Accounting Discoveries from Archival Research: The Mobile & Ohio, an Antebellum Southern Railroad | Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University

Accounting Discoveries from Archival Research: The Mobile & Ohio, an Antebellum Southern Railroad

Accounting Discoveries from Archival Research: The Mobile & Ohio, an Antebellum Southern Railroad

Authors

Published

Abacus, vol. 56, issue 1, pp. 140-163, March 2020

Website

http:// https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14676281

Abstract

This paper details discoveries relating to the accounting transactions that chronicle the circumstances of the Mobile and Ohio (M&O) Railroad’s 1850s and 1860s asset ledgers. There were accounting differences between railroads overall because the northern lines used foreign construction workers, while the southern lines used slaves. ‘Personal Property’ was the title given to the account used by the M&O to record the acquisition of slaves—with the accountant using the term ‘slaves’ in a journal entry description. Moreover, this research provides information regarding the construction labour for the M&O that was supplied by planters from plantation labour pools composed of the slave population. Because of the availability of this plantation labour pool, the M&O did not have to rely on immigrant labour and accept the risk of controlling their behaviour. The coming of the American Civil War changed labour market conditions, and the M&O became a slave-holding organization to maintain itself during the War. At the War’s end the accounting records detail the M&O’s disposition of the wartime slave acquisitions with the comment ‘… emancipa ted byf orce of circumstances’. This paper contributes to the literature by providing discoveries from original archival records documenting how a large major American corporation accounted for labour costs, initial construction, and beginning operations