Edward Owen, an orphan taken from school to Birmingham by historical ironmonger John Wilkinson, resists his benefactor's bullying, unscrupulous practices despite the attraction of an assured income and the company of the Birmingham Lunatic Society (they meet on the night of the full moon), which includes Dr. Joseph Priestley (Wilkinson's brother-in-law), James Watt, and other scientific luminaries. In seeking George Inman, a recently kidnapped friend, Ned is himself captured and impressed and joins George and Wilkinson's right-hand man Nahum (or ""Hudibras, "" because he continually quotes from the poem) on a ship bound for St. Eustatia. Washington's weapon warehouse for the Colonies. ""Blackamoors"" also on board mutiny and dispose of all the whites except Ned, George and Nahum, but the mutineers are in turn taken over by passing Americans and sailed to St. Eustatia. The two boys agree to part--still friends--as their political ideologies differ, and Ned helps the rebels by explaining how to use Wilkinson's new cannon, enabling them to overcome a British ship. Characterization is one-dimensional and sometimes heavy-handed and the adventures are decidedly engineered but there are some credible discussions of slavery.