The Underground Railroad


Colson Whitehead

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The Underground Railroad Characters

Cora (aka Bessie)

Cora is the heroine of The Underground Railroad. She was born on Randall plantation in Georgia to her mother Mabel, and she never knew her father, Grayson, who died before she was… read analysis of Cora (aka Bessie)


Caesar is an enslaved man who lives on Randall and invites Cora to run away with him. Born in Virginia to Lily Jane and Jerome, Caesar spends most of his life in Virginia (owned… read analysis of Caesar


Ajarry is Cora’s grandmother and Mabel’s mother. She was born in Africa before being kidnapped and enslaved slave in America, where she is sold so many times that she comes to believe she is “cursed.”… read analysis of Ajarry


Mabel is Ajarry’s daughter and Cora’s mother. When she is 14, she has a brief romance with Grayson, through which she becomes pregnant with Cora. However, after Grayson dies of a fever before Cora… read analysis of Mabel


Lovey is an enslaved woman living on Randall. She is the daughter of Jeer and a friend of Cora. She is kind and childlike and enjoys dancing at the celebrations on Randall. She secretly… read analysis of Lovey
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Terrance Randall

Terrance is one of the two Randall brothers, each of whom controls half of Randall plantation. Terrance is far more sadistic than his brother, James, choosing to frequently torture and sexually abuse enslaved people… read analysis of Terrance Randall

James Randall

James is Terrance’s brother and one of Old Randall’s two sons. He controls the half of the plantation on which Cora lives, and he is a distant, uninvolved master. There are rumors that he has… read analysis of James Randall

Old Randall

Old Randall is the father of James and Terrance and the former owner of Randall plantation. He was more popular within the local white community than either of his sons, who Ridgeway believes were corrupted… read analysis of Old Randall


Chester is a young boy who lives on Randall. Cora takes a liking to him because, like her, he is a “stray” (an orphan). When Terrance forces the enslaved population to dance, Chester accidentally knocks… read analysis of Chester

Arnold Ridgeway

Ridgeway is the son a blacksmith, Ridgeway Sr., who grows up to become a notorious slave catcher. He has a fearsome reputation as a slave catcher, but is also known for his strange personality… read analysis of Arnold Ridgeway


Sam is a station agent who owns a saloon in South Carolina. He helps to arrange Cora and Caesar’s new identities and placement in the dormitories. He is kind and dedicated to his work for… read analysis of Sam

Miss Lucy

Miss Lucy is one of the proctors in South Carolina. She has a “severe aspect,” but Cora comes to like her—that is, until Cora discovers the true purpose of the medical “treatment” that the dormitory… read analysis of Miss Lucy

Mr. Field

Mr. Field is the “Curator of Living History” at the museum in South Carolina, where he employs Cora, Isis, and Betty as “types.” He is a relatively fair and kind employer, however he… read analysis of Mr. Field

Dr. Aloysius Stevens

Dr. Stevens is another doctor who examines Cora. Prior to his employment in South Carolina, he was a medical student in Boston, where he was involved with the “body trade” of stealing corpses for… read analysis of Dr. Aloysius Stevens

Martin Wells

Martin Wells is a station agent for the underground railroad in North Carolina. He became involved with anti-slavery efforts through his father, Donald. He is married to Ethel and harbors Cora in his attic… read analysis of Martin Wells

Ethel Wells (née Delany)

Ethel Wells is Martin’s wife and the mother of their daughter. As a child, she was best friends with an enslaved girl, Jasmine, and dreamed of becoming a missionary. There are hints that she… read analysis of Ethel Wells (née Delany)


Fiona is a young Irish woman who is employed as a servant by Martin and Ethel. She exposes the fact that her employers are hiding Cora in the attic, claiming that she has to… read analysis of Fiona


Homer is a young black boy who is part of Ridgeway’s gang. Ridgeway purchased him for $5 before buying his freedom, but Homer still chooses to stay with Ridgeway and even voluntarily chains himself to… read analysis of Homer


Boseman is an accomplice of Ridgeway’s. He wears a necklace of shriveled ears, which he won from a Native American man in a wrestling contest. He is described as unintelligent and is more naïve… read analysis of Boseman

John Valentine

John is the owner of Valentine farm and the husband of Gloria. He is light-skinned and passes for white, although he does not hide the fact that he is black among other black people… read analysis of John Valentine

Gloria Valentine

Gloria is the wife of John, who secretly purchases her freedom before they wed, and the mother of their five children. She is an elegant woman who makes an effort to rid her speech… read analysis of Gloria Valentine

Elijah Lander

Lander is a well-educated and distinguished biracial man who travels the country giving political speeches. Just before Valentine farm is destroyed, he gives an impassioned speech advocating racial solidarity and the pursuit of freedom. Unlike… read analysis of Elijah Lander


Royal is a freeborn black man who rescues Cora from Ridgeway. Royal has an optimistic personality, and is dedicated to the pursuit of freedom both for himself and all black people. He is attractive… read analysis of Royal


Connelly is the white overseer on Randall plantation. He is selfish and cruel, taking various enslaved women as his "mistresses." For a while, he has a preference for Nag and gives her special privileges; however… read analysis of Connelly
Minor Characters
Jockey is the oldest enslaved person living on Randall. He claims to be 101, although in reality he is only about 50. He regularly makes up birthdays for himself as an excuse to have a celebratory feast.
Blake is a large, strong, and intimidating enslaved man who lives on Randall. He decides to keep his dog in Cora’s garden and he builds it an elaborate doghouse, which Cora destroys to protect her turf. He dies from an unspecified gruesome punishment after being caught running away.
Alice is an enslaved woman who is the cook on Randall plantation. She has high social standing within the enslaved population because she is a favorite of James Randall, who loves her food. She is prejudiced against Cora because Cora lives in Hob.
Moses is one of the black bosses on Randall. As a child, he was weak, yet after his mother was sold he becomes a quick and skilled laborer. He becomes cruel after being promoted to the position of boss, and regularly rapes Mabel before she runs away.
Michael is an enslaved boy who, before being bought by James Randall, was owned by a man who taught him to recite the Declaration of Independence. He is beaten to death by Connelly for being an inefficient worker.
Nag is an enslaved woman who used to be Connelly’s favorite and spent most nights in his cabin. When Connelly loses interest in her, she is moved to Hob by other enslaved women who resented her formerly “privileged” position.
Big Anthony
Big Anthony is an enslaved man who runs away from Randall, only to be captured and returned in an iron cage. Terrance arranges for him to be tortured and killed over the course of a gruesome three-day ordeal.
Mrs. Garner
Mrs. Garner is the former owner of Caesar and his parents, Lily Jane and Jerome. She promises to free Caesar and his family upon her death, but she fails to stipulate this in her will, which leads Caesar and his family to be separated and sold south.
Fletcher is a shopkeeper from Pennsylvania who works for the underground railroad in Georgia. He conveys Cora and Caesar on the first leg of their journey to freedom. He is captured and presumably killed, although his exact fate is never specified.
Jeer is Lovey’s mother. She was born free in Africa before being captured and sold onto Randall. She inadvertently alerts the bosses on Randall to Lovey, Cora, and Caesar’s disappearance.
Lumbly is a station agent for the underground railroad. Fletcher brings Cora and Caesar to the station, which is underneath Lumbly’s farm.
Ridgeway Sr.
Ridgeway Sr. is Arnold Ridgeway’s father. He is a blacksmith who has a peaceful, spiritual view of the world and disapproves of his son’s decision to work as a slave catcher.
Mr. Anderson
Mr. Anderson employs Cora (while she is known as Bessie) to look after his children. He works on cotton contracts in the Griffin Building.
Mrs. Anderson
Mrs. Anderson is Mr. Anderson’s wife and the mother of their two children. She suffers from a nervous disorder and works in fundraising for the new hospital.
Miss Handler
Miss Handler is Cora’s teacher in South Carolina. She is patient and encouraging, although Cora leaves her classes feeling embarrassed of her ignorance.
Dr. Campbell
Dr. Campbell is the first doctor who examines Cora in South Carolina.
Isis is a young black woman who is employed in the museum alongside Cora and Betty as a “type.”
Betty is the other young black woman employed in the museum with Isis and Cora.
Meg is a friend of Caesar’s in South Carolina. Cora suspects that she and Caesar are dating.
Bertram is a newly-employed doctor in South Carolina who frequents Sam’s saloon and reveals that the residents are being denied treatment for syphilis when he is drunk.
Carpenter is a professional body snatcher in Boston who delivers bodies to Dr. Stevens.
Teenage engineer
The teenaged engineer is an unnamed person who conveys Cora from South Carolina to North Carolina on the underground railroad.
Judge Tennyson
Judge Tennyson is the local judge of the town in North Carolina. He is a drunk.
Jamison is a senator in North Carolina who leads the town’s “Friday Festivals” at which black people are lynched.
Richard is a teenage patroller in North Carolina who discovers Louisa hiding in the helm of a ship.
Louisa is a young black woman who is discovered by Richard in North Carolina. She is brutalized and lynched.
Donald Wells
Donald Wells is Martin’s father. Although he kept it a secret his whole life, Donald was an active abolitionist. Upon his death, he passed his position in the underground railroad to his son.
Jasmine is an enslaved black girl owned by Ethel’s father, Edgar Delany. When they are young, she and Ethel are best friends, until Edgar forbids Ethel from playing with her. When she is 14, Edgar begins sexually abusing her, and Edgar’s wife eventually arranges for her to be sold.
Felice is Jasmine’s mother. She is an enslaved woman owned by Edgar Delany.
Edgar Delany
Edgar is Ethel’s father. He is a vocal racist who bans Ethel from playing with Jasmine in order to maintain the hierarchy of the races, while at the same time sexually abusing Jasmine himself.
Lily Jane
Lily Jane is Caesar’s mother and the wife of Jerome. She lives in Virginia until Mrs. Garner’s death, when she is separated from her husband and son and sold south.
Jerome is Lily Jane’s husband and Caesar’s father. He teaches Caesar that Caesar can be whatever he wants to be when he grows up; however, when Mrs. Garner dies, he is sold separately from his family.
Jasper is an enslaved man who is captured by Ridgeway. Jasper sings hymns constantly, and Ridgway eventually shoots him in exasperation.
Nelson is a runaway slave whom Ridgeway is charged with finding after Nelson’s former master discovers that he is living openly as a trapper in Missouri.
Georgina is a young black woman from Delaware who teaches Cora’s class on Valentine. At first she and Cora don’t get along, finding it difficult to make sense of one another. However, soon after they develop a close friendship.
Molly is a young black girl living on Valentine farm. She and her mother, Sybil, share a cabin with Cora. Molly and Sybil have a close, loving relationship that brings Cora joy to witness, even as it makes Cora sad about her own troubled relationship with Mabel.
Sybil is a black woman who lives on Valentine with her daughter, Molly. She and Cora share a cabin and become close friends. Sybil is proud and opinionated, with an unnamed lover who makes her a rocking chair and a disdain for the praise heaped on Mingo.
Mingo is a black man and longtime resident of Valentine farm. He is admired by many in the community for having purchased his freedom and the freedom of his family, however he also promotes ideas about racial uplift that many find objectionable.
Justin is a runway who accompanies Royal on the mission to rescue Cora. He is disturbed by the sight of Royal shooting Boseman.
Red is a black man whose wife and child were lynched in North Carolina. He is brave and fierce and he harbors a strong resentment of white people. He accompanies Royal and Justin when they rescue Cora.
Ollie is a kind, elderly black man whom Cora meets after emerging from her final journey on the underground railroad. He offers her food and the novel ends when he and Cora agree to share their stories.