In the early 19th century, most Henricoans made their living by farming and related industries, such as milling. Coal mining was also important, especially in northern and western Henrico. The principal source of labor for these industries was slavery.
In 1800, a slave named Gabriel, owned by Thomas Henry Prosser of Brookfield plantation in Henrico County, conceived and organized a widespread slave uprising. Involving several Virginia localities, it was possibly the most far-reaching slave uprising planned in the history of the South.
The plan might have succeeded had it not been for a sudden, severe downpour
and the disclosure of the plot by several slaves, including Tom and Pharoah,
who belonged to Mosby Sheppard of Meadow Farm,
in Henrico. The alarm went out and the rebellion was thwarted. The effects of the conspiracy were profound and as a result, county and state leaders instituted legislation to regulate the movement of slaves and free blacks.
Image credit: “An Escaped Slave,” an engraving from a photograph, published in Harper’s Weekly, 2 July 1864. Engraving from the collection of the Library of Virginia.