The protagonist of the book. Cora begins the book as an enslaved teenager on the Randall plantation in Georgia. Left to care for herself after her mother Mabel runs away from Randall, Cora becomes fiercely brave, resilient, and resourceful. Throughout the book, Cora must continually find ways to save herself.

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An enslaved man at the Randall plantation who convinces Cora to run away with him. Raised in a household where he was promised freedom at the time of his owner’s death, Caesar longs for freedom. He is a skilled woodworker and literate, hiding books in the plantation schoolhouse as a means to feel some independence.

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Arnold Ridgeway

An infamous slavecatcher who pursues Cora after she escapes from Randall. Ridgeway is smart, powerful, and cruel. He sees Black people as tools to be used for the progress of America, not as people. 

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Cora’s friend, also enslaved on the Randall plantation. Lovey is kind, loves dancing, and takes uncomplicated pleasure from rare moments of celebration. 

Martin Wells

A reluctant Underground Railroad agent in North Carolina. Martin is a timid man, who shelters Cora but is too trapped by fear to move beyond passivity. 

Ethel Wells

Martin’s wife. Ethel is opposed to sheltering Cora, but when Cora becomes ill, she sees caring for her as a way to fulfill her desire to help and to love a woman. 


A conductor on the Underground Railroad. Royal brings Cora to Valentine farm. Born free, Royal devotes himself to helping others escape slavery. He is kind, thoughtful, and loves Cora. 


Cora’s mother, born into slavery on the Randall plantation. Mabel’s run for freedom leaves Cora a “stray” on the plantation and gives Cora courage for her own escape.


A powerful figure at Valentine farm. Mingo bought freedom for himself and his family and looks down on runaways. 

Elijah Lander

A Black traveling orator and a leader at Valentine. The son of a white Boston lawyer openly married to a Black woman, Lander is brilliant and devoted to improving the lives of Black people. 

John Valentine

The owner of Valentine farm. Valentine is a light-skinned freeman who builds a Black community on his land and uses his passing privilege to help other Black people buy adjoining farms.


 Cora’s grandmother. Ajarry is kidnapped in Africa and brought to Georgia as a slave.  


An overseer on the Randall plantation. Connelly is cruel and violent, frequently raping and sometimes killing enslaved people. 


An enslaved woman at the Randall plantation. Nag comes to live in Hob when Connelly tires of her sexually. Although she has a reputation for haughtiness, Nag cares for Cora and helps her recover after Connelly beats her. 


Ridgeway’s ten-year-old Black driver. Homer is fastidious and devoted to Ridgeway. 


Ridgeway’s assistant. Boseman is a simple and brutal man. 


A slave on the Randall plantation. Blake is strong and overbearing, and he tries to take control of Cora’s plot of land. 

James Randall

A son of Old Randall. James runs the northern half of the plantation, where Cora lives. 

Terrance Randall

A son of Old Randall. Terrance runs the southern half of the plantation, where he delights in cruelty and rapes many of the women. 

Old Randall 

The original owner of the Randall plantation. Old Randall is Ajarry’s final owner.

Mr. Fletcher

An abolitionist who connects Caesar and Cora to the Underground Railroad. 


The Wells’s servant. Fiona is of Irish descent and she is a suspicious woman.


Cora’s friend at Valentine farm. She is a reserved and careful ten-year-old. 


Molly’s loving mother. Sibyl escaped slavery with Molly in tow, a contrast to Mabel’s leaving Cora behind.


A medical school student in South Carolina. Stevens is a poor student who earns money working with body snatchers to provide cadavers for medical students to study.


A body snatcher in South Carolina. Carpenter is a large, imposing figure of Irish descent. He is crafty in his trade but uneducated and vicious.


A station agent at the Georgia Underground Railroad. 

Ridgeway’s father

A blacksmith who believes working with iron gives order to the world. 


An enslaved cook on the Randall plantation. 


The brutal head patroller who hires Ridgeway. 


An Underground Railroad station agent. Sam is an optimistic and caring bartender in South Carolina. 


A Senator and Master of Ceremonies at the North Carolina Friday Festival.


An enslaved man at the Randall plantation. Moses becomes mean when Connelly makes him a boss. 

Gloria Valentine

John Valentine’s wife. formerly enslaved, Gloria is a poised and graceful woman who has worked to remove plantation inflections from her speech.

Mrs. Garner

A slaveholding woman and Caesar’s first owner. Mrs. Garner promises freedom for Caesar after her death, but the estate sells him instead.

Donald Wells

Martin Wells’ father. Donald is a secret conductor of the Underground Railroad and reveals his secret on his deathbed. 


An enslaved man. Jacob is blinded by Terrence Randall for attempting to learn to read.

Mr. Fields

The curator of the Living History Museum.


An old man in Cora’s class in South Carolina. Howard is tentative and embarrassed by his lack of skill in the English language.


A runaway captured by Ridgeway. Jasper sings despite his deplorable condition.

Eugene Wheeler

A white lawyer in New York City. Wheeler recruits Royal into the Underground Railroad.