Slavery and Southern Railroads

Some of the first, longest and most ambitious railroads in the nation were built in the South beginning in the late 1820s. By 1860 the South's railroad network was one of the most extensive in the world, and nearly all of it had been constructed with slave labor. Moreover, railroad companies became some of the largest slaveholders in the South.

Documents related to this topic

Slavery and Southern Railroads

  • Contracts (7)

    Railroads bought and sold slaves with contracts and elaborate, printed bills of sale. They recorded these events in balance sheets and company account books. Railroads also developed forms for contracts to hire enslaved labor from slaveholders. Because the company was liable for the "loss" of enslaved "property," contracts often spelled out detailed provisions for accidents and the conditions of labor.

  • Annual Reports of Railroad Companies (5)

    Railroad companies in the U.S. South reported to stockholders annually on the amount they invested in human "property" and on the uses of enslaved labor in their operations.

  • Letters (22)

    Railroad company officers, construction engineers, and slave traders corresponded regularly in the 1850s about buying and selling slaves and organizing their labor operations around slavery.