One day a strange seaman, Bill Bones, arrives at the Admiral Benbow, the inn owned by young Jim Hawkins’s father. Looking for lodgings, Bones comes plodding up to the inn door, where he stands for a time, looking around Black Hill Cove. Jim hears him singing snatches of an old sea song: “Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum.” When Bones learns from Jim’s father that the inn is a quiet one with little trade, he declares it just the berth for an old seaman. From that time, the strange guest—a retired captain, he calls himself—keeps watch on the coast and the land road by day and drinks freely in the taproom of the inn at night. There he sings and swears great oaths while he tells fearsome tales of the Spanish Main. Bones is wary of all visiting seamen, and he pays Jim to be on the lookout for a one-legged sailor in particular. Bones is so terrible in his speech and manners that Jim’s father, a sick man, never has the courage to ask him for payment after the one he made the day he came to the inn. He stays on without ever clinking another coin into the inn’s till for his meals and lodging.
The one-legged sailor never comes to the inn, but another seaman named Black Dog does. The two men fight in the inn parlor, to the terror of Jim and his mother, before Bones chases his visitor up the road and out of sight. When he comes back to the inn, he falls down in a fit. Dr. Livesey, who has come to the inn to attend to Jim’s father, cautions Bones to contain himself and drink less.
Jim’s father dies soon afterward. On the day of the funeral, a deformed blind man named Pew taps his way up to the door of the Admiral Benbow and forces Jim to lead him to the captain. Bill Bones is so terrified when the blind man gives him the Black Spot, the pirates’ death notice, that he has a stroke and dies. Because Bones died owing them money, Jim and his mother take the keys to the dead man’s sea chest from his pocket and open the chest. As they are examining the contents, they hear the tapping of the blind man’s stick as he approaches on the road. Jim quickly pockets an oilskin packet from the chest, and he and his mother leave hurriedly by the back door of the inn as a gang of men breaks in to search for Bones’s chest. Mounted revenue officers then arrive and scatter the gang; Pew is trampled to death by the charging horses.
Jim takes the packet from the chest to Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney. The three discover that it contains a map locating the hidden treasure of the bloody buccaneer Captain Flint. Squire Trelawney is intrigued and decides to outfit a ship in which to sail after the treasure. The doctor throws in his lot, and they invite Jim to come along as cabin boy. In Bristol, Trelawney purchases a schooner, the Hispaniola, and hires Long John Silver to be the ship’s cook. Silver promises to supply a crew. When Jim arrives in Bristol and meets Silver, he finds that the sailor has only one leg. He is alarmed when he sees Black Dog again at the inn operated by Silver, but Silver’s smooth talk quiets Jim’s suspicions.
After the Hispaniola sets sail, Captain Smollett, hired by Squire Trelawney to command the ship, expresses his dislike of the first mate and the crew and complains that Silver has more real authority with the crew than he does. One night, Jim, having fallen into a barrel while reaching for an apple, overhears Silver discussing mutiny with members of the crew. Before Jim has a chance to reveal the plot to his friends, the island where the treasure lies is sighted.
The prospects of treasure on the island cause the disloyal members of the crew to pay little attention to Captain Smollett’s orders; even the loyal ones are hard to manage. Silver shrewdly keeps his party under control. The captain wisely allows part of the crew to go ashore; Jim smuggles himself along in order to spy on Silver and the men on the island. Ashore, Silver kills two of the crew who refuse to join the mutineers. Jim, alone, meets Ben Gunn, who was with Captain Flint when the treasure was buried. Gunn tells Jim that he has been marooned on the island for three years.
While Jim is ashore, Dr. Livesey goes to the island and finds Captain Flint’s stockade. When he hears the scream of one of the crewmen being murdered by Silver, he returns to the Hispaniola, where it is decided that the honest men will move to the fort within the stockade. Several dangerous trips in a small, overloaded boat complete the move. During the last trip, the mutineers aboard the ship ready the ship’s cannon for action, and Squire Trelawney shoots one seaman from the boat. In the meantime, the mutineers on the island see what is afoot and make efforts to keep Jim’s friends from occupying the stockade. Squire Trelawney and his party take their posts in the fort after they have repulsed the enemy. The mutineers on the Hispaniola fire one cannon shot into the stockade, but the attack does little damage.
After leaving Ben Gunn, the marooned seaman, Jim makes his way to the stockade. The Hispaniola now flies the Jolly Roger, the pirate flag decorated with skull and crossbones. Carrying a flag of truce, Silver approaches the stockade and offers to parley. After he is admitted by the defenders, he demands the treasure map in exchange for the safe return of Squire Trelawney’s party to England. Captain Smollett will concede nothing, and Silver returns to his men in a rage as the stockade party prepares for the coming battle. A group of the pirates attacks the stockade from two sides, swarming over the paling and engaging the defenders in hand-to-hand combat. In the close fighting, the pirates are reduced to one man, who flees back to his gang in the jungle. The loyal party is reduced to Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, Captain Smollett, and Jim.
During the lull after the battle, Jim sneaks off and borrows Ben Gunn’s homemade boat. He rows out to the Hispaniola under cover of darkness and cuts the anchor line, setting the schooner adrift. In trying to return to the island, he is caught offshore by coastal currents, and when daylight comes, he can see that the Hispaniola, like his own small boat, is drifting aimlessly—and the large ship is bearing down on him. Just before Ben Gunn’s little boat is smashed, Jim manages to jump from it to the bowsprit of the Hispaniola. He finds himself on board alone with one of the pirates, Israel Hands, who has been wounded in a fight with another pirate. Jim takes command and proceeds to beach the ship. Pursued by Hands, he climbs the mast quickly, just avoiding being struck by a knife thrown by the pirate. Jim has time to prime and reload his pistols, and he shoots Hands after being pinned to the mast by another thrown knife that has struck him in the shoulder.
Jim removes the knife from his shoulder, makes the ship safe by removing the sails, and returns to the stockade at night, only to find it abandoned by his friends and now in the hands of the pirates. When Silver’s parrot draws attention to the boy’s presence, the pirates capture him. Dissatisfied with the buccaneer’s methods of gaining the treasure, Silver’s men are grumbling. One attempts to kill Jim, who has bragged to them of his exploits on behalf of his friends. Silver, however, for reasons of his own, takes the boy’s side and swears that he also would take the part of Squire Trelawney. Silver’s disaffected mates give him the Black Spot and depose him as their chief, but the pirate leader talks his way out of his difficulty by showing them, to Jim’s amazement and to their delight, Captain Flint’s map of Treasure Island.
Dr. Livesey arrives at the stockade under a flag of truce to provide medical care to the wounded pirates. He learns from Jim that Silver saved the boy’s life, and Jim hears, to his mystification, that the doctor gave Captain Flint’s map to Silver. Following the directions on the map, the pirates go to find the treasure. As they approach the hiding place, they hear a high voice singing the pirate chantey, “Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum.” The voice also speaks the last words of Captain Flint. The men are terrified until Silver recognizes Ben Gunn’s voice. Then the pirates find the treasure cache opened and the treasure gone. When they uncover only a broken pick and some boards, they turn on Silver and Jim. At that moment, Jim’s friends, with Ben Gunn, arrive to rescue the boy.
Jim then learns what has transpired. Early in his stay on the island, Ben Gunn had discovered the treasure and carried it to his cave. After Dr. Livesey learned this from Gunn, Squire Trelawney’s party abandoned the stockade, and Dr. Livesey gave the useless map to Silver. Jim’s friends moved to Gunn’s safe and well-provisioned quarters.
The Hispaniola having been floated by a tide, the group is able to leave Treasure Island, abandoning there three escaped pirates. They sail to a West Indies port, where, with the connivance of Ben Gunn, John Silver escapes the ship with a bag of coins. After taking on a full crew, the schooner sails back to Bristol, where the survivors of the adventure divide the treasure among them.