Matt's father has gone back to Massachusetts to bring back Matt's mother and siblings, and during that time, Matt must "stay behind and guard the cabin and the corn patch" they have built and planted on their land in Maine territory. Matt's father plans to be gone six or seven weeks, and during that time, Matt will be alone in the wilderness with full responsibility for taking care of himself and of the homestead. Not only will Matt have to work on finishing the cabin and keeping a fire going safely, but he will also have to kill or catch his own food. This is a tall order for a boy his age, but Matt's father has confidence that he can do it.
Matt has already proved that he can work hard; he has helped "to build every inch of" the sturdy log cabin in which his family would live. Still, it is a long time for a young boy to be on his own under such conditions, and in a sign that Matt's father is somewhat worried about what he must do, he leaves his son his own rifle, because "it aims truer" than the "old blunderbuss" Matt is used to using. Matt's father's uneasiness has more to do with the dangers he knows are inherent in wilderness living than in his faith that his son can handle himself well. In a gesture of utmost confidence, Matt's father chooses this time to give Matt his grandfather's big silver watch - "the finest thing (he) had ever possessed" - to have as his own (Chapter 1).