Included in the January 2017 release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia are several works that provide insight into the conditions under which many African Americans lived in Antebellum America.
The Farmer’s Accountant and Instructions for Overseers (1828)
By Pleasant Suit
Pleasant Suit, the author of this bookkeeping guide for farmers, notes that he has “been in the habit of keeping Books upwards of thirty years, part of the time in the largest importing and exporting Mercantile house in Virginia.” He illustrates his method of accounting for African Americans among other “stock accounts” with charts like this:
Entries in the book’s “F.A.Q.” section include:
Q. Why do you debit Negro account to Stock account?
A. Because it is a component part of it, and it enables you at all times to know how many you have, by comparing the debtor’s side with the credit: If any are sold you credit the account by what you receive, and if one or more dies you credit the account by Profit and Loss for the valuation; and if your women should have children, you debit this amount to Profit and Loss for the number and value of them.
Q. Why do you debit Horse account to Stock account?
That’s the lesson David Goldfield, the Robert Lee Bailey Professor of History at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, taught at the Readex breakfast presentation at the 2017 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta. Prof. Goldfield supported this short declaration with several poignant examples.
While our minds tend to enjoy simple, clear-cut, good-versus-evil narratives, the reality is much more complex, Goldfield argued. He used his research surrounding U.S. religious and Southern history to provide a new look at the causes and outcomes of the American Civil War, first explaining why he finds the often-told story of the war “woefully incomplete.” He asked his audience of academic librarians to entertain a very different perspective on the war.
Throughout his presentation, Goldfield challenged the usual chronicle surrounding the war—the familiar debate of states’ rights and slavery—and instead focused on the consequences of righteousness and the effects of removing the barrier between church and state. According to Goldfield, the Civil War represented the failure of our political system, caused by the injection of religion.