Chapters 1-4 Summary
The story opens in Dawson’s Landing, Missouri, in 1830.
On February 1, Mrs. Percy Driscoll gives birth to a baby boy named Thomas. On the same day, the Driscoll’s slave Roxana (or Roxy) also gives birth to a baby boy named Chambers. Within a week, Mrs. Driscoll dies of complications from childbirth.
Also on February 1, David Wilson arrives in Dawson’s Landing from New York. At twenty-five, Wilson has a law degree and seeks to set up a practice in Dawson’s Landing.
On his first day in town, Wilson hears a vicious dog snarling and offhandedly remark, “I wish I owned half of that dog.” When someone asks him why, he says, “Because I would kill my half.”
The people of Dawson’s Landing cannot figure out what to think of Wilson’s remark. After some discussion, they conclude that he is mentally inferior, a “pudd’nhead.” The nickname sticks with Wilson for the next twenty years.
Puddn’head is not able to make a success of his law practice (the townspeople assume that a "pudd’head" would not make a reliable lawyer), so he takes jobs in land surveying and accounting. He also engages in the hobby of collecting people’s fingerprints.
One day Puddn’head overhears Roxana and another slave, Jasper, talking outside his window. When he looks out, he sees Roxana with two babies, hers and her master’s, in the baby wagon. Wilson tells Roxana that the babies are so similar that he cannot tell them apart. Roxana tells Puddn’head that she can tell them apart but that her master, Percy Driscoll, cannot.
Puddn’head makes a set of fingerprints from Roxana and both of the babies. Two months later he takes their fingerprints again as he likes to print people in “series” at intervals.
On September 4, Roxana’s master notices that a small sum of money is missing. This has happened several times before. This time Driscoll announces that he has had...
(The entire section is 686 words.)