Chains (novel)

Chains is the first novel in the Seeds of America trilogy, a series of historical novels that follows the story of thirteen- year- old Isabel, a Black American slave fighting for her and her younger sister's (Ruth) freedom while the Revolutionary War is occurring. The story sets in New York in the years 1776 to 1777, when slavery was legal and common in the colonies.

AuthorLaurie Halse Anderson
Cover artistChristopher Silas Neal (illustrator)
Lizzy Bromley & Jessica Handelman (design)
CountryUnited States
SeriesSeeds of America
GenreHistorical fiction
PublishedOctober 2008 Simon & Schuster, Atheneum
Media typeHardcover & Paperback
Followed byForge (2010) and Ashes (2016) 

Though the novel is fictional, the events in the story are actual events that occurred back then in the colonies. Some examples of these events are the failed plan of George Washington's assassination followed by the hanging of one of the conspirators, the capture of Fort Washington, and the popular pamphlet Common Sense by Thomas Paine.

The novel contains 45 chapters numbered in Roman Numerals with the dates of the events in the chapter appearing beneath the chapter number. Under the dates, Anderson includes quotes from important historic documents such as private letters, newspapers, the Common Sense pamphlet, the Declaration of Independence of the United States, and even spoken opinions from various country leaders. This opening of each chapter gives a perspective of what Isabel might face in the chapter or something relating to the events of the chapter.

Plot introduction

Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth were supposed to be released from slavery as promised by their owner, Miss Mary Finch's will when she dies but unfortunately they landed in the hands of Miss Mary's nephew, Robert Finch, who claimed them as his property with the reason that there was no actual will in physical form. He then sold them to a Loyalist couple who brings them to New York away from their previous hometown, Newport, Rhode Island. Isabel, determined to gain her and her sister's liberty, follows the advice of a servant boy named Curzon, who tells her to spy on her master and other Loyalists for any suspicious plans that could be reported back to the Patriots to use against the Loyalists.



Protagonist and narrator of the novel, she is always striving her best to do anything she can do to get her and her sister out of slavery and back to Rhode Island, where they belong. Though at a very young age—thirteen-years-old—she has a very tough character and is devoted to anything she does. Her cleverness helps her in her various tasks on spying the Loyalists and planning her escape. She is very nurturing towards her younger sister Ruth, knowing that she is the only person who can truly take care of her. She befriends a slave boy named Curzon who works for a Patriot, to whom she is a good friend he can always trust, which is shown when she desperately tried to deliver leftover food to Curzon, who is in prison; considering she knows the consequences of helping a Patriot when she herself is working for a Loyalist. She also shows a brave spirit when she stands up to Mrs. Lockton and demand the information on the whereabouts of Ruth, who Lockton said she has sold but in truth kept Ruth in hiding away from Isabel to weaken her. This action results in her being branded with I for insolence on her right cheek as a punishment for standing up to her master, but towards the end of the novel she sees this mark standing for her name Isabel, and is proud to have everyone know her name. On the night of the Queens Ball she makes her move on her way to freedom, bringing Curzon along with her.


Isabel's five-year-old sister and also a slave. Ruth, who is suffering from epilepsy, often encounters fits from this sickness. She does not talk very often and does what she is told without question, which becomes the more desirable slave to Mrs. Lockton and she would be kept in Mrs. Lockton's chamber for hours to be her personal maid. As a young child, she is sometimes stubborn, for example she asks for her baby doll every night before going to bed even though she knows that Mr. Robert Finch has taken away all their belongings. Her innocent and vulnerable nature makes her very dependent on Isabel.

The Locktons

Elihu Lockton

A Loyalist who is very self-centered and untrustworthy. His commitment to being a Loyalist is shown by his various attempts to get the rebels to join the British side; one of the attempts was to bribe them and hiding the money in his wife's linen chest to discourage suspicion. This attempt, however, was discovered thanks to Isabel's report on her spying tasks. He also had a plan to assassinate President George Washington along with a group of Loyalists; unfortunately, their plan was also discovered by Isabel. At home, he is very abusive towards his wife, and he demands to be obeyed by everybody in the house.

Anne Lockton

Wife of Elihu Lockton, she is also a Loyalist though not as strongly committed as Elihu. Very abusive towards Isabel, both physically and mentally, she does not call her by name and instead calls her Sal; in return demanding Isabel refers to her as Madam. Her harsh and brutal character is shown in her branding Isabel as a punishment for standing up to her and running away afterward. She strongly dislikes Isabel, as opposed to her liking Ruth because she is considered easier to order around. She is very impatient and she always blames Isabel for accidents she encounters, also often picking on the simplest mistakes such as not placing her dog statue in the right position after being dusted. When her husband's aunt falls sick, she hopes that her condition will cause her to die soon. Whenever Lady Seymour's condition improves, Ms. Lockton seems to be saddened.

Miss Mary Finch

The previous owner of Isabel and Ruth before she died and they were sold to the Locktons. She promised Isabel that she and her sister would be free when she dies, as a part of her will. Isabel views her as one of the nicer slave owners, describing her as being polite to her slaves by saying please and thank you when assigning tasks. Along with those acts, She taught Isabel to read and write.

Robert Finch

Miss Finch's nephew and only relative. He denies Miss Mary's will by saying that it is verbal and not physically extant thus making it non-legal and claims that the death of Miss Mary would mean Isabel and Ruth belongs to him. He then sells the girls to the Locktons and takes away all of the girls' only belongings, including Ruth's favorite baby doll.


A slave of Mr. Bellingham, a Patriot, he helps Isabel to achieve her wish for freedom by telling her to become a spy on the Locktons and try to find out any personal information that is sensitive to the political being, and report back. While other slaves join the Patriot army to be free from slavery, Curzon says that he is simply a loyal American fighting for the independence of his country; he is even brave enough to risk life imprisoned as long as he is fighting for America's liberty. He is a very good and loyal friend to Isabel, calling her Country, and he is always helping her in her attempts to seek the liberation of her and her sister.

James Bellingham

He is a strong-willed American Patriot who distrusts Elihu Lockton. His suspicious nature is shown towards Elihu, which is shown in the mid-beginning of the book where he demands that Anne Lockton's linen closet shall be inspected as they arrive in the docks of New York. He trusts Curzon though he is a slave, which is considered very odd at the time.

Lady Seymour

Elihu Lockton's aunt, she is very kind to slaves, unlike the rest of the people of the society. She acquaints Isabel and welcomes her dearly, and she always helps Isabel whenever she needs it. When Isabel came to her house to pass the information that Mr. Lockton had been arrested and that Madam is in need of his aunt, she tells Isabel to come in the house and even serves her milk and cookies to nourish herself; something nobody at the time would do to slaves. She also took care of Isabel while in recovery right after getting branded, which in return was paid by Isabel helping her escape from the burning buildings and save her life.


Lady Seymour's servant who only speaks Dutch and does not show interest in learning English. She treated Isabel kindly when she was branded with a hot iron with the letter I for insolence.


She is a maid in the Lockton house, and she often helps Isabel whenever she is having tough times due to Mrs. Lockton's orders and actions. She reminds Isabel to do what Mrs. Lockton says, and she tells Isabel what and what not to do in the Lockton house. Becky also tries her best to get Isabel and Ruth out of situations where they would possibly get punished. She told Isabel about a slave who worked for the Locktons a couple of years earlier who got beaten severely for talking back to Madam, trying to get Isabel to stay cautious in her actions and hold her fists down.


He is an elder African-American slave who is in the line of the distribution of water from the Tea Water Pump. He seems to know much about the gossip of the war, which is passed around every morning when slaves come to the pump to obtain water for the day. His real name is not revealed, but most slaves refer to him as "Grandfather", because he is kind to everyone.

Colonel Regan

A colonel who works for Mr. Bellingham, he is Isabel's only hope to get her and her sister back to Rhode Islands. He retrieves information and evidence in the form of a list of names of the plan to assassinate General George Washington from Isabel, who secretly spied on Mr. Lockton during one of his meetings. He promised to help Isabel in return for the information, but he, later on, dismisses her when she begged for help when she ran away from Madam.

Captain Morse

Leader of the war prisoners of Fort Washington, he asks Isabel to be his messenger and bring messages from other military officers. He treats Isabel kindly and allows her to bring in food for Curzon, who was a prisoner in there. Captain Morse often takes some food from the basket that Isabel brings along.

Captain Farrar

A military officer who Isabel goes to in the midst of her task of being Captain Morse's personal messenger. He gives a note to Isabel which was demanded by Mrs. Lockton when she discovers that Isabel has been working for the rebels. Isabel surprisingly throws away the note in the hearth so that Mrs. Lockton would not be able to obtain the information in the note.

Pastor Weeks

A pastor that fulfills Isabel's parents funeral. He also helps Isabel with trying to get to a safe place, and where she would be best happy, even though she would still be a slave.

Old Ben

Pastor Week's slave who pulled the wagon carrying a pine coffin containing Miss Mary Finch's body at the beginning of the story.


Isabel and Ruth's mother who died when they were young from pox. Isabel sneaks her seeds when she gets sold to the Locktons.



  • Anderson, Laurie Halse (2008). Chains. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4169-0586-8.


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  4. "The Pennsylvania Center for the Book". The Pennsylvania State University. Archived from the original on 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  5. "Teacher's Choices 2009" (PDF). International Literacy Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-28. Retrieved 2015-02-18.
  6. "Booklist Online". Booklist Publications. Retrieved 2015-02-18.
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  • Chains (novel)
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