Peter Farrow is a slave. He's grown up on Dover Plantation, South Carolina where he does small jobs. When he's not working, Peter likes to play with the other slave's children, or go fishing with the master's daughter, Emily. Sometimes, he even gets to sit in on Emily's school lessons and learn to read.
But Peter is almost twelve, and it's time for him to learn a trade. The master has agreed for Peter to apprentice with Samuel, the plantation's carpenter. Peter is happy he won't have to fetch and carry anymore, or work in the dairy, churning butter.
Peter's mother decides it's time he learns the family's secret--the Secret Quilt Code. She and her husband have been active in the Underground Railroad and use quilts to signal to runaway slaves. When traveling to other plantations doing work for the master, Peter's father transports runaways in his wagon's false bottom. Until now, Peter has been too young to keep a secret of this magnitude.
But John, the cruel overseer, has other plans for Peter. He wants Peter out in the fields, doing the backbreaking work of a grownup slave, where Peter is close enough to feel his whip. So when Peter comes between Samuel and the overseer's whip, Peter makes a terrible enemy.
Overseer John alerts the master about Emily spending too much time with Peter. When they are caught together multiple times, the master decides to sell Peter down south.
Distraught, Peter's mother and father decide to "transport" him away from Dover Plantation before he can be sold. Using the secret quilt codes, other runaways join Peter's family as they make their way on the Underground Railroad.