Esther Forbes was born in Westboro, Massachusetts in 1891, as the youngest of five children. Her family roots can be traced back to 1600s America; one of her great-uncles was the great historical figure and leader of the Sons of Liberty, Sam Adams. Her father was a probate judge in Worcester and her mother, a writer of New England reference books. Both her parents were historical enthusiasts.
Even as a little child, Forbes displayed an affinity for writing. Her academic work, however, was not spectacular, except for a few writing classes. After finishing high school, she took classes at the Worcester Art Museum and Boston University, and later, Bradford Academy, a junior college. She then followed her sister to the University of Wisconsin where Forbes wrote extensively for the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. After developing her writing skills, she returned to Massachusetts where she began working for Boston's Houghton Mifflin. As a reader of manuscripts, Forbes used this experience to advance her own writing career. Her first novel, O Genteel Lady! was published in 1926 to critical praise. With its selection by the newly formed Book-of-the-Month Club, the novel gained popular appeal as well. That year, Forbes also married Albert L. Hoskins, Jr., a Harvard Law School student.
As Forbes continued to write and gain notoriety, her marriage suffered because her husband disapproved of her career. They divorced in 1933. After several other novels, Forbes began her research of Paul Revere with her mother, who was then in her mid-eighties. When the historical biography, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In won the Pulitzer Prize in History, Forbes recognized her mother's immense contributions. During the process of researching Paul Revere, Forbes became fascinated with the large role young apprentices played in the war. Thus, she wrote Johnny Tremain, a historical novel of a young boy growing up in the time of the Revolutionary War. With poignant character development and a keen sense of history, it contained the elements for lasting popularity. It was published as "A Novel for Old and Young." In 1944, it won the Newberry Award, the top award for children's literature and became an instant children's classic. Forbes continued to turn out award winning books, most notably, The Running of the Tide, which was commissioned as a movie but never filmed. While working on a book about witchcraft in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, she died in 1967 of rheumatic heart disease.
Forbes literary achievements, awards, and recognition speak for themselves in regards her place in letters. Johnny Tremain is still read widely in schools and its popularity makes it one of the few lasting classics of American children literature.