Not too many people know the story of Jordan Hatcher. He was a 17-year-old enslaved tobacco worker in Richmond, Virginia. Hatcher became well-known when he was charged with assaulting and killing white overseer, William Jackson.
The teenager had been working at the Walker and Harris tobacco factory when Jackson began whipping him with a cowhide for doing a poor job. Hatcher tried with all his might to block the blows, but that didn’t stop Jackson, he continued with the beating. After a while, Hatcher grabbed an iron poker and struck Jackson unconscious. When Jackson awoke, although he reported to not have felt any pain, he died the following day.
Immediately following the incident, Hatcher ran from the factory and went into hiding. Nevertheless, he was ultimately found, arrested, tried and sentenced for execution. However, his sentence was commuted by the Governor of Virginia at the time, Joseph Johnson, and Hatcher was sold and sent outside of the United States.
What makes Jordan Hatcher’s case different is the conditions of his working and living arrangements. Hatcher was a hired slave. Although he was legally bound to Parmella Goday of Chesterfield County, Hatcher had been hired out to a tobacco company for the year.
He was expected to pay his owner part of his wages in exchange for being allowed to live on his own. During the Antebellum era, the urban slave system provided an essential labor pool for city businesses. Although this was highly lucrative, the program was under conditions that concerned white residents in the area. Critics theorized that the hiring-out process made slavery unstable and encouraged slave workers to be defiant, of which Hatcher’s case allegedly proved an example of the supposed rebellious and potential uprising of the urban slaves. White mobs demonstrated, petitioned, and called for the hanging of Hatcher, but the governor’s decision remained firm.