The first chapter introduces the stark cultural differences between Barbados and Connecticut. Barbados is a warm, friendly island while the Puritan society in Connecticut is very restrictive, limiting people's, especially young people's, lives.
Katherine (Kit) Tyler is sixteen when her wealthy grandfather dies, and she has to go live with the only relatives she has left, Matthew and Rachel Wood and their two daughters, Judith and Mercy. Kit quickly learns that in Puritan society, "children are to be seen and not heard", which causes causes problems for Kit. Mercy is the most important member of the family because she teaches Kit the patience and endurance she needs to survive in Wethersfield and strict rules of behavior of the Puritans. Uncle Matthew makes Kit lock away her beautiful dresses.
Kit meets the Cruff family on the ship she sails on, and Kit jumps in the water to save their daughter's doll. Goodwife Cruff abuses Prudence, their daughter, and calls her a half-wit, not allowing her to go to school. Kit teaches Prudence to read and write, something the parents haven't been able to do.
Kit becomes friends with Hannah Tupper, a Quaker woman who is the title character. Hannah is an outcast of Puritan society and believed to be a witch because she has cats. She's really a kind and loving woman who becomes a mother figure to Kit. She and her dead husband were thrown out of Massachusetts and looked for religious freedom in Connecticut.