The protagonist and narrator of The Water Dancer. Hiram is the son of Rose, an enslaved woman, and Howell Walker, the white master of Lockless. He has an incredible gift of memory. Eventually, he joins the Underground and discovers how to use the power of Conduction to free enslaved people.
Hiram’s father and the master of Lockless. Howell is one of the last remnants of the old generation of wealthy Virginians. He wears refined clothing and maintains a facade of respectability. But underneath it all, he is a man full of regrets who ultimately drives Lockless into bankruptcy.
Howell Walker’s son, and Hiram’s brother and master. Maynard is incompetent, stupid, and unrefined. He drinks, gambles, and does not excel at his studies. He dies in an accident at the river Goose when Hiram is nineteen years old.
Hiram’s mother. Rose was known for being beautiful and quiet, and for being the best water dancer at Lockless. Howell sold Rose to another master when Hiram was nine years old, and Hiram has trouble remembering her.
Rose’s sister and Hiram’s aunt. Emma was known for being loud and a great water dancer. Hiram also has trouble remembering her, and he later understands that Howell sold her before Rose tried to run away.
An older woman who became like Hiram’s mother after Howell sold Rose. Thena has a bitter and cold manner because Howell sold all of her children at the racetrack. But at heart, she is caring and kind. Eventually, with the help of Harriet Tubman, Hiram conducts Thena north to reunite with her daughter, Kessiah.
One of Thena's daughters. Hiram meets Kessiah at a gathering of abolitionists in the North. She married into Harriet's family and Harriet conducted her to freedom. She is kind to Hiram and reminds him of home.
Kessiah's husband and a relative of Harriet's.
Thena’s deceased husband. John used to be in charge of the fields at Lockless and had a talent for growing tobacco. He was wise, kind, and generous. After John died, the tobacco fields at Lockless began their long decline.
Lorenzo, Bird, Lem and Frank
Hiram’s playmates as a young boy. After Maynard dies, Hiram works with them restoring cabins at Lockless that have fallen into disrepair.
Arabella and Jack
A brother and sister who played marbles at Lockless.
A woman from Carolina for whom Hiram feels a strong attraction, and with whom he eventually develops a relationship. She is Nathaniel Walker’s concubine and eventually has his baby. She is strong-spirited and independent.
Howell’s brother. His concubine is Sophia, and he makes her dress like a woman of Quality and keeps tabs on who visits her. Eventually, he moves to Tennessee and Corrine buys Sophia’s title from him.
Boss Harlon and Desi
At Lockless, Boss Harlon is the "driver," a white man who presides over the tobacco fields. He is known for being cruel and is said to have shot a man for using the wrong hoe. Desi is Boss Harlon’s wife. She is also known for being cruel and is said to have beaten a girl with a carriage whip.
Howell’s personal butler. He is jowly and affable. When he dies, Hiram comes back to Lockless to replace him.
The head cook at the Lockless kitchen when Hiram is young. She gives Hiram big smiles and calls him baby, making him feel warm inside.
The gardener at Lockless. He is a hard worker and maintains beautiful orchards at the estate. Pete is sold about a month before Hiram returns from Philadelphia.
Pete’s sister. She tasks for the Caulley family and had to move to Kentucky when part of the family relocated there.
A member of Quality. At Howell’s dinner party at Lockless, she becomes drunk and demands that someone sing a song. When no one responds, she slaps Cassius.
A tasked man at Lockless. Alice Caulley slaps him when no one responds to her demand for a song.
A white guest at Howell’s dinner party. He wears his blond curls pinned back like a woman.
Alice’s cousin and another guest at Howell’s dinner party.
Another white guest at Howell’s dinner party.
Micajah Bland / Mr. Fields
Mr. Fields is Maynard’s gruff and serious tutor who gives lessons to Hiram for a year. Later, Hiram learns that he is an agent of the Underground and his real name is Micajah Bland. Bland is a kind, noble and selfless man who is dedicated to the cause of abolition. He is killed trying to rescue Otha’s family.
Corrine appears to be a refined lady of the Quality who is supposed to marry Maynard. But in fact she is the leader of the Virginia Underground and has turned her family stead at Bryceton into a station of resistance to slavery. She is incredibly intelligent, brave, and sometimes shrewd.
Patriarch of one of the oldest and most storied families of the region. He freed all of his slaves in Baltimore. He died in a snowstorm when he went to check on his horse.
A woman Maynard once tried to woo. Maynard sees her at race-day and she politely replies. As Maynard becomes more excited and boastful, another gentleman comes to her rescue.
Hawkins poses as the man enslaved by Corrine Quinn. In reality he is an agent of the Underground. He has a cold and distant manner due to everything he suffered as a Tasked man at Bryceton.
Hawkins’s sister. She also used to task at Bryceton and now poses as woman tasking for Corrine. In reality, she is a field agent in the Underground.
A free Black man. People of every class in Elm County esteem him. Hiram mythologizes him and longs to earn his freedom like Georgie. But in the end, we discover that Georgie works for the Quality by handing over tasking people who try to escape, as he does with Hiram and Sophia.
Georgie Parks’s wife.
Edgar Combs and Patience
A Black couple who lives in Freetown.
Pap and Grease
Brothers who live Freetown.
Howell Walker’s first cousin who moved to Tennessee.
Conway and Kat
Conway is a man who tasks for Zev and Kat is his sister.
Josiah and Creon
Clay and Sheila
A couple that once tasked at Lockless.
Philipa, Thomas and Brick
Tasking people who left Lockless with Zev.
Nathaniel Walker’s late wife. Sophia grew up with her and says she really loved her before she became her maid and her husband’s concubine. Helen died in childbirth.
On his first assignment as an agent for the Underground, Hiram must forge free papers for Levity Williams, after studying his master for a week.
A member of the Underground in Philadelphia. He meets Hiram at the train station when he first arrives. He was born in the North. He dresses very elegantly and has a very cool, unfazed manner. He documents the stories of all of the fugitives that the Philadelphia Underground helps to rescue.
Raymond’s brother and a member of the Philadelphia Underground. Otha was born in the south but his mother ran away to the north when he was a child. The hounds captured them and brought them south again. Otha finally managed to escape but his wife Lydia and their children remain in Alabama.
Mars and Hannah
Mars owns a bakery in Philadelphia. His wife, Hannah, is a cousin of the Whites. Mars is kind to Hiram. He gifts him baked goods and tells him he is part of the family.
Mary and Octavius Bronson
The Philadelphia Underground helps to free Mary and her son Octavius from a white slave-owner at the docks on the Delaware River. She implores Otha to help reconnect her with her husband and two older sons.
Parnel Johns and Lucy
On his first field mission with the Underground, Hiram must help to free Parnel Johns. Johns is supposed to come alone, but he brings Lucy. He insists she's his daughter, but it's clear they are lovers.
Raymond and Otha’s mother. She is kind to Hiram and tells him to call her Aunt Viola.
Otha’s brother. He died enslaved in the South.
Otha’s wife. She is still tasking in Alabama with her children. Micajah Bland tries but fails to save Lydia and her children.
Otha and Raymond's sister.
The master of Otha’s wife, Lydia, and their children, in Alabama.
The deceased former master of Raymond and Otha White and their parents.
Jedikiah Simpson’s son. He is a wealthy man who lives in the most refined area of Philadelphia and “is held to be a gentleman in the city’s most respectable circles.” However, his dark secret is that he derives his wealth from illegally participating in the southern slave trade.
Elon Simpson’s servant. Bland forces Chalmers to let them into Elon Simpson’s house in order to find paperwork from Daniel McKiernan.
Often called Moses, Harriet is one of the most powerful agents of the Underground. She possesses the power of Conduction and is famous for her the way she has used it to rescue people. Harriet helps Hiram learn to use his power. Her character is a reference to the real historical figure of the same name.
A young boy whose story Harriet tells when she conducts Hiram to Maryland.
Harriet’s uncle. Hark axes his arm off to avoid being sent Natchez-way.
Piers hosts Hiram, Harriet, and Harriet's escaping family members in Maryland.
Ben and Henry
Harriet’s brothers. Hiram and Harriet help them to escape slavery in Maryland.
Henry’s wife. Hiram and Harriet help them to escape slavery in Maryland. To do so, Jane cuts her hair short to appear as a tasking man.
Harriet’s former master. He is also the master of Ben, Henry and Jane.
Another of Harriet’s brothers. Hiram must go get Robert at the Broadus plantation, since he wanted to remain with his pregnant wife until the final moment.
Robert’s wife. She grew up with Master Broadus and is pregnant with his child.
Harriet’s mother. She and her siblings can’t see her, because “she wear her feelings out front,” and wouldn’t be able to lie when the hounds came looking for them.
Harriet’s father. He helps to hide Harriet and her escaping family members in the stable and brings them food.
Sophia’s baby with Nathaniel Walker. She calls the child Carrie for short.
The Water Dancer Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Water Dancer is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.