Linda Brent, a pseudonym for author Harriet Jacobs, is the story's narrator and protagonist. Born a slave and orphaned at a young age, she begins her story with her first memory of slavery and leads readers through her troubles and her plot to escape, until she gains the freedom she swore to obtain after the birth of her children.
Stepfather to Linda's underage mistress, Dr. Flint is effectively Linda's master. He is a cruel, wealthy physician who owns several farms and some 50 slaves. Dishonest, vengeful, and arrogant, he pursues Linda sexually, doing so with increasing violence until he dies. Dr. Flint's real name was Dr. James Norcom.
Martha is a free black woman, freed by Miss Fanny after years of service as cook, wet nurse, and seamstress. Good, kind Aunt Martha is respected throughout the town. She aids Linda's escape by hiding Linda in her garret. Martha's real name was Molly Horniblow.
Linda takes Mr. Sands as a lover in the hope that Dr. Flint will be angry enough to sell her to Sands. Mr. Sands seems to genuinely care for Linda; he is less kind toward their children together. His true nature emerges, however, as he fails to make good on his promises to free the children and marries a white woman. Mr. Sands's real name was Samuel Tredwell Sawyer.
Benny's intelligence is revealed when he tells Linda he has discovered she was hiding in her grandmother's home but knew he had to keep her presence a secret. He is eventually sent North and, after experiencing racism as an apprentice, becomes a seaman on a whaling ship. Benny's real name is Joseph Jacobs.
Ellen briefly works on a plantation as a child but is rescued by her mother and returned to her grandmother's house. She is sent North as a young woman and attends boarding school, where she does well. Ellen's real name is Louisa Jacobs.
Philip is intelligent and hardworking. He fixes up the room in which Linda hides in her grandmother's house and eventually helps Linda to escape.