A group of well-dressed gentlemen in a country hotel in Kentucky discuss a recent advertisement about a runaway slave named George, who has been branded on the hand with the letter H.
The advertisement says the owner will give four hundred dollars to anyone who delivers George back to him, dead or alive.
The gentlemen discuss this situation. One of them claims that he has already made papers out for his slaves, which make them free in case he dies suddenly.
Mr. Wilson says he knows this George. George used to work for him and is a very smart young man. He invented a machine for cleaning hemp that saved a lot of time and labor.
Some of the men assert that slaves are actually men, not property, while others say that a bright black man is a disadvantage to his owners. The only thing slaves use their smarts for is to escape.
At this moment, a gentleman with a dark, Spanish complexion enters the hotel with his black servant. The man takes a look at the advertisement and addresses his servant, saying, "Jim, seems to me we met a boy something like this up at Bernan’s, didn’t we?"
Mr. Wilson has an uncomfortable feeling that the gentleman looks familiar, but he can’t quite place him.
The gentleman extends his hand, recognizing Mr. Wilson. He introduces himself as Mr. Butler and says he is sure Mr. Wilson will remember him. He asks Mr. Wilson for a few private moments in his room and they go there together.
The gentleman turns around, folds his arms, and looks Mr. Wilson full in the face. Then Mr. Wilson recognizes him as George Harris, the escaped slave and Eliza’s husband. Like Eliza, George is pretty fair-skinned and can pass for a white man with the aforementioned "Spanish complexion."
Mr. Wilson urges George to return to his master and stop breaking the laws of his country.
George responds that he has no country.
Mr. Wilson urges him to consider the danger he’s in. George assures Mr. Wilson that he’s fully aware of the risks he’s taking to gain his freedom.
George relates his short life history to Mr. Wilson, seeking understanding. He talks about how his mother and sister were taken away from him, sold south. He was left alone, without a single person who loved him. That’s why he’s fighting for his liberty. If it was right for Mr. Wilson’s forefathers to fight for liberty, it is right for him.
Mr. Wilson never quite gets what George is all about, but he does give the man some money.
George shows Mr. Wilson his master’s parting gift: the branding of the letter "H" in his hand.
He asks Mr. Wilson to please give his wife Eliza a little pin if he should fail to reach freedom. Mr. Wilson agrees, but he wishes George Godspeed and to trust in God.
George wonders if there is a God for him. Mr. Wilson tells him to quit thinking like that. He’s sure God will help George.