Kidnapped is a story of David Balfour, a young man of the Lowlands, the southern part of Scotland. David's father, Alexander Balfour, has recently died, and his mother died some time before, so he is now an orphan. Since he is now seventeen years old, he has decided it is time to go and seek his fortune. Before he leaves for the city of Edinburgh, he meets with his guardian, Mr. Campbell. Campbell reveals that David has an uncle, Ebenezer Balfour, of the House of Shaws—meaning that David is, to his surprise, from a wealthy family. David decides to go to Cramond, where his uncle lives, and meet his wealthy relatives.
David walks two days to Edinburgh, and soon finds his way to Cramond. As he begins to ask about the House of Shaws, he finds it is an unpopular place. His Uncle Ebenezer seems particularly ill regarded by the community, and is in fact the only occupant of the house. Nevertheless, David continues on to the House of Shaws. Ebenezer gives him a cold welcome, and seems very interested in the death of David's father. Ebenezer treats David badly, almost as if David were a thief, but he wins some of David's respect by giving the lad nearly forty pounds. But when Ebenezer nearly sends David to his death in the tower adjacent to the house, David demands to know why his uncle hates him and, if he does, why he wants him to stay at the House of Shaws.
A cabin boy, Ransome, arrives at the House of Shaws. He has been sent by Captain Hoseason of the Covenant, a ship that deals with some of Ebenezer's financial ventures. Hoseason has requested to see Ebenezer, so the old man decides to go to the port of Queensferry with Ransome and David. David is interested in seeing the ships at the port, so he willingly goes along. At first, Hoseason seems very pleasant. He even warns David that Ebenezer means mischief toward him. Hoseason then asks to speak to David on the boat, and David agrees, being interested in seeing more of the boat. Once he is on, however, the boat swiftly departs, and as he screams at the dock for help, the sailors knock David unconscious.