It is 1769, ten years since America's colonial militia had joined with the British regular army and defeated the French for dominion of Canada. The current of feeling about what it means to be loyal to the King has changed. While many colonists are angry about England's unjust taxation, wealthy merchant John Treegate remains fiercely loyal and certain that an agreement can be reached between the colonies and their mother country. Deciding to travel to England to appeal to the government there means leaving his motherless, eleven-year-old son Peter on his own, apprenticed to one of Treegate's friends, a manufacturer of barrel staves. Peter's new master is not severe, but the senior apprentice is a vicious bully and worse. A chain of events leads to trouble for Peter involving murder, shipwreck, loss of memory, adoption by a strange and bitter Scotsman, until finally he is reunited with his father on the eve of America's battle for independence.