This story documents the slavery and eventual freedom of one man. Henry and his brothers and sisters work for a good master. However, on his deathbed, the master gives Henry to his son, separating Henry from the rest of his family forever. Henry works well in the master's son's tobacco factory, presumably avoiding the beatings of the foreman. Later, he meets Nancy, a slave of another master. The two are allowed to marry and live together, and eventually they have three children. Unfortunately, Nancy's master suffers a financial loss, and Henry is informed one day that his wife and children have been sold.
The loss of this family is forever too, and Henry is now spurred to seek his freedom so he'll never have to suffer a loss like that again. With the help of two friends- one another slave, one a white doctor who doesn't believe in slavery- he literally mails himself to freedom in Philadelphia.
What I liked most about this book was that the author does not force an emotional response out of the reader because she doesn't have to. Young readers- as well as adults- can immediately appreciate the horror of being separated from your family as a child and then losing your children. The author presents the losses, but doesn't dictate the grief and anger that the main character must have felt. This makes the reader's response that much more powerful.
Although Henry does eventually gain his freedom, his previous losses haunt the end of the story, just as they must have haunted him and countless other American slaves.