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Harvard University Press


If there is a central human character in Caitlin Rosenthal’s book about recordkeeping, accounting, and slavery, his name is Thomas Affleck. Born in Scotland, Affleck migrated to the United States in the 1830s. He eventually ended up in southwestern Mississippi, where he found the methods used by his fellow slaveholding cotton planters to manage and measure their operations irregular and inadequate for effectively gauging productivity over time. Drawing in part on his previous experience as a bookkeeper for the Bank of Scotland, Affleck crafted an accounting journal for his overseers to use, and in the late 1840s, he published the first edition of his Plantation Record and Account Book. Comprising a series of fifteen preprinted forms, the book let planters compile and track in one place everything from the number of people they enslaved and the amount of cotton each of those people picked every day, to tallies of capital costs and revenue from cotton sales. The recorded information could then be brought together on an annual balance sheet, allowing planters to account systematically for profit and loss, to review where they might be falling short, and to figure how they might squeeze more out of the laborers they held in bondage.