Daniel and Mary Bell sue for their freedom and then lead one of the largest escape attempts in American history. About to be separated, they are forced to make a terrifying choice.
Forty-year-old Daniel Bell, a blacksmith at the Washington Navy Yard, launches a delicate and potentially dangerous bid to free his wife Mary and their six children.
In the summer of 1835, a strike at the Navy Yard fuels a citywide race riot. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Francis Scott Key, sets out to prosecute abolitionist editor Reuben Crandall for libelous sedition and the intent to incite a slave revolt. Freedom hangs in the balance.
In the midst of this political turmoil, Daniel Bell convinces Mary's dying slaveholder, Robert Armstead, to emancipate Mary and the children. Two days later, Armstead dies, and his widow Susan Armstead refuses to honor the Bells' freedom.
She arranges to have Daniel Bell secretly sold. Slave traders infiltrate the Navy Yard, capture an unsuspecting Bell on the shop floor, and drag him in chains to the slave pen at the infamous Yellow House.
Daniel fights a desperate and expensive battle in court to win his own freedom and protect his family from Susan Armstead. When Mary and the children's freedom suits fail in the courts, the Bells initiate the largest attempted slave escape in American history, setting off for freedom on a schooner called The Pearl.