The first volume concerns Richard Carvel's boyhood and schooldays. Orphaned at an early age, Richard is raised by his grandfather, Lionel Carvel of Carvel Hall, a wealthy loyalist respected by all sections of the community. Richard describes their way of life, his growing love for his neighbor, Dorothy Manners, and the hostility of his uncle, Grafton Carvel. Richard witnesses a demonstration against a tax collector in Annapolis as a result of the Stamp Act 1765 and grieves his grandfather by his adoption of revolutionary political views.
Mr Allen, Richard's new tutor, tricks him into deceiving his ailing grandfather. Richard is tormented by the coquettishness of Dorothy. At Richard's eighteenth birthday party, he learns that she is to go to England.