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 highly intelligent and literate enslaved man named Gabriel, who was owned by Thomas Henry Prosser of Brookfield plantation in Henrico County, conceived and organized a plan for 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 rain storm and the disclosure of the plot by several slaves, including Tom and Pharoah; two slaves who were owned by the Sheppard family of Meadow Farm in Henrico. Mosby Sheppard notified Governor James Monroe, who called out the local military guard and the rebellion was thwarted. The effects of the conspiracy were profound and as a result, county and state leaders instituted legislation to tightly regulate the movements of enslaved and free blacks, making their lives even more harsh.
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.