Caroline's been so happy enjoying her father's company the last few weeks. One morning during breakfast there's a knock at the door. Her aunt and uncle's neighbor is delivering a letter, explaining that her aunt has gone to care for her gravely ill sister, and they need help on the farm. They have no money to hire anyone, having spent their savings on the new farm, so they're asking for Caroline. The neighbor can take her back in an hour. Caroline knows she has to go, but it's so hard to leave her father and the rest of her family.
At the farm, Caroline is put to work right away. Not much land is cleared yet, so Uncle Aaron is busy in the fields. Lydia takes care of milking the cow, and Caroline is to care for the calf, who's old enough to start eating grass. The girls will split the other chores, and must also watch out for thieves. Farmwork and housework keep them busy, but they're able to enjoy each other's company the whole time. While tending the vegetable patch, Caroline sees that someone's stolen some asparagus. Her uncle decides he needs to try to stay up late and keep watch--the plants they need for food are bad enough to lose, the cow and her calf would be worse. Caroline and Lydia help keep watch, but Uncle Aaron does most of it.
The next morning there's some good news: three radishes are ripe! Lydia and her father haven't had much variety in their diet, just dried beans and peas mostly. But when Uncle Aaron takes a drink of milk, he nearly spits it back out again. It turns out that when Caroline was breaking the cow to follow on a lead, she lead her into a patch of wild leeks, which have turned her milk sour. The taste will last for a couple days, meaning that Lydia won't be able to make butter to sell or trade. Caroline feels awful, even though her uncle and cousin laugh it off. She does her chores quickly--finding a loose board in the garden fence with a suspicious bit of red clothing caught on the edge--and gets a couple fish in the nearby stream to make up for ruining the milk. Together with some dandelion greens and cornbread, they make a better dinner than her relatives have had in a while.
The next day, Lydia and Uncle Aaron have to go to neighbor's farm to help with a wheat harvest. They'll get some hay for the cows in return. Wary of the thief, they leave Caroline to watch the farm. While she's leading the cows to get them used it, she sees someone in a bright red shirt. She takes the cows deeper into the woods, to hide them in the springhouse, which is overgrown and has likely gone unnoticed by the thief. Carefully she goes back to the farmyard. The thief is in the vegetable patch. He runs off quickly, and Caroline gives chase. When she catches up to him, she sees that he's only a couple years older than she is. He confesses to stealing, but explains he felt he had no choice. He father, a military man, was killed in the Battle of Sackets Harbor. With her connection to the military gone, her mother couldn't follow the regiment anymore, putting her out of the job of laundering the uniforms. His little sisters and his mother are starving, and they've only been able to find little bits of food in the woods. Caroline offers to find some food for them. She explains that the milk is off, but the boy insists his sisters won't care. Indeed, they gratefully drain their cups. Caroline gives the mother what little she thought her relatives could spare, and promises to help more before returning to the farm.
When her uncle and cousin return, she tells them about the family. Uncle Aaron set out for them straight away and brings them back to the farm. They work out a deal for them to help with the chores in exchange for food, at least until the family gets back on its feet. Uncle Aaron praises Caroline for thinking quickly to save the cows, and for helping a desperate family. And with them doing some chores, Caroline can return to Sacketts Harbor. She's thrilled to be able to spend Independence Day at home.
During the Fourth of July celebrations, Caroline's father has a surprise for her. He and Mr. Tate salvaged the boat Caroline sank when Irish Jack was coming, and restored it. Her father has realized how much Caroline has grown up, and decided that she's ready for a small boat of her own. He's even renamed it: the Miss Caroline.
The War of 1812 officially ended in December 1814, but because of how slowly news traveled, one of the most famous battles of the war took place the following January, the Battle of New Orleans. The Americans won, but they already had anyway--sort of. Some people call the War of 1812 the war that no one won. The treaty had both the US and Britain give back all the land they'd seized from each other. Both sides also suffered heavy casualties, including civilians. However, the US didn't fall back under British control, so I think it could be called a victory if that was indeed a threat, albeit a costly victory. During the war, a shipping blockade prevented goods from being sent to the US. This forced the young country to rely on itself more, producing more and more of its own goods. It also showed the world that the US wasn't going to just roll over and give up if another, more-established country confronted it.
This book is dedicated to "my friends at American Girl, past and present, who have helped make each book the best it can be."