Henry Colbert, the miller of Back Creek, Virginia, and Sapphira’s husband. Henry is a solid, powerful man whose quiet yet unquestionably fair nature allows him to be trusted, but not liked, by the community. Troubled by slavery, he cannot find a way to resolve his own feelings with his wife’s ownership and treatment of slaves. Honest affection for Nancy, which is misinterpreted by Sapphira, is tested by Martin’s lecherous pursuit of the girl. Warned by the slave Sampson that Nancy is in grave danger, Henry does little to dissuade Martin. Not until Rachel forces the issue and asks for money does he actually take any stand; then his help is only a feeble gesture. Although he agrees to leave the money in an overcoat, he refuses to have anything more to do with the situation. His guilt at betraying his wife is his greatest concern.
Nancy, a mulatto slave owned by the Colberts. Good manners and pleasing ways instilled by her mother once garnered her much favor with Sapphira. Nancy’s honest affection for Henry, which he returns, and her eagerness to please him raise Sapphira’s suspicions, which are confirmed in her mind when Henry refuses to allow her to sell Nancy. Sapphira’s mistreatment of Nancy and Martin’s lecherous and relentless pursuit make Nancy’s position in the household precarious. With Rachel’s help, Nancy flees for Canada with the assistance of the Underground Railroad. She returns twenty-five years later as a handsome, successful, and free woman.
Rachel Blake, the daughter of the Colberts and an abolitionist. Her views against slavery, formed at an early age, serve to make her reserved and introverted in the wake of her mother’s ownership of slaves. At the age of sixteen, she marries Michael Blake, whose election to Congress rescues her from her family and life in Back Creek. The happiest time of her life is spent in Washington making a home for her husband. The deaths of Michael and their son Robert leave her with little money and force her to move back to Virginia. Taking up a new life in Back Creek, she provides what healing and support she can for the poor people of the area. Her opposition to slavery comes to a head with Martin Colbert’s attempted seduction of Nancy. When Nancy appeals for her assistance, Rachel helps Nancy flee to Canada, thus incurring her mother’s wrath. Rachel is secure with the righteousness of her conviction and her subsequent action to save Nancy.
Martin Colbert, Henry’s nephew, a miscreant seeking to hide from his creditors. He accepts Sapphira’s invitation for a long visit. His air of impudence and insolence amuses Sapphira and livens up the Colbert household but leaves his uncle speechless. Nancy’s fresh prettiness catches his eye, and he unknowingly falls into Sapphira’s plan to ruin Nancy. His lecherous attempts to compromise her catch the eye of Sampson, another slave, who appeals to Henry for help. Although he helps Nancy to leave, the master does nothing to discourage Martin. Twenty-five years later, at Nancy’s return, it is revealed that Martin was killed in the army during the Civil War.