In December 1775, Cletus Moyer is a free black Northerner in colonial America, helping slaves escape captivity. In the days just prior to Christmas, a group of bounty hunters captures Moyer.
Because of his capture, dozens of slaves who have already left their plantations are in danger of being captured as well. Moyer implores two slaves from a nearby plantation to take his place: Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka in his mid-twenties who was captured in what is now Gambia, and Fiddler, an elderly man who was born into slavery. Kunta is eager to help (and to escape himself), but Fiddler is unwilling, fearful of the consequences if they are caught.