The author and narrator of the Narrative. Douglass, a rhetorically skilled and spirited man, is a powerful orator for the abolitionist movement. One of his reasons for writing the Narrative is to offer proof to critics who felt that such an articulate and intelligent man could not have once been a slave. The Narrative describes Douglass’s experience under slavery from his early childhood until his escape North at the age of twenty. Within that time, Douglass progresses from unenlightened victim of the dehumanizing practices of slavery to educated and empowered young man. He gains the resources and convictions to escape to the North and wage a political fight against the institution of slavery.
Douglass’s first master and probably his father. Anthony is the clerk for Colonel Lloyd, managing Lloyd’s surrounding plantations and the overseers of those plantations. Anthony is a cruel man who takes pleasure in whipping his slaves, especially Douglass’s Aunt Hester. He is called “Captain” because he once piloted ships up the Chesapeake Bay.
Captain Anthony’s boss and Douglass’s first owner. Colonel Lloyd is an extremely rich man who owns all of the slaves and lands where Douglass grows up. Lloyd insists on extreme subservience from his slaves and often punishes them unjustly.
Captain Anthony’s daughter and Thomas Auld’s wife. After Captain Anthony’s death, Lucretia inherits half his property, including Douglass. Lucretia is as cruel an owner as her husband.
Lucretia Auld’s husband and Hugh Auld’s brother. Thomas Auld did not grow up owning slaves, but gained them through his marriage to Lucretia. After attending a church meeting in Maryland, Thomas Auld becomes a “pious” man, but he uses his newfound Christianity to be even more self-righteously brutal toward his slaves.
Thomas Auld’s brother and Douglass’s occasional master. Hugh lives in Baltimore with his wife, Sophia. Thomas and Lucretia Auld allow Hugh to borrow Douglass as a servant for Hugh’s son, Thomas. Hugh is well aware that whites maintain power over blacks by depriving them of education, and he unwittingly enlightens Douglass in this matter. Hugh is not as cruel as his brother Thomas, but he becomes harsher due to a drinking habit in his later years. Hugh seems to suffer some consciousness that slavery and the law’s treatment of blacks are inhumane, but he does not allow this consciousness to interfere with his exercising power over Douglass.
Hugh Auld’s wife. Sophia was a working woman before marrying Hugh, and she had never owned slaves. The corruption of owning a slave transforms Sophia from a sympathetic, kind woman into a vengeful monster.
A notorious slave “breaker” and Douglass’s keeper for one year. Slave owners send their unruly slaves to Covey, who works and punishes them (thus getting free labor to cultivate his rented land) and returns them trained and docile. Covey’s tactics as a slaveholder are both cruel and sneaky. He is deliberately deceptive and devious when interacting with his slaves, creating an atmosphere of constant surveillance and fear.
Douglass’s grandmother. Betsy raised Douglass on Captain Anthony’s land after Douglass’s mother was taken away. Betsy served the Anthony family her whole life and had many children and grandchildren who became slaves for the Anthonys. After seeing Captain Anthony’s children from birth to death, Betsy is abandoned to a hut in the woods instead of being allowed to go free.
Douglass’s aunt. Aunt Hester is an exceptionally beautiful and noble-looking woman, superior to most white and black women. Captain Anthony is extraordinarily interested in Hester, and she therefore suffers countless whippings at his hands.
Douglass’s mother. Harriet is separated from Douglass after his birth, but she still attempts to maintain family relations by walking twelve miles to see him at night. She dies when Douglass is young.
A slave acquaintance of Douglass. The highly superstitious Sandy stands in the Narrative as a representative of all uneducated, superstitious slaves. Sandy is kind to Douglass when Douglass runs away from Covey’s, but the Narrative also implies that Sandy may have informed William Freeland about Douglass’s plans to escape.
Douglass’s keeper for two years following his time with Covey. Freeland is the most fair and straightforward of all Douglass’s masters and is not hypocritically pious. Douglass acknowledges Freeland’s exceptional fairness with a pun on his name—“free land.”
Father-in-law of Thomas Auld. After Lucretia Auld’s death, Thomas remarries Hamilton’s oldest daughter. Hamilton himself sometimes takes charge of Douglass, as when Hamilton arrests Douglass for plotting to escape from Freeland.
A Baltimore shipbuilder. Hugh Auld sends Douglass to Gardner to learn the trade of caulking. Gardner’s shipyard is disorderly with racial tension between free-black carpenters and white carpenters, and Gardner is under pressure to complete several ships for a deadline.
Douglass’s wife. Anna is a free black woman from Baltimore who becomes engaged to Douglass before he escapes to freedom. After his escape, Anna and Douglass marry in New York and then move to New Bedford, Massachusetts.
A Massachusetts worker and abolitionist. Johnson is immediately kind and helpful to the Douglasses, loaning them money, helping Douglass find work, and suggesting Douglass’s new name. Johnson is well informed on national politics and keeps a nice household.
Founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Garrison meets Douglass when Douglass is persuaded to tell his history at an abolitionist convention in Nantucket in 1841. Immediately impressed with Douglass’s poise and with the power of his story, Garrison hires him for the abolitionist cause.
President of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Phillips considers Douglass a close friend. He admires Douglass’s bravery in publishing his history without pseudonyms, but also fears for Douglass’s safety.