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In the mid-Eighteenth century, young Matt Howard, the son of a poor backwoods family, has the course of his life altered when he meets the youthful Tom Jefferson. Years later, Matt comes to Williamsburg as an unsophisticated surveyor and Tom arranges for him to work for the snobbish and aristocratic Peyton family. When the Peytons discover Matt's rustic origins, he is fired, but returns to woo and win Jane Peyton, who has hopes of refining Matt's untutored ways. To the horror of Jane's family, especially her brother Fleetwood, the couple are married and move to the wilderness of the Shenendoah Valley. From their backwoods cabin, a plantation and a family grow, but when Matt's first child, whom they name Peyton is born crippled, Matt is unable to accept the boy because his deformity reminds him of Fleetwood, who is also crippled. As Matt's popularity in the country grows, Tom encourages him to stand for election in the House of Burgess, and the newly elected representative from the back country becomes deeply enmeshed in politics. When hostilities erupt between the Colonies and Britain, Matt joins the army even though Jane begs him to remain with his family. Matt's decision, along with his neglect of Peyton, strikes the final blow to their marriage which became increasingly strained over the years. As Matt goes off to war, Jane takes her family and returns to Fleetwood's house, but after an argument with their Tory uncle, the boys leave to join their father in the revolutionary movement. When Peyton risks his own life for the sake of equality, Matt finally comes to understand and respect his son, and the Howard family is at last reconciled.