The year is 1824. Reverend Robert Wilson, third president of Ohio University, brings John Newton Templeton, a young ex-slave, to Ohio University to be the first man of color to attend the college. Although Ohio is a free state, slavery is still the law of the land in much of the country, so upon his arrival, Templeton is unable to be housed with the other students. Among his classmates are "the gentleman from North Carolina, the gentleman from Virginia and the two gentlemen from Kentucky." Jane Wilson pointedly asked her husband, "You expect these men to share a room with a black man who is not washing their clothes and serving them dinner?" Much to Jane's consternation, Wilson's solution to the problem is to board Templeton in their home and have him work as a "student servant" while attending classes. Though he excels in his studies, Templeton is frustrated with not being housed with the other men. Wilson reveals that he believes Templeton to be different than most men. He believes Templeton has a divine calling: he has been chosen to lead free blacks in a free and sovereign nation of their own-a new colony called Liberia. Eager to please and convinced he has been born to fulfill some special calling, Templeton accepts Wilson's word as gospel. But Jane Wilson is suspicious of her husband's motives and jealous of the opportunity for higher education afforded Templeton, especially since she, as a woman, is not allowed the same privileges as an ex-slave. She goads Templeton at every turn, eventually pushing him to carefully examine why he was chosen to be the "first." As graduation nears, Templeton is offered the appointment of governor of Liberia. Caught between the expectations of Wilson, the expectations of Wilson's wife Jane, and the dawning realization of what founding a colony of free blacks in Africa would mean to blacks in America, Templeton finally learns what it really means to be a free man of color. Finally, his choices and achievements are ultimately quite different than anyone expected.