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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)
Thomas N. Tyson (St John Fisher College, Rochester, New York, USA)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


K. Fleischman, R., Oldroyd, D. and N. Tyson, T. (2011), "The efficacy/inefficacy of accounting in controlling labour during the transition from slavery in the United States and British West Indies", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 24 No. 6, pp. 751-780.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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