A trapper and his young son get pulled into the American revolution early as unwilling participants and remain involved through to the end.
New York trapper Tom Dobb becomes an unwilling participant in the American Revolution after his young son Ned is conscripted into the British Army as a drummer by the villainous Sergeant Major Peasy. Tom attempts to find his son, and eventually becomes convinced that he must take a stand and fight for the freedom of the Colonies. He crosses path with the aristocratic rebel Daisy McConnahay who gets involved in the support of the American troops. As Tom undergoes his change of heart, the events of the war unfold in large-scale grandeur.
- Opening scene is a yelling, rioting mob in a heavy rain shower in New York City. They are tearing down a statue of the King of England. Tom Dobb and his young son Ned are sailing into the harbor in a small boat, carrying furs. An expensive carriage can barely get through the crowds. Inside the carriage are a wealthy mother, Mrs. McConnahay, and her daughters, who are young women. A man tosses several pages of paper into the carriage window shouting, "The Declaration of Independence!" One of the daughters, Daisy, begins to read it, but her angry mother takes it away and wads it up, telling Daisy to ignore the "scum" in the streets.
As Tom pulls his boat up to the dock, the mob, including Daisy, who has joined them, demand he give them the boat and cargo. Tom and Ned resist, but the mob storms aboard, seizing the boat and furs. He is given a 'note' for payment for the boat, but now he and his son are homeless and without money or any possessions.
As Tom goes into a big hall full of yelling, angry men to find out about his boat, he tells Ned to wait outside. Inside, a man on a balcony tells the crowd that all the money has gone to war, but the crowd is furious, all of them waving notes for their seized possessions. The man tells them that Mr. McConnahay, a wealthy man standing beside him, will pay them back with gold after the British are defeated. . When Tom goes back outside, he discovers that his son has signed up with the United States Continental Army as a drummer in exchange for five shillings and a promise of land at the end of the war. Tom argues with the recruiter, offering the money back and begging him not to take his son, who is the last of his family, but the recruiters will not let Ned out of military service, so Tom is forced to join the Army as well, to stay with his son and protect him. Tom and Ned get their guns and provisions and are immediately loaded on one of many boats full of soldiers. None of them wear uniforms, but just wear their own clothes. The crowd on the dock wave them off, cheering and yelling, "Liberty!"
Daisy volunteers for the Patriots' cause by bringing supplies to a battlefield medical tent, and she is needed to assist a surgeon cutting off a woman's leg with a saw, while the woman screams. All around the tents are vast fields of yellow flowering weeds. Daisy walks through the tall weeds, looking for soldiers to feed. She finds Tom and Ned lying in the fields, gives them food, and draws close to Tom as she asks him what the battle was like. Tom tells her that the battle was beneath the Brooklyn Heights, that they never saw the enemy, but were torn apart by their cannons and chain shot and they lost the battle. Daisy cries because she is so moved emotionally that Tom would fight for the cause of freedom. At least half a dozen men on horses gallop up suddenly, yelling for all the men lying in the fields to get up and fall into rank, and the scene closes showing long lines of men marching out as several women watch.
Back home in New York, Daisy overhears a business meeting her father, Mr. Mconnahay, is having with several men. She hears him say that he is happy the Continentals lost the battle because soon the British army will occupy New York and his company will make a lot of money by selling them food including spoiled goods. Daisy demands that her father give some food to the Rebels. He admonishes her about her youthful idealism, and tells her it doesn't matter who wins, as long as he and their family are on the right side. He tells her he'll give 50 barrels of food to the Rebels, but after she leaves, he tells his clerk to revise the number down to 10.
Next scene shows Tom and Ned, along with the Continental Army, preparing for battle with the Red Coats. They are all getting behind cover to hide, such as trees, rocks, and brush, wearing brown and tan clothing. The British meanwhile march toward them in straight lines, right out in the open, in the old fashioned European style, and they have far more numbers than the Continentals. Their uniforms are clean and new, and their equipment is obviously superior to that of the Continentals. Drummer boys and flutists play as they march. As the British march toward them, the Rebels open fire, shooting down many, but the British never break ranks. Finally they stop marching and shoot in unison. The Americans are badly massacred and retreat. Survivors of the barrage fall back to a second line of defense, then flee as the British chase them with bayonets and lances. Tom engages with British major Peasy who is using a lance and disarms Tom from his rifle and bayonet and later from an American his son has rescued. Still moving away from the battlefield afterward, the Continental troops are scattered, and Tom tells Ned they are going to quit the Army and go back to New York where he can work in the rope factory.
As predicted by Mr. McConnahay, the British do indeed occupy New York and scenes show several hundred British troops marching in the streets as hundreds more citizens watch them. Officers make speeches in the public square, and Mr. McConnahay is up on the stage with British generals and officers. Two of his daughters, heavily layered in make-up, in the style of European aristocracy, are excited about their chances of meeting eligible British officers. Daisy meanwhile, without make-up and dressed in black, as if mourning, spots Tom in the crowd and talks to him. Crying, she accuses him of cowardice for running away, even though he explains that the whole Army ran away. Tom then leaves her, taking his son Ned to an encampment of homeless people under a wooden walkway to seek shelter.
Daisy returns home, to the wealthy mansion of her parents, where a party is being planned by her mother, Mrs. McConnahay for two single British officers that will be housed with them. Daisy wants no part of it, but her mother orders her to attend. The party is a very fancy affair, with white make-up and gigantic powder wigs with sculptures of castles and sailing ships in them. The women wear fancy dresses and the British officers wear dress uniforms as they sip drinks. One of the girls plays harpsichord. Another daughter flirts with a British officer. Daisy begins to flirt with the same officer until suddenly stabbing him in the groin with a giant pin from her wig. The officer screams, calls her and her sisters "bloody, Yankee bitches!". The party is ruined and ends abruptly. Daisy goes to her bedroom, screams and throws a fit, kicking her furniture and tearing the room apart, until her mother comes in and tells her she has shamed her family, and that now she must choose between her family and the rebel Patriots.
Running with a gang of youths called the Mohawks, who commit small crimes and plan to blow up a bomb to kill British soldiers in town, Ned steals a live pig, but it squirms out of his grasp and gets away. Ned finds Tom at his job in the rope factory, and Tom tells Ned that he must not run with the Mohawks or he could get killed by the British. At that moment, British soldiers come into the factory and pick a couple of men, including Tom, making them run in place. They explain they are organizing a fox hunt, but can find no foxes, so Tom and another man must run in the place of the fox dragging a lure. Ned hates seeing his father jump at the command of the soldiers, effectively calls him a coward, and leaves to join up with his gang.
The hunt begins with blowing horns and many hunting dogs barking. Tom and the other man, a big man, are tied by the wrists to a heavy effigy of George Washington, made of rope and doused with scent. Given a sizable head start, they are forced to drag the effigy through wilderness while a group of British officers and civilians chase them on horseback. Tom and the big man argue and separate, Tom carrying the heavy effigy over his shoulder. First the dogs hunt down the big man and maul him. Then the dogs are redirected to run down Tom, and they attack the effigy. A British officer cuts the rope to the effigy from Tom's wrist, and they let him go, but Tom is out of breath, traumatized, and physically exhausted as they ride away.
British Sergeant Major Peasy comforts a young drummer boy who is about nine or ten years old, at a battlefield burial of some drummer boys. To replace his lost drummer boys, Peasy goes to a prison in New York where he finds Ned and Ned's friend Merle who were drummers for the Americans and Merle was captured in the earlier battle. They are practicing drumming and Peasy forces them, along with others, to serve in the British Army. Daisy sees them leaving prison and followed by her black servant girl, Cuffy, she searches out Tom to tell him of the capture. Even though he is still exhausted from the 'fox hunt,' Tom gets himself up and immediately steals a boat to chase after the departing British Army to rescue his son.
The British Army is encamped at night with tents and campfires, when an officer orders Peasy to bring him some boys to choose one of them to allegedly shine his boots. Among others, Peasy brings Ned and Merle into the officer's tent, and as the boys stand in line, the officer stops at Ned to touch his face, and Ned bites his hand. The officer orders Ned to be tied to a cannon and have the soles of his feet whipped. Tom catches up with the British Army at nightfall, and in the midst of a rain storm, sneaks into the encampment and finds his son. He cuts Ned loose and, because the boy is unable to walk on his bloody feet. Tom carries Ned out of the camp and Merle escapes with them using the British pass he was given for the fox hunt. Peasy discovers that the boys are missing in the morning and promises a high quality knife to two Iroquois scouts if they bring back the prisoners. Peasy questions another drummer boy who confesses he didn't report the escape because he thought Peasy liked Ned more than him. Tom carries Ned into the wilderness, followed by Merle and chased by the two Iroquois. The Iroquois spot them and get ahead of them and wreck Tom's boat. Tom and the boys see the Iroquois wrecking the boat and Merle trips over something on the trail and it falls down the cliff into the water and the Iroquois spot them, Tom and the boys lie in wait as the natives approach, and Tom jumps out from hiding with a knife and kills the first and then, with some struggle, manages to kill the second Iroquois.
No sooner is the fight over than Tom and the boys see three more natives standing in the distance watching them. The natives approach as Tom and the boys stand their ground, as it becomes clear that these natives don't want to fight them. One of the natives explains that they are Huron and "He who kills my enemy is my friend" and the natives help Tom, Ned, and Merle by taking them to their village and giving them food and shelter, and by treating Ned's severely wounded feet. Ned screams as his feet are cauterized by the natives and Tom holds him in his arms. Tom and Ned stay with the Hurons for six months while Ned's feet heal. Then they come down from the mountains "to join the fight".
In Valley Forge, Daisy drives a horse drawn wagon load of supplies into the camp flying an American flag. Snow falls as she discovers that conditions are harsh and men are wounded and dying, and she is told that she will need to evacuate some dying men to a hospital. She meets up by chance with Ned, and she sees that he has grown. He tells her that he and Tom are scouts now, and he leads her to their tent, where he is making bullets with his friend, Ongwata, one of the natives who helped him and his son in the wilderness. Happy to see Daisy, Tom offers her food and they visit together as Ongwata leaves to give them privacy. She tells Tom that she and Cuffy, her servant, had fled New York to Philadelphia, where they joined the Rebels, smuggling supplies, and that she had learned how to sail. They dream of sailing away together. Ned has become friends with Bella, the daughter of a gunner in the Valley Forge fort. Ned's conversation with her reveals that he has a new found respect for his father's courage and fighting abilities, and the two have become closer as they have fought together as comrades in arms. Tom and Daisy confess their love to each other as she drives her wagon load of wounded soldiers out of the fort, but as she pulls away in the distance, Tom sees British cavalry charge the wagons and he chases them by foot helplessly. The British officer Daisy had stabbed is leading the Calvary and swings his sword at Daisy. Tom cannot tell if she is wounded or dead but he wagon is captured and led away by the British.
The Americans win the next battle and while on leave in Philadelphia, Tom goes into a public building where records are kept of the dead and wounded, looking for the name of Daisy McConnahay. He needs help from a woman there because he cannot read. Daisy's name is not in the records however, which gives Tom hope that she may still be alive. Meanwhile, Ned and Bella wander the building and meet a Harvard student helping Congress to clean up buildings wrecked by British soldiers. The student explains that the term 'revolution' was coined by Mr. Jefferson for their political movement because the world was going through a new turn in history, like the moon revolving the Earth. People are generally in a festive mood, and the soldiers are singing because the Continental Army has been fairing well. The American soldiers are now much better equipped with real uniforms and boots in good condition. Ned and Bella get married outdoors, just before they march off again with the Army.
Three years later, the story picks up in the middle of the battle of Yorktown. Cannons are firing, and the fighting is fierce and violent. From within a fortress, father and son fight together, taking pot shots at good British targets, until Ned spots British officer Peasy, who whipped Ned's feet while he had been captive. Tom and Ned watch as Peasy and leads a small group towards the beach towards the American spotter and signaler and they decide to stop Peasy. They run together with Ongwata and another Huron down to the beach where they find Peasy and his companions. Hiding behind cover, the Americans shoot the two British soldiers and two Iroquois scouts. Peasy is wounded but his companion, the former drummer boy, is badly wounded and lying in Peasy's arms. Ned aims his rifle to kill Peasy, but decides not to, and the Tom and his men take the fallen enemy's weapons and go back to the fort. Peasy begins dragging his wounded comrade back towards the British Army.
There is a somber moment while a woman sings a sad song after the battle of Yorktown. The Americans are victorious, but dead and wounded lie everywhere, and survivors stand listening. Then, as the song fades into silence, there is a dramatic cut from the silent battlefield to the cheering, crowded streets of New York, where a merry band is playing, countless Americans are waving flags, singing, dancing, and celebrating. Tom cashes in his note for his boat and gets paid only $40, far less than the $70 he had been promised by the American government. He asks what happened to the 150 acres of land he had been promised to join the the Army, and the American soldier paying him tells him the land is all gone due to the war debt, and if Tom is unhappy then he should complain to Congress. Tom asserts his freedom to complain to anyone he wants. Leaving the soldier, Tom meets up with Ned and the rest of their party down the street and gives him the $40 as they say goodbye. Ned is heading upriver with Bella, who is pregnant, to start a farm and a family. Merle and Bella's father go with them, along with their Huron friends. Tom stays in New York, where he feels he will have a better chance to earn a living and he still wants to search for Daisy..
After watching Ned and the rest leave, Tom spots Cuffy, Daisy's servant, in the crowds of New York, where people are still singing, dancing, and celebrating everywhere, literally in the streets. He loses her in the crowd as she is moving quickly. He passes people watching a bare knuckle boxing match, but keeps searching until he eventually sees Daisy, who is kneeling, smiling, talking with several small children. She looks up, sees Tom, and they embrace as the camera pulls back to show the vast numbers of people celebrating and dancing in the city streets.