William "Billy" Budd Of obscure origin and limited education, Billy is a good-hearted and simple peacemaker who is nicknamed "Baby," as well as "the Handsome Sailor." He serves dutifully as foretopman on the Bellipotent and rejects an offer to join a mutiny. Claggart hates Billy because of his innocence and beauty.
John Claggart, Master-at-Arms The dark, demon-haunted weapons officer and ship's policeman in his mid-thirties who, out of jealousy and malice, causes Billy's execution. Claggart comes from a shady background and is possibly foreign by birth. He is not well known to the captain because he joined the crew when it last left home port to replace the former master-of-arms, who was disabled. Because of his inner corruption, Claggart brings about his own death and is buried at sea.
Captain "Starry" Vere A dedicated career naval officer in his fifties who allows obedience to duty to force the condemnation and execution of an innocent man, even though Vere sympathizes with Billy and recognizes his innate innocence. The captain distinguishes himself in battle off Gibraltar and dies of a musketball wound. In his last moments, he twice speaks Billy's name.
The Dansker An old sailor, nicknamed "Board-Her-in-the-Smoke," with a pale, jagged scar across his face, weasel eyes, and a blue-peppered complexion. A favorite among the men, he demonstrates unsentimental wisdom. He gives Billy his nickname, "Baby," and warns him that Claggart is "down on him."
Squeak A small-statured corporal aboard ship who sneaks about in order to give Claggart false reports of petty offenses allegedly committed by Billy Budd.
Captain Graveling The fifty-year-old captain of the Rights-of-Man is plump, responsible, and peaceloving. He prizes Billy Budd's qualities and regrets losing him to the Bellipotent.
Lieutenant Ratcliffe A dutiful man with a taste for liquor, Ratcliffe is burly and cynical about his role as impressment officer.
An Afterguardsman An obvious tool of Claggart, he summons Billy out of sleep, takes him aside, and offers an unspecified bribe for Billy's part in a purported mutiny. Later, the afterguardsman feigns innocence through casual jocularity.
The Surgeon The ship's surgeon — gloomy, dutiful, and efficient — examines Claggart and determines that he is dead. The surgeon doubts that Captain Vere should handle the legal proceedings, but refrains from stating his beliefs rather than give the impression of insolence or rebellion. Later, the surgeon discredits notions that Billy's death was in any way abnormal.
Mr. Mordant Mordant, the captain of the marines, is a soldier among sailors. He is asked to serve on the drumhead court. His questioning points toward a better understanding of Claggart's enmity, but the lieutenant, at Captain Vere's urging, overrules Mordant before he can get to the bottom of the confrontation.
The Sailing Master Of the three-man tribunal, he is the only one who proposes a lesser sentence for Billy.
The Senior Lieutenant The most reluctant of the jury to condemn Billy, the senior lieutenant later assumes command of the Bellipotent and leads the crew in victory over the French Athée. He hears of Captain Vere's dying words and correctly interprets their significance.
The Chaplain A worthy, discreet man of God who tries to indoctrinate Billy with Christian principle, but accepts his innocence as reason to hope for salvation. The chaplain accompanies Billy to the place of execution.
The Purser A crew member who wonders why Billy's body did not convulse when he died.