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The efficacy/inefficacy of accounting in controlling labour during the transition from slavery in the United States and British West Indies

Richard K. Fleischman

John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

David Oldroyd

Newcastle University Business School, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and

Thomas N. Tyson

St John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, USA


Purpose – The aim of this paper is to focus on the transition from slavery to wage workers in the American South and British West Indies, and the corresponding nature of the reporting and control procedures that were established in both venues, in order to create a disciplined workforce, and establish regular relations between employees and employers. It seeks to explain the differences in labour control practices between the two regions and to discuss the impact on these practices of accounting and other quantitative techniques c.1760-1870. In particular, it aims to consider the central role played by government in the process. Design/methodology/approach – The study forms part of an archival research project, in which the authors have consulted archives in four Southern States (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and North Carolina), three Caribbean island nations, formerly British colonies (Antigua, Barbados, and Jamaica), and record repositories the length and breadth of Great Britain. The records of the Freedmen’s Bureau (FB), located in the National Archives, Washington, DC, have been likewise visited. These primary sources have been supported by the extensive secondary literature on slavery and its aftermath. Findings – In the USA, accounting for labour in the transition from slavery was typically ad hoc and inconsistent, whereas in the BWI it was more organised, detailed, and displayed greater uniformity – both within and across colonies. The role of the British Colonial Office (BCO) was crucial here. A range of economic and political factors are advanced to explain the differences between the two locations. The paper highlights the limitations of accounting controls and economic incentives in disciplining labour without the presence of physical coercion in situations where there is a refusal on the part of the workers to cooperate. Originality/value – There is a relatively small volume of secondary literature comparing US and BWI slavery and its legacy. Likewise, the accounting implications of labour-control practices, during the transition from slavery to freedom, are largely understudied. The research also points to a need to assess the decision-influencing capabilities of management accounting systems in other transitional labour settings.

Keywords Government accounting, Labour control, Slavery, Emancipation, United States of America, Barbados, Jamaica, Antigua, Employees, Employers, Control, Accounting

Paper type Research paper

The authors gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of Bill Wootton and the two referees. They also wish to acknowledge innumerable unnamed archivists at various national archives and university libraries, who facilitated their compilation of key primary-source materials.

Controlling labour during the transition


Received 19 July 2008 Revised 22 September 2009, 11 August 2010 Accepted 18 October 2010

22 September 2009, 11 August 2010 Accepted 18 October 2010 Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal Vol.

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal Vol. 24 No. 6, 2011 pp. 751-780 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited


DOI 10.1108/09513571111155537




Introduction Slavery officially ended in the British Empire in 1834 and in the USA in 1863, although in practice it is difficult to identify a clear break. The paper focuses on the transition from slavery to wage workers in both venues and the corresponding nature of the reporting and control procedures that were established in order to create a disciplined workforce and establish regular relations between employees and employers. The paper seeks to explain the differences in labour control practices between the two regions and to discuss the impact on these practices of accounting and other quantitative techniques[1]. In particular, it considers the central role played by government in the process. The issue of inculcating the working population with a sense of labour discipline in the early to mid-19th century was not peculiar to the former slave economies given the speed of industrialisation in Britain that drew a population grounded in the agricultural rhythms of life into an unfamiliar industrial environment (Thompson, 1967). In the USA too there was a mass influx of agricultural labour from Europe, supplying new industry from the mid-1800s on. Certainly the New England textile industry and American railroading were adding untrained workers in significant numbers, particularly through immigration (Foner, 2006, pp. 417-18). The textile industry, for example, was especially fertile ground for accounting developments in the early 1800s[2]. It is evident that the British government in particular regarded disciplining ex-slaves in the colonies and the working population at home as connected as it employed similar tactics in both cases, for example penal reform and anti vagrancy legislation (Holt, 1992, p. 37; Paton, 2004). In the case of the USA poor Whites could fall victim of legislation originally enacted after the Civil War to discipline ex-slaves (Waldrep, 1996). Instilling factory discipline into former agricultural workers was not the problem in the Southern States of the USA or the BWI, however. The South had little or no industry to speak of during Reconstruction and like the BWI remained predominantly agrarian. What was distinctive about the slave economies in terms of labour discipline was that notions of paying the workforce or disciplining them other than through physical means such as restraint or flogging were largely alien. Although corporal punishment remained an option for disciplining recalcitrant workers even after Abolition – the British Colonial Office (BCO) kept statistics, whereas the situation is not so clear for the American South – abolishing slavery meant that workers and employers had to adapt to a radically different working environment involving contracts, incentives and free market economics. Furthermore, the change was imposed at a distance by alien central authorities and not welcomed by plantation owners locally. In the USA, the authority was the Unionist government in Washington in the wake of its crushing defeat of the slave-holding states in the Civil War. In the case of the BWI, it was the Imperial government in London. Here, the bitter pill of Abolition was sweetened by a £20 million compensation fund. But, the local plantocracy remained hostile. The situation was further complicated by racial overtones in which White employers regarded their dark-skinned workers as racially inferior and believed they had a natural right to exploit them. In the USA great efforts were made by certain members of the South’s old “aristocratic classes” to nullify the right of freed slaves to vote through murder and intimidation (Foner, 1988, p. 432). These self same parties were in many cases the employers. Indeed, Foner (1988, p. 428) noted cases where the Ku Klux Klan was

deployed in the South to restore “labor discipline on White-owned farms and plantations” by forcing ex-slaves to turn out for work or to accept reduced crop-shares. Ex-slaves, for their part, railed at the idea of being compelled through political or economic pressures to continue working for their former racial oppressors (Foner, 1988, pp. 341-3, 425-8, 442; Franklin and Moss, 2000, pp. 275-6; Shapiro, 1988, pp. 5-29). It follows that the issue of labour control in the American South and BWI following Abolition was more complex than in the industrial regions of Britain and the USA. It went beyond making the workers more efficient or even about persuading them to work in the first place. It was concerned with creating a new social order of willing, habitual, and economically motivated waged workers. To be sustained, it required a fundamental redefinition of people’s expectations and obligations. From an accounting perspective, the issue was not just about employers establishing control procedures or surveillance systems within the workplace. It was about central government imposing layers of regulation, accounting requirements, and social accountability mechanisms – all of which were quite remarkable in an otherwise age of laissez faire, at least as far as economic elites were concerned. The property rights of citizens were sacrosanct in British and American law and not open to interference by government (Oldroyd et al., 2008). National accounting for these countries, in the sense of government “measuring and reporting the effects of the activities of the economic actors within a nation”, was mainly a product of the twentieth century (De Beelde, 2009, pp. 354-355). De Beelde (1999, p. 356) cites works by Irving Fisher, Maurice Copeland and Robert Martin as being influential in the 1930s in that regard. However, the governmental accounting described in this study formed part of a much earlier initiative by the British government in particular to manage a problem of national significance – for the British the fear was that the sugar trade would collapse following emancipation – through the collection of macro economic data[3]. In the USA too, the sub-commissioners of the Freedmen’s Bureau compiled macro economic reports on the condition of the freedmen in their districts (Record Group 105, roll 42). The manner in which accounting was used by the British government to forward its colonial interests in this instance was also distinctive. Most prior research on the subject has focussed on governmental accounting as a technology for dispossessing or manipulating indigenous communities. Hence, accounting was implicated in attempts by government in Canada to convert First Nation Americans from nomadic hunters to settled farmers (Neu, 1999). In Australia, governmentally imposed accountability systems remain to this day a means of restricting the access of Aboriginal Australians to resources (Gibson, 2000). In New Zealand, accounting calculations provided the justification for government in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to misappropriate Maori land (Hooper and Kearins, 2008). The present study is therefore unusual because it reveals that it was not just the behaviour of the dispossessed Africans and their descendents that the colonial power could seek to influence through accounts, but that of the ruling White classes also[4]. As the paper describes, this was attempted through the imposition of accountability mechanisms. Here again the study is notable given that previous research relating to the public sector has tended to focus on the means by which executive authorities were held accountable from below rather than the other way round (e.g. Coombs and Edwards, 1993; Funnell, 2007; Holden et al., 2009). Thus, for accounting historians, comparison between the plantation economies of the BWI and American South allows us to understand more about the use of

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accounting by governmental agencies in the nineteenth century in regulating and controlling parties who otherwise would be unaccountable for the consequences of their actions because they could not be observed. The distance from events of the controlling central authorities alluded to above were significant here. It is probably not

accidental that of the two regions, the most effective monitoring regime was established in the BWI where, as the paper will discuss, there existed a long tradition of absentee ownership and reporting events at a distance. The differences between the two localities are particularly interesting given that emancipation in the American South occurred some 30 years later than in the BWI. Therefore, the US government had the West Indian experience to draw on if it wished. These were neighbouring regions on the American continent, and the extent to which the USA replicated British policy in the Caribbean provides a contemporary comment on the British arrangements. Finally, there is the question of how effective the accounts were as decision-influencing information, to use modern behavioural terminology (e.g. Sprinkle, 2003, p. 290), given that output declined in both venues and the workforce was not maintained. The study builds on previous work by Tyson et al. (2005), which examined accounting control procedures in the BWI during the interim “Apprenticeship” period that followed the abolition of slavery by the British government in 1833. It extends the prior study and makes the additional judgement of how the situation panned out after the end of Apprenticeship in 1838, as well as how it compared to the American position both before and after emancipation. As Paton (2004, p. 5) has argued, slavery is best understood if the transition to freedom is studied as well. For the American side of the comparison particular use was made of the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau (FB) housed in the National Archives in Washington. The holdings of the FB are immense. For the purposes of this study, we selected the “Records of the Field Offices for the

” as representative of the FB’s activities in the Confederate and

State of Mississippi

Border States, as well as in the District of Columbia. In the introduction to the collection, the National Archives and Records Administration (2004, p. 3) confirm that the “major activities of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Mississippi generally resembled those conducted in other states”. As far as the West Indian side of the comparison is concerned, we looked for well-established plantations whose life-span stretched from the time before Abolition became a threat through the Apprenticeship period and beyond in order to trace how the record keeping responded to the changes. The paper continues with a comparison of the accounting records and labour control procedures on plantations prior to emancipation, highlighting the significance of absentee ownership in the BWI. It then examines the post emancipation period, in particular central government’s attempts in the two regions to regularise labour relations and create a willing and disciplined workforce.

Management accounting information and labour control pre-emancipation Under slavery, economic incentives and accounting controls played a small part in disciplining the workforce, physical coercion being the main means[5]. Indeed, management accounting played a very limited role overall in plantation management in both the USA and BWI. The major points of difference between the two locations are that plantations in the BWI tended to be larger than in the USA – typically they were nearly double the size in terms of both acreage and numbers of slaves – and crucially, from an accounting perspective, they were almost exclusively absentee-owned and therefore

wholly reliant on agents. Most of the American plantations were owner-managed. In the American South, the plantation owner himself, sometimes supported by the chief overseer, maintained the routine accounting records with “appraisers” called in from time to time when more formal valuations of the plant, slaves and livestock were required, such as for probate or loan collateralisation purposes. Meanwhile, an array of officials was involved in BWI in compiling the larger volume of accounting documents demanded by the owners in Britain to safeguard their investment. There was clearly much more of a reporting culture on the BWI plantations, therefore, than the American ones where “management by walking about” remained an option and thus there was far less need for formalised accounting reports to assess how things were going. Even in the BWI, however, it was usual for the various agents to report solely to the absentee proprietor rather than to each other, meaning that he alone would have had a full picture of the operations (Higman, 2005, pp. 101-102, 112, 209). The potential impediment to managing the operations that this created was exacerbated by the huge delays between sending and receiving letters. A letter dated April 1796 from James Stothert to his attorney[6] David Hood indicates that he was still awaiting a reply to his letter of the previous July (NAS: GD 241/189/1). A delay of ten months was exceptional, the norm being five months for the round-trip (Higman, 2005, p. 128). A letter in 1803 from PJ Miles of Bristol to John Tharp of Jamaica took two months to arrive (CRO: R55/7/128 (c) 6/7/10). Moreover, the accounts that were produced focused on the gross product of the plantation rather than return on investment. Attorneys were held to account principally through “accounts of produce”, which formed the basis of their remuneration (Higman, 2005, p. 42). An abstract of the accounts of the Lowther Plantation in Barbados in 1826 is unusual in basing the agent’s commission of five percent on the surplus of income over expenditure (BL: 43507/7-9). In most cases, commission was calculated on gross product (Higman, 2005, p. 81). The incentive for the agents therefore was to maximise output rather than profits. Other key reports demanded by the owners in Britain were annual inventories of the slaves, mules and cattle with explanations required for lives lost. Slaves became particularly valuable following the abolition of the slave trade with Africa in 1807 which made finding replacements much harder; and the obligation on attorneys and overseers to account to the owners for any deaths occurring helped safeguard the slaves’ health and safety albeit to a limited degree (Fleischman et al. , 2004a; Oldroyd et al. , 2008). What seems to have been absent from the BWI internal accounts was a detailed attention to cost control and labour productivity even though procedures to monitor costs must have been widely known, since piece rates and measured output were being documented and in use in both the US and British industrial sectors well before the end of their respective slave eras (e.g. Hoskin and Macve, 1986; 1988; Fleischman et al., 1995; Fleischman and Macve, 2002). Instead, plantation managers relied primarily on threatened or actual physical coercion to drive desired behaviour. Practice on plantations mirrored what was recommended in published textbooks. Hence, the eight principal objectives of Thomas Roughley’s (1823) guide for Jamaican planters are listed as:

Controlling labour during the transition


(1) the increase of crops; (2) preserving capital; (3) improving the quality and quantity of the sugar and rum;





the comfort of the slaves;


the provision of adequate food and care for the livestock;


keeping the buildings and manufacturing utensils in good order;


shipping the produce in a proper condition; and


disposing of it speedily.

Reducing costs or improving productivity were not explicitly identified as objectives. Similarly, John Mair’s (1763, pp. 330-331) Book-keeping Methodized which was popular in both the USA and BWI specified the “chief” plantation account-books as the boiling

house book, the still house book and the plantation book, all of which focused on recording gross output and sales. The only concession to costs in these books is that

the plantation book was noted as containing “an account of all the provisions and other

things bought, and from whom”, with the emphasis being on keeping track of personal accounts. Indeed, apart from inventories and accounts of output and sales the only other type of report produced on a regular basis by plantation managers prior to emancipation was the “accounts current” which listed payments and receipts and outstanding debts (Higman, 2005, p. 100). In a situation where expanding gross output was regarded as the main measure of success, what was required to increase profits was an expansion of capacity through investing in more land, cattle, slaves and plant rather than improving efficiency (Higman, 2005, pp. 198, 205, 218, 223). John Tharp (1744-1804), the Jamaican planter, typified this expansionist mentality. Starting his career in the 1760s he systematically built up his family’s plantation interests over the following 40 years through a policy of land acquisitions and capital improvements (Tenison, 1971, pp. 9-10). Tharp’s estate agent in Cambridgeshire accurately summed up his master’s business mentality in a letter to him in 1802:

I know that with your superintending eye what you project in Jamaica will be prudently, and I will add economically true, be the cost ever so great, for your life proves that economy does not always consist in expanding little (Emphasis in the original – CRO: R/55/128/B/1/7).

A prudent and austere man who was continually exhorting his children to

self-restraint, it is not that Tharp was disinterested in cost savings. But, learning his trade as a planter in the 1760s before the abolition movement had started to gain ground and at a time when slave workers could be physically coerced to work long and hard, his belief in expansion reflected the general confidence felt amongst British planters at the time in the permanence of the system. Proprietors did interrogate their agents in the West Indies about the need for new expenditure, especially slaves and mules. For example, the number of mules bought and lost was a constant bone of contention between James Stothert and his agent, David Hood (NAS: GD 241/189/1). Planters also had a number of norms at their disposal, developed through experience, by which they could judge efficiency, such as acceptable ratios of yields to acreage, slaves to acreage, sugar to rum, transport costs to distance, mills to distance, slaves to output, slaves to working hours, and slaves to cattle (Codrington papers, n.d.; Higman, 2005, pp. 99, 111, 201, 204-205, 224-225); but detailed costings of the activities, ex post profit statements and budgets were not usually prepared.

As far as the workforce went, it was not that there was a lack of management information produced, but that the focus was on differentiating between individuals according to race rather than increasing productivity. This type of attitude was typified by the processes whereby slaves from Africa and their descendants were valued as livestock and the conviction in the BWI in particular that racial differences were significant and should be accounted for. The dehumanisation of slave workers in both the USA and the BWI was most evident in the valuation parade where some combination of overseers, managers, drivers, appraisers, and bookkeepers would usually gather annually for the purpose of ascribing a value to the slave assets alongside the cattle and mules. In the antebellum American South, relatively little attention seems to have been paid to a slave’s racial ancestry in these valuations, although it should be noted that most of the surviving examples postdate the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 by 40 years, hence, nearly all the slaves were native-born. Occasionally, racial characteristics would be provided for individual slaves in parentheses next to the name. In the BWI, by contrast, the listings featured a separate column for racial background. The usual information conveyed was whether the slave was African or Creole (native-born), but sometimes more detailed remarks identified the African tribe of origin or, in the case of Creoles, the proportion of White blood to Black (Fleischman et al. , 2011). The reasons for the greater attention paid to blood ancestry in the Caribbean inventories compared with the American ones are unclear, although it could be related to the larger size of the BWI plantations, or the preferences of absentee-owners for long-standing classification schemes. In a situation where there was a lack of personal familiarity with the slaves – indeed, the total number of Europeans residing on plantations in the BWI was especially small – racial characteristics constituted an important identifying feature in exercising physical control of the inventory, for example in reclaiming runaways. Productivity statistics, if they existed at all, were kept sporadically. For example, the authors have seen only one instance where a US plantation maintained individual cotton-picking records for the entirety of the 11-week season (James Jackson papers; Mississippi State Archives, n.d.) and no instances in the BWI. Best practice in the USA was typified by Thomas Affleck’s (1851) account and record-keeping book, which helped reassure slave-owners that they were engaging in a perfectly rational business activity by providing them with a uniform and apparently scientific scheme of plantation accounting (Heier, 1988; Fleischman and Tyson, 2004a). The book was intended as a sort of Simplex guide for owners to complete. Although a planter’s use of an Affleck book was strictly voluntary, it proved a bestseller, with many copies surviving, and is therefore an important source of evidence of actual plantation practices. The impression the book created was that a meticulous attention to a variety of accounting data signalled a well-run plantation. However, like in the BWI, the emphasis in the Affleck book was on tracking revenues with a lack of interest in cost management and worker productivity. The book did contain pages for the owners to enter the daily cotton-picking totals of individuals, which could be summed to arrive at the output of the workforce as a whole; but, in practice these pages were often disregarded or completed with widely varying degrees of care, suggesting a limitation in their usefulness as accounting controls. Indeed, upon examining scores of surviving Affleck books in different business archives, the authors noticed that few if any of the

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books were filled out as Affleck described in his directions. There were innumerable blank pages and inconsistencies in terms of the quality and content of information when a plantation’s record books are compared from one period to the next. The clear impression created by these books is that quantifying labour output was not deemed worth the effort. The one exception to the non-involvement of accounting in disciplining the workforce prior to emancipation concerns the switch by some owners in the USA and BWI from ganging to tasking after the abolition of the slave trade with Africa in 1807. Tasking involved motivating the workers through predetermined performance standards, in contrast to ganging, which relied on close supervision and physical coercion. Under tasking, slaves were free to pursue their own activities after they had completed their quota of work. Accounting was involved in setting targets and measuring performance. Tasking was regarded as less onerous on slaves than the constant physical bullying of the ganging system, and hence a means of extending their working life in a situation where replacements were unavailable. The pattern of adoption was uneven, however, and tasking was more suited to cotton picking in the USA than cane-cutting in the BWI where ganging remained the norm (Tyson et al. , 2004; Fleischman et al. , 2004b). In summary, the focus in the management accounts on gross output, the lack of cost controls and the lack of attention to labour productivity and non-physical means of disciplining the workforce did not bode well for the plantation owners when faced with a more competitive labour environment. Landowners and government were well aware of the danger that ex-slaves would withdraw their labour once emancipated, and the next section describes the steps they took to mitigate it.

Engineering a new society based on waged labour Clearly, there were a host of variables that affected the transition process. Foner (1983) noted that these were both internal (scarcity of land, political power of former slave owners) and external (state of the economy, role of political authorities). However, two major points of difference stand out between the BWI and USA. In the first place, emancipation in the BWI was the result of a negotiated settlement involving compensation to slave owners, whereas in the USA it was imposed on a war-ravaged economy following the Civil War. Compensating the slave owners in the BWI gave the British government a financial lever over them as they were forced to agree to the systemisation of work rules, pay rates, punishments, justice, and detailed accounting records and reporting requirements before they received any money. The intervention of the imperial government in plantation affairs was not new and thus may have been more tolerated. An Order in Council in 1824, for example, restricted the use of whippings and obliged plantation owners to keep a record of floggings administered. Another one in 1831 regulated the slaves’ terms and conditions of work and empowered local “slave protectors” to adjudicate civil and criminal proceedings, summon witnesses, access plantations, and collect evidence. It follows that the seeds of the legal framework established in the BWI by the 1833 Abolition Act, which gave a high priority to accounting procedures, had been sown several years prior to emancipation in 1838. Plantations were now obliged to keep detailed records of work and pay as legal evidence and officials on the ground to submit regular reports to London involving a host of statistical data to enable the BCO to monitor the progress of

the “great experiment”[7]. More specifically, each colony was required to document its system of fines, extra work-hour requirements, criteria for floggings, attendance, acts of insubordination, and sub-scale work performance. All of these accounting and accounting-related data had to be recorded in a prescribed fashion in particular journals, not only for reporting back to the BCO but also to be available to special magistrates during their regular visits or at special hearings, to adjudicate worker complaints (Tyson et al. , 2005). The original plan had been to establish a transitional period of “Apprenticeship” where the slaves would learn to behave like waged workers. This had been scheduled to last until 1840, but was terminated in 1838 owing to their demands for greater freedom (Tyson et al. , 2005). This carefully planned and phased approach, including the accounting requirements, was in sharp contrast to what occurred in the USA where the Emancipation Act was followed by nearly two years of continued civil conflict. Southern rural economies were largely devastated in the aftermath and the plantation system effectively collapsed. The best efforts of the US federal government to aid the transition of former slaves from servitude to freedom were embodied in the activities of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, (FB). The FB was established within the War Department by Congress in March 1865. However, unlike the BCO with its permanent staff of civil servants, this was an Army agency that was always seen as temporary, notwithstanding that its life was twice extended until the final cessation of operations in June 1872. Major General Oliver Howard served as the FB’s Commissioner for its entire history. Although, as the paper will relate, the FB played a key role in regularising employer-employee relations, its concerns were wider and more immediate. These are summarised by National Archives (1781-1951, 5, p. 3) in its introduction to the Records of the Field Offices for the State of Mississippi (Record Group 105, n.d., ; M1907, 65 rolls):

While a major part of the Bureau’s early activities involved the supervision of abandoned and confiscated property, its mission was to provide relief and help freedmen become self-sufficient. Bureau officials issued rations and clothing, operated hospitals and refugee camps, and supervised labor contracts. In addition, the Bureau managed apprenticeship disputes and complaints, assisted benevolent societies in the establishment of schools, helped freedmen in legalizing marriages entered into during slavery, and provided transportation to refugees and freedmen who were attempting to reunite with their family or relocate to other parts of the country. The Bureau also helped Black soldiers, sailors, and their heirs collect bounty claims, pensions, and back pay.

Much of this was relief work, and it is significant that it is for relief activities that the FB now tends to be remembered. Thus, the situation in the USA following emancipation was more pressing than in the BWI because of the legacy of war, yet more ad hoc in terms of the structures established by the federal government to deal with it. In particular there was an absence of anything comparable to the sustained central monitoring and reporting procedures emanating from the BCO. The second major point of difference between the two locations is that production on plantations continued in the BWI into the twentieth century, notwithstanding that many businesses failed and were sold off, whereas in the USA the plantation economy essentially collapsed within the space of a few years. During and after the transition, the majority of BWI estates carried multiple mortgages, which forced their owners to continue production of sugar on plantations (Butler, 1995). There was also a political

Controlling labour during the transition





incentive to preserve the size of plantations because voting privileges were legislatively restricted to large landowners[8]. The importation of thousands of indentured workers beginning in the early 1840s from India (primarily) and China also helped boost a plantation system drained of its traditional labour-force[9]. These workers were not unlike slaves in that their mobility was restricted and they were compelled to complete indentures typically lasting three to five years. Although paid piece-rate wages, they were obliged to meet stringent work-level standards in order to receive full compensation (Mangru, 1986; Tinker, 1974). In the USA, on the other hand, fewer than one percent of southern farms could be considered plantations by 1867, “the disappearance of the plantation system [being] virtually complete by 1870” (Ransom and Sutch, 1977, pp. 68, 87). Unlike the North where manufacturing was well developed and expanding, there was little alternative to agricultural production. It follows that other than in the rice plantations of the South Carolina lowlands, the plantation system was replaced by a “patchwork” of smaller sized family farms based on share-tenancy agreements (Roark, 1977, p. 163). These contracts compensated workers in permutations of crop-shares, wages, rent-free house or land and provisions. The key point from an accounting perspective is that numbers of workers were small and labour control at the micro level depended primarily on evidencing the performance of contracts, unlike the situation in the BWI where the need for employers to control concentrations of workers over dispersed locations remained. The section continues by examining the effects of emancipation on the management accounting systems of individual businesses before investigating accounting’s role in evidencing the performance of contracts. It then considers the entrenched opposition of employers and ex-slaves to the normalisation of labour relations and the part played by central government in enforcing change.

Management accounting Given the shortage of labour that developed post-emancipation, one would have expected employers to focus more on improving efficiency in order to maintain output; and the surviving accounts provide some evidence in that respect in the BWI. For example, Higman (2005) found an improvement in the accounting arrangements on the Montpelier plantation in Jamaica. The task system which relied on accounting targets was utilised in order “to increase the productivity of labour”, notwithstanding the increased “measuring and recording” costs involved (Higman, 2005, pp. 235, 246). Similarly, the proprietor now required more detailed projections, “taking into account the relative proportions in plants and ratoons, piece by piece” (Higman, 2005, p. 257). For the first time, the produce accounts and accounts current were made up to the same calendar date to facilitate ex post analysis; and the proprietor responded to the heightened uncertainties of the post slave economy with requests for more accounting data (Higman, 2005, pp. 268-271). The plantation accounts of the Earl of Balcarres likewise increased in scope and detail as Abolition approached and in the years thereafter. In the main they comprised lists of receipts and payments and inventories prior to 1833 (NLS: Crawford 23/14/4, 6, 8). However, from then on accounts of the daily pickings, pulpings and millings appear which itemised the daily pickings from the field by the number of Negroes employed in the first, second and third gangs (NLS: Crawford 25/11/647, 652-655). Thus, on

15 September, 30 Negroes in the second gang picked 25 bushels of coffee from the field compared with 50 bushels on the 19th. On the 21st, the second gang,which had now risen to 31 in strength, produced 51 bushels. The juxtaposition of total daily pickings with total number of pickers indicates concern over the productivity of the workforce. The daily pickings were sub-totalled weekly, enabling further comparison of output (NLS: Crawford 25/11/652/1). In analysing costs by category, an abstract of the accounts for 1840 displayed an interest in tracking costs, the largest of which now related to wages. Daily pay-sheets similarly tracked labour costs. For example, a sheet for 22 April 1839 relating to Marshall’s Pen recorded that:

20 employees were engaged in pruning coffee, two acres of coffee were pruned, the rate of wages was 13s per acre, and the amount paid £1/6;

six employees cleaned coffee, one acre of coffee was cleaned at 13s/4 per acre, resulting in 13s/4 being paid;

three employees were engaged “about the works”, providing one day’s labour at 10d per day, total payment 2s/6;

six employees supplied coffee, providing one day’s labour at 1s/8, amount paid 10s (NLS: Crawford 25/11/647).

These were summary documents, whose purpose was to keep track of the work undertaken, and its cost. Some 20 years later the Tharp accounts had evolved into a comprehensive and systematic scheme of monthly reporting on pre-printed forms containing the following headings:















abstract of expenditure and cultivation;

produce account;


stock account;

monthly wages;

supplies received this month;

general remarks by the overseer on the cultivation of the property;

state of the weather;

rate of wages;

behaviour of the labourers during the month.

Controlling labour during the transition


Wages were recorded over 25 tasks again on pre-printed the forms (CRO: R55/7/127/1). Whether the increased utilisation of accounts was the reflection of a drive for efficiency or simply an attempt by plantation owners in the BWI to compensate for the heightened uncertainties in the post-emancipation environment by seeking more information is a moot point. But it does illustrate the owners recognising the ability of accounting information to aid management in ways not done so previously[10]. The situation was far different in the USA because of the sudden collapse of the plantation system rather than an extended period of time to prepare for its demise. Once plantations were subdivided in the war’s aftermath, there were both fewer




opportunities and fewer reasons to monitor the effort levels of freed workers. The need for accounting information to assist management was therefore less acute in the American South in the years following Abolition. Probably accounting’s most significant contribution to the regularisation of labour relations here was the evidence that it provided relating to the performance of contracts.

Evidencing the performance of labour contracts American South: After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and especially during the early years of Reconstruction (1865-1867), the majority of freedmen in the USA entered into individual or collective annual contracts with employers, many of whom were northern businessmen (e.g. “carpetbaggers”) who had no experience in plantation management. In general, northerners treated the freedmen like factory workers and expected them to respond to traditional economic incentives. Thus, share-based contracts or monthly wages were common approaches used to entice the freedmen to remain on the fields until crops were harvested. Share contracts specified work rules, effort levels, and the fines or physical punishments that could be imposed. Morgan (1982, pp. 585-586) noted that in 1866, a third system, known as the “two-day” system, also became commonplace. Here, freedmen worked two of six days in each week for their employers and received a rent-free house, fuel, and six acres of land, for their own use. To ensure that workers honoured their contracts, US employers typically deferred crop shares or a portion of wages until the contracts were completed and the crops harvested. Notwithstanding, the Assistant Commissioner for Mississippi reported that many employers reneged on these contracts:

Complaints were very numerous in the latter part of last year [1866] from freed people, that it was impossible for them to obtain any compensation for their entire year’s labor. Excuses of various kinds were advanced by some debtors with whom the freedmen worked for shares On very many cases fraud was unquestionably resorted to[11].

Since prices and yields fluctuated widely, many freedmen were naive or severely disadvantaged by particular contract provisions, and Freedmen’s Bureau (FB) officials were often called upon to resolve labour disputes. Both workers and employers could be taken to task by the FB for the non-performance of contracts. FB officials had the power to levy fines and otherwise remedy inequities. Unfortunately, there appears to be little archival evidence indicating how successful the FB was in enforcing its decisions. For instance, Shlomowitz (1991, p. 101) claims that “the fine system generally fell into abeyance” from the late 1860s[12]. What is clear from the records of the arbitration hearings however, is the importance of accounting numbers in supporting claims. The records maintained by the FB cover a wide range of activities, primarily designed to protect the ex-slaves in their transition from servitude to freedom. The greatest effort seemed to be in defining labour relations for those who chose not to accept the proffered reparations in certain districts of 40 acres and a mule[13]. The FB was greatly involved in overseeing contractual arrangements, both the conditions for the apprenticeship of young children to plantation owners and the negotiation and settlement of annual labour contracts with adult field hands. One such settlement was with a freewoman, Winnie, who worked for W.J. Richey. In 1867, she was entitled to a “half hand’s interest” of $52.84, representing her interest in the crop. From this was deducted $11.35 for clothing and cash provided her, as well as

$6.37 2 for “Winnie’s part of hand hire”. From the remaining $35.12, $13.50 was

deducted on the basis of accounting evidence for 18 days of missed service at $.75 per day, leaving $21.62. The degree to which this deduction served as a severe element of

labour control is reflected by the fact that 70

eroded her entire $52.84 of half hand’s interest (Record Group 105, M197, roll 43). The lost time issue and its relationship to labour and/or racial control have been significant in other studies of plantation economies. Fleischman and Tyson (2004)

found in both the antebellum American South (slave labour) and on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Hawaiian sugar plantations (indentured labour) that the concern of employers was less with the productive efficiency of individual field hands and more with their turning out for work and, if not present, the reasons why[14]. Typical of this concern in the FB archive is the account of lost time for Ellick Gillespie who, in November 1867, was expected to work 26 days but who, according to his employer’s records, missed 12, dates of these specifically chronicled. The record told of what he was doing on these missed days. Interestingly, he spent one of these at the FB (Record Group 105, M197, roll 43).

A letter dated August 31, 1867 from W. Eldridge, Sub-Assistant Commissioner of

Tupelo to a Major identified only as A.W. at Vicksburg delineated terms that were typical in the labour contracts between freedmen and planters engineered under FB auspices. When the crop share was one-third for the freedman, the planter was to furnish everything but clothing and medical attention. Conversely, the labourer was to provide everything required for his/her upkeep if the share was one-half. Other workers toiled for yearly wages in the $150-$285 range or for daily wages of $1 to $2. Apparently, there were some unspecified supplemental health and retirement benefits as Eldridge allowed that there were no old, sick, or infirm freed persons suffering from want in his sub-district (Record Group 105, M197, roll 43). Such contractual arrangements reflected a plan conceived by Assistant Commissioner T.J. Wood in 1867 in an effort to curb the abuses of planters fleecing their former slaves. However, freedmen who toiled for a portion of the crop (“sharecroppers”) could often find themselves the victims of “creative” accounting practices[15]. Others who worked for wages were sometimes cheated out of their due, or “driven off” following the harvest. The plan was for the FB to standardise an

arrangement for planters to pay freedmen one-third of the crop and to provide land, stock, tools, food, and seed. Clothing, medical attention, and rations for children too young to work were to be deducted from the freedmen’s share. In 1868 a modification took place wherein a stipulated rent or a specified amount of agricultural produce would be paid in exchange for the use of the land. It was hoped that this new arrangement would break the debt cycle (National Archives and Records Administration, 2004, p. 4).

It almost goes without saying that these contractual labour relationships gave rise

to frequent disputes that required FB intervention where accounts were produced in evidence. On November 30, 1867, the Assistant Adjutant General of the 4th Military District (Mississippi and Arkansas) established ground rules for arbitration hearings. Each party to the dispute was to select a member for the arbitration board with those two in turn choosing a third panel member. The FB felt strongly that the claims of labourers were the most vital of matters that came before the arbitration boards. The Adjutant General wrote: “This is deemed necessary to afford encouragement to free


1 missed days of service would have


Controlling labour during the transition




labour” (Record Group 105, M197, roll 43). However, there is no evidence seen by the authors that the FB actually enforced decisions rendered by the arbitration boards or to suggest what was done if the members hand-picked by the litigants were unable to agree on a third member for the tribunal. Another printed document entitled “Agreement with Freedmen” spelled out the obligations of both parties to a labour contract and stipulated the punishments due to

764 freedmen for malfeasance:

And in case any laborer shall voluntarily absent himself from, or shall neglect or refuse to perform the labor herein contracted for, and the fact shall be proved to the satisfaction of the proper officer, the one-half of the wages due to said party so offending, retained in the hands of the said [planter’s name] as aforesaid, shall be forfeited, one-half thereof to the said [planter’s name] and the other half to the United States, to aid in supporting the helpless, and the party so offending may be discharged from said employment (Record Group 105, M197, roll 42).

The fact that half the penalty for non-performance of the contract went to the government underscores the substantial relief activities of the FB. Since the government stood as beneficiary, care too might be assumed in the enforcement process. Such agreements necessitated planters keeping records of attendance and work undertaken by their employees’ as without such evidence neglect of duties could not be demonstrated. A crucial consideration was the number of hours a labourer was expected to work per day. Apparently, this was an issue easily finessed by planters with support from the FB. The “Agreement with Freedmen” document specified ten hours of work per day in Summer and nine hours in Winter with none on Sunday, but in the example we have seen, these lines were crossed out (Record Group 105, M197, roll 42). Another agreement stipulated labourers to be at work by sun rise (with the word “by” deleted and replaced with “before”) and to work until sun set (with “sun set” crossed out in favour of “dark”). Time lost to sickness was to be deducted from the worker’s wage or share, while time lost to idleness or absence without leave was to be penalised at three times the normal rate. Again these exactions had to be supported by accounting data to be effective in law. The protective arm of the FB is most evident in a series of documents that provide monthly wage rates on plantations of now free labour. A document of this genre appears as Figure 1 for Spring Farm. The heading in the document, somewhat illegible in the example, reads:

And it is furthermore agreed that any wages or share of profits due the said laborers under this agreement, shall constitute a first lien upon all crops or parts of crops produced on said plantation or tract of land by their labor. And no shipment of crops shall be made until the Commissioner of Freedmen shall certify that all dues to laborers are paid or satisfactorily arranged (Record Group 105, M197, roll 42).

It will be noted that the labourers are classified as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, a rating system that occasionally appeared in slave lists in the American South. It will also be observed that monthly wages were linked to the operative’s rating. Here the typical wage for a first-class male was $10, with second-class males receiving a dollar less. There was gender discrimination since first-class females typically received $8 per month. Third-class males and second and third-class females earned $4-5 a month. It appears that a system which had existed ad hoc in the annual valuation of slaves before the Civil

Controlling labour during the transition 765 Figure 1. Freedmen, ratings, and wages War (Fleischman and

Controlling labour during the transition


Figure 1.

Freedmen, ratings,

and wages

War (Fleischman and Tyson, 2004) became formalised with emancipation. Summary documents also appeared in the FB archive. For example, an 1865 compendium contained the plantation owners and the location of their holdings along with the total of “Male Hands” rated, 1, 2, and 3; the number of “Female Hands” likewise ranked, with the number of boys and girls unrated (Record Group 105, M197, roll 42).




British West Indies: In contrast to the wide variation in contract terms observed above, BWI contracts of employment were characteristically uniform within a particular colony and specified expected task levels of work effort as opposed to simple measurements of output. When slavery ended in the BWI sugar colonies, committees of elite planters broke down field work into a set of basic tasks and task rates which were vetted by the BCO prior to the release of the £20 million fund that was distributable to former slaveholders as compensation. The BCO made justice accessible to employers and employees alike through a system of Special Magistrates (SMs) that was initiated during the Apprenticeship period. Basing his conclusions on the writings of former SMs, Craton (1994, p. 49), noted that, “Many SMs prided themselves on the promotion of written contracts – dealing with share-cropping arrangements and labor tenancies as well as labor contracts strictly defined”. SMs visited the different districts and adjudicated allegations of contract infringements on the basis of oral argument and the detailed accounts, which as mentioned earlier, the employers were obliged to keep. Over time, market forces led to differing pay rates among tasks that required more or less skill and effort than others. Notwithstanding, Apprenticeship-era task rates of expected work effort continued to be overseen by local SMs into the 1850s and beyond, even though the sugar fields were increasingly occupied by immigrant Indian workers rather than larger-bodied freedmen of African descent. All workers, regardless of ethnicity or physical characteristics, were required to complete at least one task each day and five tasks each week, during both the Apprenticeship and post Apprenticeship periods. In effect and in combination with vagrancy provisions, task-rate based wages and performance expectations were included in written contracts that were employed to convert slave and indentured workers into paid labourers in the BWI sugar


Rental agreements provided another contractual means of eliciting labour from the population in the BWI. It had been the customary practice under slavery to supply the slaves with provision grounds where they might grow their own food or sell and exchange it in local markets. After emancipation, charging rents on houses and provision grounds was seen by employers as a way of making ex-slaves dependent on wages. The other method of constraining the workforce was to make the provision of a house and grounds conditional upon the occupants’ continuing work on the plantation (Hall, 1978). There was variation on the theme at the Montpelier plantation in Jamaica. Initially, a low rent was charged on houses and gardens and a high one on provision grounds in order to encourage the workers to remain on the plantation, whilst at the same time diverting them away from cultivating their own crops (Higman, 2005, p. 247). However, as Hall (1978) relates, such policies had the opposite effect. This was a seller’s labour market, especially in the years immediately following Apprenticeship before the large influx of indentured workers, and the feeling of resentment engendered among former slaves promoted an exodus from estates, prompting some employers to pull back from these restrictive labour practices.

Opposition to waged work Opposition was encountered in the USA and BWI from freed slaves and employers alike to the new world order envisaged by central government of a free workforce

voluntarily cultivating the land for wages. Planters “resented their loss of arbitrary

[and] feared the disintegration of a social and economic system which had


provided them the highest rank and authority” (Green, 1976, p. 131). In particular, they feared the disappearance of their workforce following emancipation, and sought to preserve the status quo through legislation and restrictive labour practices. Emancipated slaves, for their part, appeared far more interested in personal autonomy and gaining control of their time than in receiving either cash wages, crop shares, or barter for the same work they had performed as slaves[17]. Powell (1980, p. 79) discussed why freedmen in the USA resisted wage labour in the years immediately following the Civil War:

Still, the great obstacle in the way of making cotton plantations into “factories in the field” was the work ethic of the slaves themselves. Tied to the natural rhythms of agriculture and reinforced by an African sense of time, the slave work ethic placed a high premium on the communitarian value of labor and on the social value of leisure. The slaves spurned the idea of routinised work, though they were not averse to hard work, and they considered time as something that was passed, not consumed.

Opposition to working for former slave-masters was also a matter of principle; and the availability, with certain exceptions (e.g. Antigua and Barbados), of sufficient open lands in both the BWI and the USA for freedmen to cultivate the crops necessary to fulfil personal and family needs allowed many to opt out and become peasant farmers. Where open lands were not accessible, freedmen in both venues had few choices other than to perform the same tasks they had done before liberation. Moreover, even where land was available, planters conspired to prevent their workers acquiring it. In British Guiana, for example, legislation was passed in the 1850s that prohibited land acquisition by cooperatives in order to prevent former slaves from pooling their resources (Adamson, 1975, pp. 464-5). The paper has already referred to the practice in the BWI of charging rents on houses and provision grounds as a device for making workers dependent on wages. Similarly, the provisions of labour contracts and local sharecropping arrangements in the USA were intended to tie freedmen to plantation lands in order that relatively few would be able to become fully independent farmers. Collusion amongst employers to control the labour market was attempted in both the US and BWI, notwithstanding that “attempts at collusion by groups of US planters to restrain wages or specify contract terms were virtually all failures” (Wright, 1992, p. 90). Planters in the BWI however were much more successful at fixing terms and conditions mainly because it was they who dominated the local assemblies that created the uniform sets of labour regulations and contract provisions that were mandated by the BCO. Each colony’s local legislature drafted ordinances which specified task rates, punishment schemes, and vagrancy rules that were to apply to every plantation in a particular colony. Green (1976, p. 122) described the relationship of the local ordinances to the Abolition Act:

Although the Act of Parliament established the basic framework for emancipation, it reserved to the colonial legislatures the task of preparing the terms upon which the apprenticeship system would be regulated. Local assemblies were assigned the responsibility for framing rules for the classification of apprentices, for the appraisement of those who wished to purchase their freedom, for the maintenance of discipline among apprentices, and for the prevention of indolence and vagrancy.

The nearest parallels in the USA to the West Indian ordinances were the now infamous “Black Codes”. Reconstruction legislation allowed former slave states to re-enter the

Controlling labour during the transition





Union once they had approved the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Regrettably, this provision became mere lip service given the innumerable and impenetrable barriers to full and equal rights for freedmen that were embodied in the “Black Codes” established by state assemblies. Although there was a blatantly racist component to the codes, especially in regard to vagrancy provisions, state assemblies were not unlike their BWI counterparts in fearing that market incentives would be an ineffective means of persuading ex-slaves to work (Powell, 1980). According to Clayton (2006, p. 94), “the conviction that African-Americans would not work without some form of coercion was, for the White South, virtually an article of faith in 1865”. This fear was affirmed by the fact that the number of man-hours per capita supplied by the rural Black population fell by about a third once slavery ended (Ransom and Sutch, 1977, p. 46). Thus, the labour shortages that arose in the USA paralleled those in certain regions of the BWI. The Black Codes delineated the activities that ex-slaves could and could not pursue and were clearly a step back for the newly freed men. They included detailed vagrancy provisions, fines and punishment schemes, and new poll and business taxes that together re-established a quasi-legal form of servitude. In Mississippi’s Code, for example, freedmen were specifically precluded from renting or leasing lands in unincorporated towns or cities, a provision which effectively required the vast majority of freedmen to work as land labourers rather than to become independent farmers[18]. The Black Codes were designed, in part, to instil labour discipline among newly freed slaves, but by limiting their mobility, preventing their right to bear arms, and restricting their ability to own or lease lands, the codes also restored unsavoury vestiges of slavery (Wright, 1992). For example, Wallenstein (1987) noted that these codes and their poll-tax requirements restricted ex-slaves’ opportunities and prevented them from becoming fully free and equal citizens. However, Shlomowitz (1992, p. 665) examined the evidence on the effectiveness and persistence of the codes and concluded that “both the overt and the covert arrangements made by employers probably were nothing more than fleeting experiments on a local scale”. Their lifespan was strictly limited. Unlike BWI Apprenticeship ordinances, which lasted nearly four years and then became the basis of future legislation, the racially specific elements of the Black Codes were voided by the FB and then superseded by the Reconstruction Acts of 1867. Vagrancy provisions in most state codes did remain in place for decades and often culminated in years of peonage or penal servitude for unemployed former slaves and Black soldiers. Nevertheless, there was nothing in these codes or subsequent legislation at all comparable to the BWI’s detailed accounting-related task norms and work rules that were initiated during the slave era, formalised during the apprenticeship and indenture periods, and that endured well into the latter half of the nineteenth century. In short, the conflicting interests of freedmen and employers in both the BWI and USA threatened to undermine their central governments’ plan of creating a new agrarian society based on free waged labour. In this light, the sustained role of the British government in regulating, enforcing, and effecting change appears vital. This was dependant on the ability of the BCO to hold the various parties to account for their actions, in large part through uniform accounting procedures and periodic accounting reports. The next section discusses the role of government regulation in the development and use of accounting in both venues.

Government regulation Landowners in both the BWI and American South looked to government for assistance in maintaining labour and racial control when slavery ended. Local and federal legislation in both venues mandated gainful employment, forbad vagrancy, created detailed penal sanctions and punishment schemes, and created barriers to land ownership[19]. As one of many examples, a late 1865 Mississippi legislative act required that freedmen must have written evidence of “a lawful home or employment” by the second Monday of January 1866[20]. In the US immediately following emancipation federal policies favoured the freedmen. However, these policies were never effectively enforced and were quickly abandoned at the start of the Reconstruction period. Regulations for freed labourers were initially developed by the War Department’s Bureau of Refugees, following the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1 1863, and its initial provisions were more broadminded and far more protective to ex-slaves than those in the BWI immediately following Abolition. For example, plantation workers were allowed to choose their employer and place of residence, to sign one-year contracts, and to occupy abandoned lands that they could rent for three years and later buy (Bentley, 1970, p. 23). A committee of three officers was appointed “to regulate the enrolment, recruiting, employment, and education of persons of color” as well as to verify that labour contracts were appropriately fulfilled. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Refugees was a temporary agency and its authority and relatively liberal policies vis-a` -vis freedmen were in force only until the war ended when it was replaced by the FB. While the “Black Codes” of individual states were clearly aimed at social control, the authors have found little evidence indicating that a uniform, systematic, all-encompassing and centrally coordinated effort was both undertaken and sustained in the USA to re-socialise former slaves comparable to the BWI experience. This does not mean that the American and BWI land owners had different intentions or that the Caribbean e´lites were more or less successful in “controlling” former slaves. Clearly, White e´lites in both regions sought to tie ex-slaves to plantation lands, limit their ability to become full citizens, and maintain plantation-based economies. In the BWI, however, the effort was more consistent and coordinated through locally enacted legislation mandated by the colonial authorities, and was facilitated to a much greater extent by the accounting provisions and regular reporting requirements and intervals that were associated with this legislation. For example, Burn (1937, p. 194), noted that the BCO-appointed governor in British Guiana authorised a committee of local planters to develop labour standards. The resultant committee prepared scales of task-work for cane, plantain, coffee, cotton cultivation, and wood-cutting, based on what might be expected from an “effective labourer” and “average weather and soils”. We found nothing comparable to the interplay between local planters and local government in the USA. In the BWI, a set of work rules, norms, and punishment schemes had to be vetted by the BCO and legislated by the local colony assemblies before slaveholders were compensated. Approving these ordinances at one central location helped ensure that uniform accounting procedures would be adopted, detailed records would be kept, and data would exist to enable a comparative analysis of practices and statistics among the colonies. In essence, Orders in Council, in conjunction with the 1833 Abolition Act, created a regulatory framework that included formal record books, specific accounting reports, and normal reporting intervals. For example, CAP. V, Section 4 of the British

Controlling labour during the transition





Guiana Ordinance required that:[ praedial apprenticed labourer

entered into a book to be kept for that purpose on the plantation (British Parliamentary

Papers, 1835).Labour activity had to be documented, initially for slaves and later for apprentices, and a set of procedures had to be both followed and recorded when administering punishments[21]. There was nothing comparable to this central monitoring/local enforcement apparatus, structure, and tradition in the USA, either before or after slavery was abolished in the 1860s. Although the FB was responsible for monitoring labour practices and working conditions on plantations, a detailed and uniform set of district records was neither maintained nor reported to a central monitoring agency comparable to the BCO. As a result, accounting records and procedures were much more ad hoc and far less consistent or detailed in the USA. Because e´lite local planters in the BWI created the new work rules, they were able to perpetuate key remnants of slave-era polices and sustain their dominance over labour. The process was not all one way, however, in that BCO input and oversight was intended to protect the contractual rights of ex-slaves. Thus, the BCO appointed SMs whose charge was to visit plantations, adjudicate complaints from both planters and apprentice workers, and mete out punishments. According to Holt (1992, p. 56), these officials combined “the roles of judge, teacher, and taskmaster” and “were the key to the proper functioning of the system”. It is true that the maximum punishment for planters was a fine, whereas workers could be flogged or imprisoned under the law, but the point is that the system was both monitored and regulated. For instance, SMs verified that plantations were keeping proper pay and work records as required by the law, and were themselves held accountable to the BCO through monthly reports of their activities (Tyson et al. , 2005). In the US, the FB was similarly responsible for safeguarding freedmen from abusive labour practices, but the FB was a temporary, war-related federal agency, and FB officials on the ground did not have the same level of authority as BWI SMs. In the first place, they were hamstrung, in the early years, by the Black Codes. For example, an October 11, 1866 letter from T.J. Wood, Assistant Commissioner in Mississippi to General O.O. Howard, Commissioner of the FB, describes the unique challenges faced by Bureau officials in the field:

Officers are required to use every means to make known to all in their districts the nature of

their duties, and to this end are directed to put themselves in communication with prominent citizens of either color, and with state and other officials, resident within their districts. They

shall by such employer, be reduced into writing and

every contract between the employer and the


The difficulties in the way

of the performance of the duties of the officers of the Bureau are much increased by the existence of certain State Statutes which affect the Freed people alone, and which are unjust and oppressive[22].

Second, the FB was a military operation that functioned in a very hostile environment with relatively little direction forthcoming from Washington. The FB undertook many initiatives that were clearly intended to improve the lot of freedmen. It distributed rations, established rules for labour contracts and apprenticeship indentures, set up an arbitration structure to resolve disputes, saw to the education of the young, and seemed generally supportive of the freedmen’s equality. The archive is replete with evidence that documents these noteworthy efforts. For example, FB sub-commissioners were

must obtain the confidence of both White and colored citizens

required to submit quarterly reports on the freedmen living in their districts. These reports were quite detailed and formed a synthesis of most FB activities. Data categories included the number of freedmen in each county and whether they were registered with the Bureau or not; the number gainfully employed; the number of contracts approved since the last report and the total number of contracts in force; the number of marriages registered since the last report and total number registered; the number of freedmen who had died and the number held in confinement; the number of apprenticeship indentures since the last report and the overall total of apprentices; and the number of freedmen receiving rations broken down into men, women, and children, etc. (Record Group 105, M197, roll 42). An immense document of some 153 pages appears in roll 65 (Record Group 105) which is a register of former slaves. The entry for each freedman covers two pages of information. In addition to the data that would be expected, such as name, sex, age, and residence, an identifying trait that should no longer have been germane was colour (e.g. Brown, Black, Yellow, Mulatto). The archives also contain weekly reports regarding the number of sick and wounded refugees and freedmen. The amount and value of commodities provided to individual freedmen were also recorded. These statistics are wide-ranging and not dissimilar to information demanded by the BCO (Tyson et al. , 2005). What is missing, however, from the FB records (unlike those of the BCO) is clear evidence of follow through and sustained effort. Did the FB take action against planters who violated the terms of contracts? Was the education provided to Black children really equal to that of White? Were actions taken to forestall planters from cheating their labourers after the harvest? Were White apprentices worked as hard as Black? The extant record is mute on these pivotal questions, suggesting that little was done by the FB during its seven years of operation that had lasting impact on Reconstruction. BWI plantations in contrast continued to be monitored by BCO-appointed officials long after slavery had ended, and they were still required to document activities and report them regularly to the BCO.

Controlling labour during the transition


Conclusion The paper has discussed the impact of accounting and other quantitative techniques on labour control practices during the transition from slavery to waged labour in the USA and BWI at the macro and micro levels. Prior to emancipation, plantation accounts in both the USA and BWI focused heavily on gross output rather than return on investment. There was a lack of attention to labour productivity and little in the way of cost controls. There was more attention in the labour records to differences of race than productivity. Labour discipline was characterised by the lash or other physical punishments. In terms of points of difference, the fact that most plantation owners in the BWI were absentees meant that there was more of a tradition of reporting events to the principal than in the USA where “management by walking about” remained feasible. There was also a longer history of government intervention in plantation affairs in the BWI, including demands for information. Central government in both venues committed itself to the task of creating a new agrarian society based on free waged labour once the prospect of emancipation could no longer be avoided. In order to achieve this, the authorities in London and Washington accepted that the behaviour of workers and employers would need to change radically, and recognised the importance of accounting systems to gather




information about their activities in order to both establish accountability and evaluate performance against work norms. In both the BWI and the American South extensive data were compiled. In the BWI the process was more enduring, more systematic, and with a clearer connection between the accounting information created and the outcomes that resulted. Although there were many similarities between the USA and BWI post-slavery transitional periods, especially planters’ responses to free labour, the depth and breadth of accounting differed significantly in these two venues. In the USA, accounting for labour was typically ad hoc and inconsistent, whereas in the BWI it was much more organised, formalised and detailed, and displayed greater uniformity both within and across colonies. In the authors’ view, the existence of a strong central agency that accumulated reports, issued Orders in Council and mandated local ordinances, and employed and trained local adjudicators best explains the greater uniformity and systematic use of accounting to sustain plantation systems in the BWI, and its absence in the USA. We acknowledge that the Black Codes in nearly every southern state contained innumerable provisions which impacted the freedmen’s daily life, but these codes were fleeting and did not include anything comparable to the micro-level measurement, monitoring, and reporting requirements for work rules, task rates, and punishments that occur in the BWI. The explanation for the relative lack of government imposed control procedures in the American South is a matter of debate, but two groups of factors stand out, one political, the other economic, that help explain the difference in attitudes. The first is the call for individual states’ rights and local authority, and staunch resistance to a central control that has always been a part of the American consciousness. Before the war, American weakness was linked to states’ rights and the reality that slavery continued to exist in the North except where it was specifically prohibited. There was comparatively little slavery to be sure in the North because it was not feasible economically, but at the same time relatively few congressmen were rabid on the issue except to advance their political ambitions. Even Lincoln was cool about the topic until he decided on emancipation to advance the war effort (Fleischman, 1979; Litwack, 1961, pp. 274-8). In fact, the basic political structure goes a long way towards explaining why the British government appeared strong and the USA weak. The USA still needed several generations to mitigate the effects of states’ rights irrespective of the decision of the Civil War. Although British colonies were widely dispersed geographically, the USA was much more decentralised governmentally than Britain. British colonies were governed internally rather than by the imperial centre as far as day-to-day matters were concerned (Banton, 2008). However, the BCO was charged with maintaining the national interest in the colonies and it did so bureaucratically through systematic and comparative analysis of documented reports that were locally inspected and regularly transmitted to London. In the US case, there was no permanent agency of government to deal with conquered domestic territory, nor a tradition of monitoring from afar. Hence, the military drew the short straw to enforce policies laid down by a deeply divided Congress and an ineffective chief executive. The military was given this responsibility by default, and the FB, which administered the process, was always temporary in design. This was an entirely different scenario from the BCO with its well-established network of agents, permanent staff and indefinite life expectancy.

Indeed, the long experience of the British Colonial authorities in tackling a range of issues and colonies would have made the BCO a difficult organisation for the West Indian planters to challenge. It is probably true that the level of central government interference by the BCO in the West Indies would have been anathema in Britain, notwithstanding that the absence of a written constitution in the UK allowed the British government to legislate more extensively than would have been possible under US law. However, government papers indicate that emancipation was regarded as presenting exceptional circumstances. It was after all a “great national experiment” with a perceived high risk of failure. Furthermore, this was not the mother country, but the colonies. Most British plantation owners were absentees and might have fought harder to protect their independence from government had they resided on their plantations. The second point is that plantation owners in the BWI were dependent on the largess of the British government to maintain the viability of plantations following Abolition and therefore had a powerful incentive to comply. Not only did the £20 million compensation fund help keep owners afloat, many of whom were saddled with debt, but the payment of compensation was contingent on colonial assemblies detailing accounting and work rules designed to regulate workers’ expected output and remuneration, as well as to mitigate remnants of harsh slave-era punishments that would surely have been sustained after slavery ended. These procedures – which were binding on both workers and employers – helped insulate the latter from market pressures to a degree. Thus, from an economic perspective, compensation may well be the main explanation for the government’s ability to demand and implement more documented and detailed accounting and control procedures in the BWI than in the USA, where there was no similar quid pro quo, emancipation being a consequence of the Civil War. The relative deficiency of government sponsored control procedures in the USA is interesting considering that emancipation there occurred some 30 years later than in BWI. Therefore, the authorities in the USA had plenty of time to observe and learn from the British experience. Indeed, the absence of comparable procedures leads us to question the perceived usefulness of managerial accounting systems as decision-influencing information at this particular time and setting, in that such systems were intentionally absent in the US case despite the BCO model that was already in place for all to observe and replicate. However, even in the BWI, where the paper has argued that labour control was more effective and largely based on accounting and other quantitative data, none of the measures taken were sufficient to stem the labour shortages that developed following emancipation. Profits declined, many plantations were sold off, and it was not until the 20th century that the Caribbean sugar trade recovered (Adamson, 1975, pp. 461-64; Hall, 1978; Paton, 2004, p. 9). Neither regulation nor incentives were enough to persuade sufficient numbers of the former slave population to continue doing the same work as before. Therefore, the situation provides an interesting corollary to previous work on managerial control systems in the nineteenth century, which has debated the relative effectiveness of surveillance versus economic incentives as means of improving productivity (e.g. Hoskin and Macve, 1988; Tyson, 1990). As far as the newly freed slaves were concerned, neither method was likely to succeed. Armstrong (1994, p. 41)

Controlling labour during the transition





stresses the importance of closing off the workplace to “countervailing influences” for psychological control through surveillance to be feasible. In the case of the plantations, it was precisely the lack of enclosure, physical as well as psychological, following the end of slavery which made it difficult to find workers in the first place, let alone make them more efficient through monitoring them. The psychological barrier of succumbing to any perceived form of continued slavery, even in the “modern” form of waged labour, militated against economic incentives being effective. Thus, the paper highlights the limitations of accounting controls and economic incentives in disciplining labour without the presence of physical coercion in circumstances where there is a refusal on the part of the workers to cooperate. Government can play a part in mitigating such situations. The higher impact of accounting experienced in the more regulated environment of the BWI during the transition period compared with the USA suggests a key role for government in situations where significant institutional changes are taking place. Monitoring coupled to accountability were the governmental tools used to effect change. However, the effort that both the FB and BCO put into establishing schools and monitoring attendance for workers’ children shows that these agencies were aware that a lot more would be needed to change underlying attitudes. Although education is beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth noting that school attendance was another area where government statistics were


In terms of future research, the conversion of large slave populations into waged workers deserves further study. The paper has argued that the decision-influencing aspect of management accounting systems was limited in the transition period in both the USA and BWI and suggests that such a state of affairs was inevitable given the opposition of the freed slaves to continuing to work for their former masters. It would be worthwhile to test this out in relation to the emancipation of slaves by other governments in the nineteenth century. It would also be interesting to compare the workplace discipline of ex-slaves forced through economic necessity to continue working on plantations with that of “free” agricultural workers similarly compelled to work in factories as this would shed further light on the authors’ view that emancipation posed a unique problem in labour control. There is also the question of the lack of attention to productivity and cost control under slavery, which seems remarkable when one considers that it was not uncommon for Caribbean plantations to be owned by British industrialists as part of their investment portfolios. Although historians have found control over labour to have been informal in the British industrial revolution compared to what Hoskin and Macve (1988) identified in the USA in the mid-nineteenth century, it seems equally true that British industrialists compensated by tightly controlling other inputs (Fleischman et al. , 1995; Hoskin and Macve, 2000; Fleischman and Macve, 2002). One means of extending this research and taking the debate forward concerning the efficiency of the plantation system, therefore, would be to compare the accounting arrangements in plantations and industry where there was common ownership. Aside from the British situation, future study might also explore whether the American “carpetbaggers” referred to earlier in the paper employed task-rate accounting incentives in their northern factories. If they actually did so, then two follow-up questions arise:



Did these incentives produce significant behavioural change?

Were the incentives maintained once the workforce became permanent?

Last, the finding that management accounting systems were clearly limited in providing decision-influencing information, if only by their absence in the USA after emancipation, suggests that further research is needed to identify the conditions (e.g. entity size, product diversity, etc.) necessary for such systems to be implemented voluntarily and thus be perceived as exceeding cost/benefit thresholds.



Distinguishing accounting from other quantitative techniques is problematical given its lack of independent existence in nature (Miller and Napier, 1993). All of the practices considered in the paper relate to the measurement and control of economic resources.


The decision-usefulness of the accounting has been hotly debated (Tyson, 1998; Hoskin and Macve, 2000).


To take British Guiana as an example, data included returns of transfers of land to former slaves, quarterly and annual returns of the quantities of sugar, rum, molasses, coffee and cotton exported from the colony with prior period comparatives, and reports listing the numbers of men and women emigrating to the colony by place of origin (NA: British Guiana Original Correspondence CO 111/182). Other statistics were produced on the number of communicants receiving the Holy Sacrament in church, the number of marriages, and the numbers attending daily, afternoon, or Sunday schools (Tyson et al. , 2005).


In the case of the American South the authority was the US Army.


Playing on the superstitions of the slaves was also used to control the workforce, as was the case in Jamaica where hangings and mutilations were commonly carried out beneath the cotton tree, which Afro-Creole Jamaicans believed had the power to trap the spirit (Paton, 2001, p. 941).


The attorney was the agent holding overall responsibility for the management of the plantations in the owner’s absence.


The BCO existed as a separate entity from 1854. Prior to that it was part of the War and Colonial Department (Banton, 2008).


For example, Adamson (1972, p. 23) noted that: “During the period of slavery the

qualification for elective office [was]

the ownership of twenty-five or more slaves. When

slavery was abolished this was changed to the possession of eighty acres of land, of which

forty had to be in cultivation total population of 127,695”.

In 1850, for example, there were 916 qualified voters in a


Although there were similar labour shortages in the USA, foreign workers never became a workforce of major significance. See Foner (1988, pp. 213-214) for a discussion of the reasons.


Unsurprisingly, therefore, accounting in the BWI was designed to play an important role in monitoring the efforts of indentured labourers that later came to dominate the workforce of certain of the plantation economies in place of the slaves, notwithstanding that it never achieved its anticipated benefits in incentivising workers to become more productive (Laurence, 1994, p. 133; Tyson and Davie, 2009).


Record Group 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands;

Controlling labour during the transition


Washington Headquarters: Records of the Commissioner. Annual Reports of the Assistant


Alvan C. Gillen, Col. & Bvt. Major General for year ending October 14, 1867”.

1866-68. Box 3, Document entitled “Report by Assistant Commissioner




13. This 1865 reparation applied only to coastal areas of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida under the command of General William Sherman. The bequest was later rescinded and became a symbol for the federal government’s forcing of freedmen into tenancy and sharecropping.

14. This pattern of focusing on labour turnout rather than efficiency in situations where the labour supply was constrained was also evident in the Nova Scotia coal mines in the 19th

century (Fleischman and Oldroyd, 2001).

15. For example, Schlomowitz (1979, p. 559) concluded from his review of monthly FB sub-commissioner reports that, “The most frequent complaints related to inaccurate planter accounts. They [freedmen] alleged being charged for goods which they had not bought from the planter and having had deducted from earnings forfeitures for lost time during the year which they had not incurred”.

16. See Tyson et al. (2004, 2005) and Tyson and Davie (2009) for more details and many examples of the specific accounting data used by Special Magistrates in their adjudications.

17. Foner (1988, p. 104) provided several reasons for the unwillingness of freedmen in the USA to work for wages: “The desire to escape from White supervision and establish a modicum of economic independence profoundly shaped Blacks’ economic choices during Reconstruction, leading them to prefer share tenancy to wage labor, and leasing land for a fixed rent to sharecropping”.

18. Record Group 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands; Washington Headquarters: Records of the Commissioner. Miscellaneous Records, 1865-71, Box 21, P1-174.

19. Turley (1993, p. 110) noted that “in both the British West Indies and the American South similar loose definitions of vagrancy were applied to freed people”.

20. Record Group 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands; Washington Headquarters: Records of the Commissioner. Miscellaneous Records, 1865-71, Box 21, P1-174.

21. One must be careful not to assume that every legislative requirement translated fully into practice. Laurence (1994, p. 168) noted that while British Guiana’s regulations required six days’ of work per week, “It seems however, that in practice no one who had done five days’ work in a week was ever prosecuted for being absent on the sixth”.

22. Record Group 105, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands;

Washington Headquarters: Records of the Commissioner. Annual Reports of the Assistant


1866-68. Box 3, File named “Mississippi 1866-68”.

23. See Tyson et al. (2005) for more details about social and educational control measurements that were imposed during Apprenticeship.

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R55 , Cambridgeshire



Corresponding author Thomas N. Tyson can be contacted at: ttyson@sjfc.edu

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