Stories Lost: Slavery and the Railroads

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Drew

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Thank you for posting this. The article doesn't provide clarity, though, on who was building railroads in the Antebellum South.

Is it possible to identify who they were and where they were based?
 
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Drew

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I am currently researching just that. So far no luck, Drew.
Interesting. I'll suggest that all railroads in the mid-19th century led North. Follow the money, as the saying goes.

Not that the slaves would have cared, but we should.
 

DaveBrt

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Thank you for posting this. The article doesn't provide clarity, though, on who was building railroads in the Antebellum South.

Is it possible to identify who they were and where they were based?
The great majority of railroads were built by locals, with only a few engineers and maybe bridge builders from outside the area of the road. Most of the labor was from the hands of the men who lived along the route of the road -- they traded their hands' labor for shares of company stock.

I have never seen any companies mentioned as railroad builders. One or two times a man is mentioned as having a gang of hands for hire out of area, but nothing came of any offer that I know of.
 
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Drew

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The great majority of railroads were built by locals, with only a few engineers and maybe bridge builders from outside the area of the road. Most of the labor was from the hands of the men who lived along the route of the road -- they traded their hands' labor for shares of company stock.

I have never seen any companies mentioned as railroad builders. One or two times a man is mentioned as having a gang of hands for hire out of area, but nothing came of any offer that I know of.
I've little doubt as to who did the work. The question is, who funded it? A guy in the South with 400 acres and 18 slaves is the wrong answer, in my opinion. YMMV.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I'm not trying to cause a problem but didn't various people fund them? Anyone smelling an op could scrape together what could be an investment in a future fortune- some missed.

Knew a very elderly man whose father was hired to work on an extension near here. Some collective group funded it- the bed is still there but it went bust before tracks were laid. Workers were stiffed, too so this guy's father swiped some vital piece of the engine owned by these men. Held it to ransom until the workers were paid. The elderly man remembers playing around it, in his attic as small boy. They were paid!
 
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I'm not trying to cause a problem but didn't various people fund them? Anyone smelling an op could scrape together what could be an investment in a future fortune- some missed.

Knew a very elderly man whose father was hired to work on an extension near here. Some collective group funded it- the bed is still there but it went bust before tracks were laid. Workers were stiffed, too so this guy's father swiped some vital piece of the engine owned by these men. Held it to ransom until the workers were paid. The elderly man remembers playing around it, in his attic as small boy. They were paid!
My understanding is that sometimes the state but usually local businessmen and banks funded the formation and building of the railroads in the Southern states with many of the railroads having their own bank and issuing their own currency. The Northern investors from primarily Boston and Philadelphia, did not get involved until the railroad was about to go belly up.
 
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Here is just a sample from two Southern states of Railroad owned banks. Some of these railroad companies were in existence for only a year or two.

Georgia
Atlantic & Gulf Railroad Co. - Savannah
Brunswick & Albany Railroad Co.
Central Railroad & Banking Co. - Savannah
Georgia Railroad Bank Agency - Atlanta
Macon & Brunswick Railroad Co.
Monroe Railroad & Banking Co. - Macon
Ocmulgee & Flint River Railroad Co. - Macon
Western & Atlantic Railroad - Atlanta
Wills Valley Railroad

Mississippi
Hernando Railroad and Banking Co.
Lake Washington & Deer Creek Railroad Bank Co. - Princeton
Mississippi & Alabama Railroad Co. - Brandon, Paulding
Mississippi Central Railroad - Holly Springs
Mississippi Railroad Co. - Natchez
Mississippi & Tennessee Railroad Co. - Grenada
Mobile & Ohio Railroad Co. - Macon
New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad - Canton
Southern Railroad Co. - Vicksburg
Tombigby Railroad Co. - Columbus, Vicksburg
West Feleciana Railroad Co. - Woodville
 

DaveBrt

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Only one or two of those "banks" are what we would recognize as banks today. The others issued currency during the war, with the approval of their states, but only for the use of the public in paying railroads charges. Yes, some of those fractional currencies went into general circulation, but they did not fund the building of any railroad.

The states rarely gave money directly to the railroads. Money was set aside in the form of bonds that the railroads could draw when certain requirements were met (length of road completed, etc). The states usually demanded that the bonds be sold at face value (par) and, since many railroad's could not get par for the bonds, they remained unsold. If sold, the railroad was the first organization on the hook for the value of the bonds, with the state last (after it had taken the bankrupt railroad and sold its assets to reimburse the state). Some of the bonds were sold in the south, but many were sold to investors in the north or Europe. Funding the sinking funds to pay off these bond was always of first concern to each railroad president and the losses during the war prevented some roads from refunding their sinking funds and eventually led to the railroad bankruptcy in the years right after the war.

The railroads issued their own stock and bonds, each usually going for $100 per share/bond. The men who built the railroads received their payment in the form of one or the other, with many taking stock if they lived along the road and wanted to have a say in its future. Outsiders usually took bonds and resold them.

Part of the confusion here is the original question was asked about who built the railroads. That was the 400 acre farmer with 18 slaves. If the question is who funded the railroads, it was the same farmer (paying in kind), local men of some wealth and northern/European investors.
 
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Only one or two of those "banks" are what we would recognize as banks today. The others issued currency during the war, with the approval of their states, but only for the use of the public in paying railroads charges. Yes, some of those fractional currencies went into general circulation, but they did not fund the building of any railroad.

The states rarely gave money directly to the railroads. Money was set aside in the form of bonds that the railroads could draw when certain requirements were met (length of road completed, etc). The states usually demanded that the bonds be sold at face value (par) and, since many railroad's could not get par for the bonds, they remained unsold. If sold, the railroad was the first organization on the hook for the value of the bonds, with the state last (after it had taken the bankrupt railroad and sold its assets to reimburse the state). Some of the bonds were sold in the south, but many were sold to investors in the north or Europe. Funding the sinking funds to pay off these bond was always of first concern to each railroad president and the losses during the war prevented some roads from refunding their sinking funds and eventually led to the railroad bankruptcy in the years right after the war.

The railroads issued their own stock and bonds, each usually going for $100 per share/bond. The men who built the railroads received their payment in the form of one or the other, with many taking stock if they lived along the road and wanted to have a say in its future. Outsiders usually took bonds and resold them.

Part of the confusion here is the original question was asked about who built the railroads. That was the 400 acre farmer with 18 slaves. If the question is who funded the railroads, it was the same farmer (paying in kind), local men of some wealth and northern/European investors.
I agree on the railroad banks and did not intend to imply that their currency was used in everyday transactions in the South such as state issued and to a lesser extent, private bank notes were. I believe that some of those banks, as you've stated, printed only fractional currency for their fares and issued bonds. The point I was attempting to get across was the implication from another poster that the Northern banking interests were the ones behind the building of the pre-1865 Southern railroads and were just as responsible, if not more so, for the use of slave labor.
 
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USS ALASKA

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Interesting. I'll suggest that all railroads in the mid-19th century led North. Follow the money, as the saying goes.
Someone please correct me if I'm wrong but didn't most Southern RRs go from export-crop / product collection points to the nearest useable waterway?

RR1860.jpg


Cheers,
USS ALASKA
 
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USS ALASKA

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Some questions from the article...

"…nearly every rail line built east of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon line before the Civil War was constructed or run at least partly by slaves.”[1]

'Constructed' I understand but 'run'? Exactly what role did slaves provide in the operations of Southern RRs? When I think of 'run' I guess I'm envisioning leadership, admin, crewman. Someone that has input into operations. By 'run' is it meant down to the individuals repairing tracks and cutting / hauling wood? Did they have black porters then?

"From explosions to cholera to frostbite, owners who rented out slaves knew they might not get them back, which prompted them to take out insurance policies.[10]"

Was that the ONLY compensation owners received - whatever insurance they took out? Was the RR responsible for any damage to the hands hired if not returned in the same shape in which they were sent?

@DaveBrt or anyone else who knows, what was the level / rate / % of Euro investment in antebellum Southern RRs? Most of what I have read about that was Northern and post-war.

Thanks for the help,
USS ALASKA
 

DaveBrt

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Some questions from the article...

"…nearly every rail line built east of the Mississippi River and south of the Mason-Dixon line before the Civil War was constructed or run at least partly by slaves.”[1]

'Constructed' I understand but 'run'? Exactly what role did slaves provide in the operations of Southern RRs? When I think of 'run' I guess I'm envisioning leadership, admin, crewman. Someone that has input into operations. By 'run' is it meant down to the individuals repairing tracks and cutting / hauling wood? Did they have black porters then?

"From explosions to cholera to frostbite, owners who rented out slaves knew they might not get them back, which prompted them to take out insurance policies.[10]"

Was that the ONLY compensation owners received - whatever insurance they took out? Was the RR responsible for any damage to the hands hired if not returned in the same shape in which they were sent?

@DaveBrt or anyone else who knows, what was the level / rate / % of Euro investment in antebellum Southern RRs? Most of what I have read about that was Northern and post-war.

Thanks for the help,
USS ALASKA
In this context, run means worked on. Slaves were brakemen, firemen, line maintenance workers, workers loading cars, and workers in the shops. No, there were no porters.

Slaves were hired out to railroads, usually for a year contract (made in December and running from January 1 to about December 24). Clothes, shoes, hats, food, blanket, medical care were provided. A set monthly wage was included in the contract (to the owner, of course). The insurance policy was to repay the capital cost of the slave if he died.

Europeans, especially the British and French, were willing, though not eager, buyers of US RR bonds. The main problem was a complete lack of information among the Europeans. They had no idea where the roads were located, how competent the management was, how great the market for RR services was, etc. Much of the risk in taking Southern RR bonds was removed by the states backing the railroads through "hypothication" -- essentially protecting the bond buyers by making the state, which could collect taxes, the final backer of the bonds.
 

USS ALASKA

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Thank you sir!

In this context, run means worked on. Slaves were brakemen, firemen, line maintenance workers, workers loading cars, and workers in the shops. No, there were no porters.
Ah - that makes sense - the support troops.

Slaves were hired out to railroads, usually for a year contract (made in December and running from January 1 to about December 24). Clothes, shoes, hats, food, blanket, medical care were provided. A set monthly wage was included in the contract (to the owner, of course). The insurance policy was to repay the capital cost of the slave if he died.
Only if he died? With my limited knowledge of RR safety history there were plenty of limbs damaged / lost especially amongst brakemen. Any compensation for the 'damaged not dead' ?

Europeans, especially the British and French, were willing, though not eager, buyers of US RR bonds. The main problem was a complete lack of information among the Europeans. They had no idea where the roads were located, how competent the management was, how great the market for RR services was, etc. Much of the risk in taking Southern RR bonds was removed by the states backing the railroads through "hypothication" -- essentially protecting the bond buyers by making the state, which could collect taxes, the final backer of the bonds.
Humm...makes me wonder how bad their other investment opportunities were to make the above description look like the better shot.

Thanks again,
USS ALASKA
 
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DaveBrt

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Someone please correct me if I'm wrong but didn't most Southern RRs go from export-crop / product collection points to the nearest useable waterway?

View attachment 171888

Cheers,
USS ALASKA
That was the rationale for the early ones, but as time passed, the ability to skip past "bad water" became the reason for many roads. The crop delivered to a river was not yet sold -- it had to get to a major port to be sold to a factor. If the river was too low (wrong time of year, drought, etc), the crop sat and waited for the water to rise -- maybe as much as 2 years!

The new railroads began to go around short stretches of river that gave problems, but quickly the possibilities became visible and longer runs (sometimes several roads in succession) were planned to jump past a LOT of bad water. Mobile & Ohio and New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern both tried to get past low water in the Mississippi. The Memphis & Charleston tried to skip the lower Mississippi, the Gulf and Cape Hatteras. The Florida RR cut off the trip from northeastern Florida to the northern Gulf (though most of the traffic would have been cotton going east). Alabama & Florida (Alabama & Florida versions) tried to skip low water on the Alabama River. I could go on and on, but you see the pattern.

By late 1859, ads were being published in newspapers showing the fastest routes from Richmond or New York to New Orleans. Several railroads (like the Augusta & Columbia) specifically mentioned this route, and their place in it, in trying to gain support.
 
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