Chapter 1: I Set Off Upon My Journey to the House of Shaws

The first chapter introduces David Balfour, the hero of the novel. David is a young boy of seventeen who has grown up in the town of Essendean, in the Lowlands of Scotland. David's father has recently died, leaving David an orphan, since his mother died some time ago. David is now preparing to leave Essendean to seek his fortunes elsewhere in the world. He meets Mr. Campbell, the minister of Essendean, and a good friend to David and his late father. Mr. Campbell reveals the father's dying wishes to David. He wants David to take a letter to the House of Shaws in Cramond, near Edinburgh, which is where the father comes from. This means that David is, in fact, from a wealthy family, though he has grown up in poverty. David is to take the letter to Ebenezer Balfour, his uncle. Campbell then gives David four things: first, the little money left over from his father's estate; a Bible; a shilling; and a recipe for a healing ointment.

Chapter 2: I Come to My Journey's End

David walks two days toward Edinburgh. It is his first time in the city, and he is taken aback by the sight. He is especially interested in the ships he sees in the harbor. But he continues westward past Edinburgh, toward Cramond, where the House of Shaws is situated. He sees a troop of British soldiers (Redcoats) and is pleased by it.

Once he reaches Cramond, David begins asking for the House of Shaws, and is meant by some strange looks. He continues on, and finally asks someone about the House without revealing his connection to it. He discovers that the house seems to have little respect in the countryside, especially Ebenezer himself. David becomes disillusioned with the prospect of the House of Shaws, and suspects that his uncle is a mean old man. He almost turns back, but decides to press on. He comes upon a woman who points the House of Shaws out to him: a huge, decrepit old house that contrasts sharply with the beautiful countryside. As he stands there, the woman curses the house and its sole occupant.

Feeling very disappointed, David goes down to the house and knocks. He gets no answer, and must resort to pounding on the door to finally get some attention. An old man pops out of the window, armed with a gun, and demands to know David's business. David replies that he has a letter for Ebenezer, and gives his name. The man seems most interested in the fact that David's father is dead.

Chapter 3: I Make Acquaintance of My Uncle

The old man allows David into the house, which is bare and just as run-down as the outside. The old man has many locks upon the door, and David thinks he is a servant. He is shocked to learn that the old man is, in fact, his uncle. The uncle asks whether he has read the letter he has brought, and David confesses that he hasn't. The uncle then asks whether he expects something, and David replies that he expects nothing, though he had hoped he might have wealthy relatives that would help him in life. David quickly becomes annoyed and angry with his ornery, suspicious uncle.

Ebenezer sends David to bed in a completely pitch-dark room. The next day, he badgers David with questions while being mildly hospitable. David tells him about Mr. Campbell, and Ebenezer threatens to throw him out if he sends word to anyone about the poverty of the House of Shaws. David then makes to leave, and Ebenezer tries to be friendly again. But when Ebenezer decides to go out, he tells David that he'll have to lock him out. David tells him that if the uncle locks him out, he'll never return, which distresses Ebenezer. The uncle decides not to leave.