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The Known World | Chapter Summaries

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Timeline of Events

  • 1843

    Henry Townsend's father, Augustus, buys 18-year-old Henry out of bondage to William Robbins.

    Chapter 2
  • Over the next year

    Henry earns a good living making shoes and boots and is mentored by Robbins.

    Chapter 4
  • 1845

    Henry begins buying land and purchases his first slave, Moses.

    Chapter 4
  • 1846

    Henry meets and marries Caldonia, a free black woman.

    Chapter 4
  • 1846–55

    Henry acquires more land and slaves and raises Moses's status to overseer.

    Chapter 1
  • January 1855

    Henry purchases Alice Night, whose habit of wandering at night is tolerated because she may be mad.

    Chapter 1
  • Late July 1855

    Henry dies at age 31, having acquired 33 slaves and over 50 acres of land.

    Chapter 1
  • Early September 1855

    Augustus Townsend is kidnapped, sold back into slavery, and eventually shot and killed.

    Chapter 6
  • A few days later

    Caldonia turns to Moses for help in running the plantation, sparking their brief affair.

    Chapter 8
  • A week later

    Moses urges his wife and son to escape to freedom on Saturday, guided by Alice, who knows the roads.

    Chapter 9
  • The following Monday

    Caldonia reports the three missing slaves to Sheriff John Skiffington, launching an investigation.

    Chapter 9
  • Several days later

    Moses demands Caldonia give him his free papers and threatens violence when she refuses.

    Chapter 10
  • The following Tuesday

    Caldonia sends word to Sheriff Skiffington that Moses has run away.

    Chapter 10
  • The following Sunday

    Sheriff Skiffington tracks Moses to the home of Henry's mother, Mildred.

    Chapter 12
  • That same day

    The arrest goes badly; Skiffington and Mildred are shot and killed.

    Chapter 12
  • Later that same day

    Moses is caught, hobbled, and returned to Caldonia.

    Chapter 12
  • 1912

    A decades-long battle over Mildred's property destroys Manchester County.

    Chapter 12

Chapter Summaries Chart

Chapter Summary
Chapter 1 It's July, a season of growth on Henry Townsend's plantation. Henry is a free black man, age 31, who owns 33 slaves and ... Read More
Chapter 2 John Skiffington has been Sheriff Gilly Patterson's deputy for two years when he meets Winifred, Patterson's niece. Less... Read More
Chapter 3 Caldonia Townsend's maid, Loretta, informs the overseer, Moses, that Henry has died and tells him to spread the news to ... Read More
Chapter 4 Anderson Frazier is a Canadian-born journalist who visits Manchester Country in 1881 to interview Fern Elston. He hopes ... Read More
Chapter 5 The chapter opens with That Business Up in Arlington. In 1844 John Skiffington and his wife visit Winifred's 54-year-old... Read More
Chapter 6 The first part of the chapter, A Frozen Cow and a Frozen Dog, opens two days after Henry's death. Caldonia's mother, Mau... Read More
Chapter 7 In the chapter segment Job, a prostitute named Saskia Wilhelm infects Manfred Carlyle with smallpox about three years be... Read More
Chapter 8 One by one Maude, Calvin, and Fern leave Caldonia's home until, five weeks after Henry's death, she has the house to her... Read More
Chapter 9 Two weeks after kidnapping Augustus, slave trader Darcy, his slave, Stennis, and the people they have abducted reach Sou... Read More
Chapter 10 Caldonia cannot imagine why her missing slaves "would leave what she and Henry had made," and her concern for them grows... Read More
Chapter 11 Morris Calhenny is a wealthy, well-liked man in Georgia. One rainy day, he goes out riding to rid himself of "a crushing... Read More
Chapter 12 On Sunday Sheriff Skiffington deduces that Moses is hiding in Mildred's house. Acting on this hunch, he and Counsel ride... Read More
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