Ditcher was an enslaved man in 1800 and the property of the estate of William Bowler, of Caroline County. Contemporary documents refer to him as Jack, Jack Bowler, Jack Ditcher, or Jack Bowler alias Jack Ditcher, the last suggesting that because of the work he did he may have been generally known as Jack Ditcher rather than by the name of his owner's family. It is possible that the administrator of the Bowler estate hired the valuable workman to people who needed someone to dig ditches. The earnings would have gone to support the estate and its orphan children, and Ditcher might have worked and made acquaintances at a number of places, some perhaps far from his usual place of residence. The administrator of the Bowler estate described him in 1800 as about twenty-eight years old, with a scar above one eye and very long hair worn in a queue in the back but twisted on the sides of his face. At about six feet, four or five inches tall, Ditcher was "perhaps as strong a man as any in the state." He was probably unable to read or write.
In the spring of 1800 Ditcher became involved with Gabriel, an enslaved man who was planning to lead an insurrection. One conspirator later testified that Ditcher had declared that they had as much right to fight for their liberty as any men and another that Ditcher had acquired gunpowder for the purpose of fighting the white people. A funeral that several conspirators attended in August provided cover for a meeting at which they were able to complete their plans without arousing white suspicions. They intended to seize the penitentiary in Richmond and the magazine where weapons were stored at the state Capitol. Gabriel and his men enlisted new followers from the enthusiastic crowd, and Ditcher offered to lead the insurrection as its general. The men voted instead that Gabriel lead, although one of the conspirators later testified that Ditcher was made second in command. They then set the date for the insurrection, and the leaders, including Ditcher, met again on August 21 and 25 to make final plans.
A Henrico County court of oyer and terminer tried Ditcher on October 29, 1800. Three enslaved men testified against him. At an earlier trial, one of the conspirators had also stated, without offering any proof, that Ditcher knew the names of two white Frenchmen who had joined in the conspiracy, a mystery that the trials and investigations never solved. Ditcher was convicted and sentenced to be hanged on the second Friday in November.
Spring 1800 - Jack Ditcher (also Bowler), an enslaved man in Caroline County, becomes involved with Gabriel, who is planning to lead an insurrection.
August 10, 1800 - On or about this day, a group of enslaved men led by Gabriel and Jack Bowler set the date for their planned uprising. They will meet on the night of August 30 and attack Richmond.
August 21 and 25, 1800 - The enslaved men led by Gabriel and Jack Ditcher (also Bowler) meet to finalize plans for an insurrection.
August 30, 1800 - A planned slave revolt led by a blacksmith named Gabriel (owned by Thomas Prosser, of Henrico County) is thwarted when a huge storm delays the meeting of the conspirators and a few nervous slaves reveal the plot to their masters.
August 31, 1800 - Patrols in Henrico County begin capturing enslaved men who are suspected with involvement in Gabriel's Conspiracy. The plot's leaders, Gabriel and Jack Bowler, disappear.
September 9, 1800 - Governor James Monroe offers a $300 reward for the capture of Jack Ditcher (also Bowler) in connection with Gabriel's Conspiracy.
October 8 or 9, 1800 - Jack Bowler, alias Jack Ditcher, an enslaved man owned by the estate of the late William Bowler, surrenders to authorities, who suspect him of conspiring to lead a slave insurrection.
October 29, 1800 - Jack Bowler, alias Jack Ditcher, an enslaved man owned by the estate of the late William Bowler, is tried and convicted of conspiring to lead a slave insurrection.
January 26, 1801 - The state sells Jack Ditcher (also Bowler) and eight other enslaved men whose death sentences have been commuted.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Severson, L. A., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Jack Ditcher (b. ca. 1772). (2019, February 6). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Ditcher_Jack_b_ca_1772.
- MLA Citation:
Severson, Lisa A. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Jack Ditcher (b. ca. 1772)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 6 Feb. 2019. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: August 20, 2018 | Last modified: February 6, 2019
Contributed by Lisa A. Severson and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.