
The story then cuts to 1826, where Tim reveals he has survived the Revolution. He has written the story to tell what life was like during the war. He mourns Sam, and then reveals he has a happy life.