The Chaneysville Incident begins with the main character, John Washington, a history professor in his thirties, receiving a phone call from his mother informing him that his father surrogate, Old Jack Crawley, is sick and is asking for him. Old Jack was one of the two best friends of John’s father, Moses Washington. Moses had died while John was still a child. One of his last conversations with Old Jack was a request that he look after his oldest son, John. At the beginning of the novel, John had gone away to college on a scholarship and gone on to become a history professor. John had not returned to his hometown since his younger brother’s funeral a decade or so earlier. He comes back, only to nurse Old Jack until he dies, and then bury him. Though they spend just one day and night talking, Old Jack tells John a story that will be a key to understanding what really happened to his father one day near Chaneysville, Pennsylvania.