Young David Balfour's father has recently passed away. He left his son nothing but a letter of introduction to his uncle, Ebenezer Balfour. The name Ebenezer conjures up images of the famous old skinflint Scrooge from Dickens's A Christmas Carol. And that's entirely appropriate, because David's Uncle Ebenezer is a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Unlike Scrooge, however, he remains a thoroughly nasty piece of work throughout the book.
When David goes to see his wicked uncle, Ebenezer tries to kill him, confirming David in his suspicions that his father's brother is trying to cheat him out of his inheritance. Even so, David allows himself to be tricked by Ebenezer into accompanying him to the office of the family's lawyer in order to get to the bottom of the vexed issue of the inheritance.
On the way there, Ebenezer and Captain Hoseason trick David into coming aboard a ship called the Covenant. As he sees a little boat pulling away with his uncle in it, David suddenly realizes he's been well and truly had. He cries out, "Help! Help! Murder!"
But it's no use; David is attacked and knocked senseless. The next thing he knows, he's waking up to a lantern being shone in his face. David finds himself tied up, a prisoner aboard a ship bound for the American colonies, where it is intended that he will be a slave. And it's all his wicked uncle's doing.