This book tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black slave owner and former slave who runs his plantation with unusually high discipline. He learns from his former master, William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia, how to keep a proper distance between oneself and one’s property. When Henry unexpectedly dies, however, it is up to his widow, Caldonia, to uphold the estate’s order. After his death, Henry’s slaves wonder if Caldonia will free them. When she fails to do so, but instead breaches the code that keeps them separate from her, a little piece of Manchester County begins to unravel.