Chapter I

This is to be a different kind of History, the narrator informs us, one that chooses carefully where to devote its "Pains" and "Paper." The narrator invokes the simile of a lottery, declaring that he will focus on the prizes drawn, not on the blanks. The narrator dubs himself "the Founder of a new Province of Writing" and states that this entitles him to operate by his own laws, which readers will have to respect. The narrator hopes that the Reader will recognize his authority, but he promises not be a tyrant nor to make the readers his slaves.

Chapter II

Eight months after Miss Bridget and Captain Blifil's wedding, Miss Bridget gives birth to a boy. Even though Mr. Allworthy relishes the fact that his sister has given birth to an heir, it does not diminish his love for the foundling, whom he has named Thomas after himself, and for whom he has taken on the role of godfather. Allworthy visits the baby Tom in his nursery at least once a day. Allworthy tells Bridget that her son will be brought up with Tom, and after some resistance, she finally agrees. The Captain voices more opposition than his wife by quoting scripture about the unworthy status of children born out of wedlock. Allworthy counters with his own set of quotations, arguing that children are born innocent and should not have to bear their parents' guilt. The truth is that the Captain envies Allworthy's attentions to Tom. Miss Bridget, while verbally abusing Allworthy and Tom behind their backs, has a tongue of honey in public. Mrs. Deborah, the narrator concludes, has discovered Tom's rascal of a father.

Chapter III

The narrator explains the history of Tom's mother, Jenny Jones, and the schoolmaster, Mr. Partridge. Although Partridge and his shrew of a wife have been married for nine years, they have no children. The narrator confides that the reason for this is that "Children are rightly called the Pledges of Love; and [Partridge] … had given [his wife] no such Pledges…" Terrified that her husband will be less abstinent with other women, Mrs. Partridge handpicks her maidservants, choosing the least attractive women. Jenny Jones is one such maidservants.

Jenny, however, is allowed to set aside her housework in order to pursue her studies with Mr. Partridge. One day, about four years after Jenny has arrived, Mrs. Partridge strolls past her husband's study and notices Jenny suddenly rise up from her reading. Mrs. Partridge interprets this as evidence that Jenny and her husband are having an affair. She believes that their guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt when, at dinner, she witnesses Jenny smiling when Partridge asks her to "give him some drink" in Latin. Mrs. Partridge glares at Jenny, who blushes. Taking this blush as even further corroboration, Mrs. Partridge grabs a knife and threatens Jenny and her husband. Jenny escapes by running from the room, while Partridge simply sits and trembles. That night Mrs. Partridge orders Jenny to leave her house. Jenny protests her innocence, but Partridge does not defend her. Instead, he wins back his wife's favor by making love to her. Partridge is secretly happy that Jenny has been dismissed, since the girl was beginning to exceed his intellectual heights.

Chapter IV

Mrs. Partridge, once frigid, now lavishes her husband with affection. However, the narrator warns, this is the calm before the storm, for the women in the parish now report that Jenny has given birth to a second bastard. Since it is less than nine months since Mrs. Partridge ousted Jenny, Mrs. Partridge assumes that Mr. Partridge must also be the father of this child. Tearing home, Mrs. Partridge attacks her husband, scratching him into a bloody mess. He attempts to restrain her, but she fights so furiously that her cap falls off, and the "stays" at the front of her dress split open, leaving her breasts exposed. Mad with terror, Mr. Partridge runs into the street imploring his neighbors to help his wife. A gaggle of women attend to him. Mrs. Partridge slanders her husband, accusing him of wrenching off her cap and stays, pulling hair from her head, and beating her. Mr. Partridge, his face scarred from his wife's nails, stands stunned and speechless. The parish women, interpreting this silence as guilt, scream at his insolence.

Chapter V

Rumors begin to fly around the Little Baddington parish that Partridge has beaten his wife. Different reasons are given for Partridge's behavior: some report that he was having an affair, while others believe that Mrs. Partridge is the guilty party. Mrs. Wilkins scavenges for information that might reduce Allworthy's affection for Tom in an effort to please the Captain. When she hears that Partridge is Tom's father, she passes the news on to Captain Blifil. Instead of rewarding Mrs. Wilkins, however, the Captain, who does not want to ally himself with a servant for fear of being blackmailed, dismisses Mrs. Wilkins.