Chicken George convinces Master Lea that George's son Tom shows enough promise as a blacksmith to be apprenticed out. He gets sent to board at the Askew plantation to learn from their blacksmith, Isaiah. Tom is overjoyed. By this time he has another sibling, Mary; and Virgil has married a girl from another plantation and visits to see her.
Tom returns home for a visit nine months later to his delighted family. George chides his son for not picking a profession that pays as well as cockfighting, but the whole family is proud of them, and all except George view blacksmithing as far more practical. George later talks to Tom about his plan to buy the family free, and Tom agrees to save his earnings to help.
In November of 1855 a rich Englishman cockfighter, Sir Eric Russell, comes to town and stays with Master Jewett. A huge cockfight is arranged, with Russell and Jewett's birds pitted against the others. There will be a huge purse and Tom Lea enters with hopes to further improve his fortunes. He and George have been culling and training their birds to perfection. George gives Master Lea the $2,000 that he and Matilda have saved over the last 8 years toward their freedom. Master Lea will use it to bet more money and will give an equal share back to George of their winnings. Matilda is furious but George knows he could double their savings.
At the cockfight, Lea and George win their first fight against the Englishman, winning $20,000. But then they choose to accept the man's challenge to fight again, double-or-nothing. When George and Master Lea lose, they have lost $80,000 - a sum far larger than anything Master Lea owns, and the end of George's family's freedom savings. To save himself, Master Lea sends George to England to train Russell's birds for a few years, and he will set him free when he returns. Master Lea then makes plans to sell the rest of the family.
The family begs to all be sold together, and except for Grandma Kizzy, Sister Sarah, Malizy, and Uncle Pompey, they are. The day they are to leave, Uncle Pompey dies. The family is sold to the Murrays, city people who have recently inherited a plantation and wanted to buy a family would would already know how to farm it.
The Murrays do not immediately hire an overseer, so in the fields the family sets out to prove that they do not need one. Virgil heads the fields, Matilda cooks in the big house and earns the family's trust, and Tom sets up putting the plantation into repair with his blacksmithing skills. Tom confides to his mother Matilda that he has fallen in love with a slave named Irene, a half-Indian girl at a neighboring plantation whom Tom met while installing custom grates on her master's windows. They marry in a big ceremony involving whites and blacks from both plantations and are very happy together when Master Murray buys her. Master Murray also buys Virgil's wife and child who were living on a different plantation near the Lea's. Irene becomes pregnant with their first child, and she and Matilda conspire together to get the flighty and fun-loving Lil' Kizzy to settle down with her current boyfriend Amos.
Chicken George returns back from Europe after his several-year absence to find the Lea house in disrepair, with his mother Kizzy and Sister Sarah buried. Only Malizy, old and senile, remains. George storms into the house and demands Master Lea give him his freedom papers. The old man is drunk and stinking, but does acknowledge George as his son. George plies him with more drinks until her passes out, and then breaks into his strongbox and takes his own freedom papers and rides to find his family, who are now living with the Murrays in Alamance County near the railroad shops, as Tom Lea told him.
Chicken George's family is immensely glad to see him, but they soon learn that he will have to leave the state because if a free slave stays in a slave state for 60 days, he will be re-enslaved. Chicken George rides north at the urging of his family, who would rather he be free than enslaved and with them. He vows to return.
Freedom plays a large role in this section of the book. Matilda and George plan to save his cockfighting money, which he has so far been spending on fancy clothes and gifts for himself and his family, including his green scarf and black derby, and instead use it to one day buy their freedom.
Unlike dreams of freedom among other slaves so far in the book, this could truly happen. Matilda figures out the cost and they begin to save. This chapter puts a literal price on freedom and is the first time it seems possible that Kunta's descendants could actually achieve it.
The theme of freedom becomes literal in this chapter once Chicken George gains his. Instead of trying to retain dignity in slavery and the like, one member of the family finally is free when he takes his freedom papers from Tom Lea's strongbox upon his return from England.
Even though the family's hopes tragically fell through when George lost all the money cockfighting, George has managed to gain his freedom. It is a poignant moment in the book, since freedom has been a central theme of Kunta and his descendants' existence ever since his first escape attempts.
Besides Chicken George's freedom, the greatest emotional arc in this section is the desperate, crazed cockfight where Tom Lea bets his whole fortune and far more, and first wins $20,000, only to lose it all and $80,000 total moments later. This loss also represents a huge loss for Chicken George, who moments before would have had enough money to buy his family free but now is left with nothing, and the knowledge that his family will probably be sold as well. Haley effectively builds the tension of this scene. It builds and builds, and Haley's attention to details makes slowed-down time in the chapter an effective tool for increasing the tension of a moment full of possibilities, both good and bad.