Solomon Northup

The author, subject, and protagonist of the narrative. Solomon Northup was a free Black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. He remained enslaved in Louisiana until 1853. A well-spoken, well-liked entrepreneur from the North, Solomon endures his twelve years of enslavement with ingenuity and strength, but he suffers at the hands of cruel masters. As narrator, Northup is often dispassionate and journalistic in his approach, but he sometimes portrays his own feelings of despair, anger, and bitterness in intimate detail.

Edwin Epps

Solomon’s master for ten years. Epps is an especially cruel master who punishes his slaves for his own amusement when he is drunk. When sober, Epps’s cruelty is even more targeted and purposeful. Northup says that no kindness or justice could be found in Epps’s heart.


A particularly talented, intelligent woman and a slave on Epps’s plantation. Patsey is described as the queen of the cottonfield, outpicking her fellow slaves each day. She also faces the torture of being subject to Epps’s sexual aggression and his wife’s jealousy over it. Patsey is whipped and tortured, and her spirit is eventually broken by her cruel masters.

John M. Tibeats

A cruel overseer and master of plantations on the Red River. Tibeats is the first dangerous antagonist Solomon meets in Louisiana. He displays a cruel and violent personality. Tibeats targets Solomon, and his attacks result in Solomon’s near-lynching and eventual sale to Edwin Epps.

William Ford

Solomon’s first master in Louisiana. William Ford is described as a compassionate and caring man who is nevertheless blind to the blatant immorality of slavery. Ford protects Solomon from Tibeats’s wrath and treats Solomon with kindness and respect. He later forces Tibeats to sell Solomon, likely saving his life.

Mistress Epps

Epps’s wife and mistress of his plantation. Mistress Epps is jealous and hateful towards her personal servant and slave Patsey. It is clear Epps rapes Patsey, and out of jealousy, Mistress Epps tortures the girl and demands that her husband whip her.

James H. Burch

A well-known slave-dealer of Washington and Solomon’s first apparent enslaver. Burch appears to a newly chained Solomon and informs him of his new identity as a slave. When Solomon protests and declares himself a free man, Burch whips him mercilessly. Burch is a mean-spirited, violent man who lies at his eventual trial in Virginia to be released.

Bass Avery

A white carpenter with sympathy for the enslaved people he works alongside. Bass Avery effects Solomon’s freedom by mailing letters to his friends in Saratoga, New York. Bass argues the immorality of slavery with Epps, of all people, in front of Solomon.


A fellow enslaved woman sold at an auction in Virginia. Eliza is the first real subject of Solomon’s pity, as he watches helplessly as she is separated from her children at an auction.


An older, venerable enslaved man from Epps’s plantation. Abram is a quiet yet supportive and wise member of Solomon’s community on the Red River.


An overseer on a nearby plantation who betrays Solomon to Epps.