The story opens with Dick Owens, a young rich man, attending a trial of a Yankee who was found guilty of kidnapping a slave from his allegedly cruel master. In prison he soon dies of cholera helping to treat his fellow inmates. This deed is considered to be particularly heroic by Charity Lomax, a girl Dick is keen on. In one of their conversations Charity proclaims that she could never love Dick because he has not accomplished anything heroic, which inspires Dick to steal one of his father’s slaves in order to set him free in Canada, where slavery is already outlawed. His plan is to take one of the slaves on a trip up North to give him a taste of freedom or to let them be lured or kidnapped by abolitionists.
Dick’s first choice is his personal attendant Tom, but this is met by disapproval from the side of Dick’s father, Colonel Owens, who does not trust Tom to stay loyal. Instead, he suggests, Dick takes Grandison, a slave who seems to be more trustworthy.
The first stop on their trip up North is New York City. Dick gives Grandison plenty of personal freedom, but to his disappointment he finds the slave waiting for him in the hotel every night. Consequently, Owen decides to relocate to Boston, where the temptations should be even bigger from Grandison. When they check-in in the hotel, he even decides to write an anonymous letter to the abolitionists, informing them that a cruel slave-master has a arrived to Boston with his slave, hoping they would persuade Grandson to flee, but all in vain. As a result of his desperation, Owen takes Grandson to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, where Grandison is legally free. However, despite having countless chances to escape, Grandison stays loyal to his master and immune to the abolitionist, which leaves Dick with no other option than to have him kidnapped.
Before his return to Kentucky, Dick sends a letter to his father, informing him about the flight of the slave, in order to prepare him. The old man is initially enraged as he trusted Grandison, but his rage eventually transforms into mere annoyance. When Dick comes he recounts the true story to Charity, who agrees to be his wife. They are married within few weeks.
Within a month from Dick’s arrival to Kentucky, Grandison returns in poor condition. He is wholeheartedly welcomed by the old Colonel, who can now renew his trust in the loyalty of his slaves. Grandison is set up among the house servants and is allowed to merry Betty, a slave girl he is in love with.
After three weeks Colonel Owens wakes up to realize that Grandison and Betty, together with Grandison’s siblings and parents are gone. He jumps through hoops to catch them, but unfortunately for him, his attempts are unsuccessful. The story closes with the Colonel catching a glimpse of the fugitives on a steam boat on lake Erie, headed for Canada.