The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner, more commonly known simply as Robinson Crusoe, describes the adventures of the third son ‘of a good Family’, who – against his parents’ wishes – has his heart set on a life at sea. We follow his initial mishaps, beginning with a shipwreck near the Yarmouth Roads, and his first major adventure: kidnap by Moors. After remaining some time in slavery to a Moorish captain, Crusoe seizes his opportunity to escape in a boat along with another slave, Xury, who in turn becomes Crusoe’s ‘boy’. They come across a Portuguese Man o’ War, whose kindly captain takes them on board and carries them safely to the Brasils.
The captain and Crusoe make life-long friends, and the captain helps Crusoe set himself up with a plantation. The plantation does well, and Crusoe makes enough money to enjoy a comfortable living. However, bored by the endless repetition of plantation life, Crusoe jumps at the chance to join an expedition to Africa to bring back slaves, leaving his plantation in the care of friends.
As Crusoe later admits, this decision was the biggest mistake of his life. Not long into the journey, the ship is wrecked off the coast of South America and all the men are drowned save Crusoe, who finds himself alone on a desert island. And so begins the main part of the novel: a twenty-eight year sojourn on the unnamed island. Crusoe works out various techniques for survival, and eventually constructs himself a mighty fortress, a country house, several enclosures for goats, clothes, furniture, bread, fields of corn and all manner of necessities for a comfortable, if unusual life. He struggles with himself, trying to find comfort and redemption in God, and relief from the extreme loneliness he feels.
Roughly halfway through his stay, he discovers a footprint in the sand – one of the most dramatic moments in the novel. Realising he is not alone, Crusoe goes into a form of shock, which is heightened when he discovers that the invaders are cannibals from the mainland, who sail across in their canoes to kill and eat their prisoners of war. He determines to kill them as retribution for their barbaric behaviour, but one day whilst he is out watching them with his gun at the ready, one of the prisoners tries to make an escape. Crusoe helps him, killing many of the cannibals and bringing the savage to safety. He names him Friday, for the day on which he was rescued, teaches him English and introduces him to Christianity. After years alone he has a servant and, though he may not admit it, a friend.
Friday tells him of some white men who were shipwrecked and are now living amongst his tribe on the mainland; Crusoe resolves to build a canoe in which to venture across to join the tribe. Halfway through this project, however, a party of cannibals comes ashore with several prisoners. Friday and Crusoe kill some and frighten the rest away, and find amongst the prisoners Friday’s father and a Spanish captain. After a brief stay on the island, the Spaniard and Friday’s father take a canoe back to the mainland, in order to bring the other Spaniards back to the island, from where they will attempt to escape all together.
Not long after they have left, Crusoe sees a ship anchored just off the island. It is an English ship in the hands of mutineers, and the sailors bring the captain and other loyal men onshore in order to maroon or kill them. Crusoe and Friday rescue the prisoners and tie up the others. Crusoe introduces himself as the ‘Governor’ of his island. The leaders of the mutiny are left behind to await the Spaniards and begin a colony on the island, and Crusoe and Friday sail back to England with the captain.
In England, Crusoe discovers that his plantation in the Brasils has made him a small fortune. He arranges for the land to be sold, and then makes a journey to Portugal to visit the kindly captain who saved him after his escape from the Moors. At last he can repay his aid. He refuses to return to England in a boat, making a dangerous overland journey through mountain passes fraught with wolves instead. Eventually he returns safely home, where he marries and has children. After several years he makes a new sea journey to visit the colony on his island and bring them supplies – this and other adventures form the sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.