Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

The Ledger of Ann Dewitt Bevier (1762-1834), Early American Estate Manager and Mother

Academic journal article Accounting Historians Journal

The Ledger of Ann Dewitt Bevier (1762-1834), Early American Estate Manager and Mother

Article excerpt

Abstract: The ledger that Ann DeWitt Bevier kept from 1802 until 1813 represents a rich primary source that provides perspective on how a rural agriculturalist and household head interacted with the social and cultural environment in the young American nation. Her accounting records expand the gendered history of economic life by illustrating the life and work of a woman who managed a farm, family household, brick kiln, rental property, and investments in financial instruments. The costs of educating her children were also detailed in the ledger, helping to inform us about the educational opportunities for females in early America.

INTRODUCTION

Ann DeWitt Bevier was widowed on April 18, 1802, and with her husband's death, she assumed responsibility for managing the family's agricultural interests, supervising a staff of both slave and free labor, and raising their eight children. On April 19, 1802, Ann Bevier began keeping detailed accounting records, in her careful and comely script, to track her business and personal affairs. The ledger that she maintained until 1813 represents a rich primary source that provides perspective on how a rural agriculturalist and household head in New York's mid-Hudson River valley interacted with the social and cultural environment in the young American nation. Like a diary, such an accounting record tracks aspects of an individual's life, focusing on the ongoing activities of daily living and their economic impact. The detail that Bevier included in her ledger helps create a unique perspective on her life as she managed a farm, family household, brick kiln, rental property, and investments in financial instruments, and so expands the gendered history of economic life. Bevier's ledger and other primary sources in the archives of the Huguenot Historical Society in New Paltz, New York were used along with secondary sources to develop this history. Around 1820, when Bevier was about 60 years of age, the portrait that appears in Figure 1 was painted by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. His rendition confirms the impression conveyed by her ledger of a no-nonsense businesswoman.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Accounting records, such as this ledger, expand our understanding of past business and accounting practices and offer insights into economic and social life [Vollmers and Bay, 2001, pp. 43-45; Vollmers and Tyson, 2004]. Accounting for family endeavors is worthy of academic scrutiny [Walker and Llewellyn, 2000, pp. 427, 429, 433], and this study extends the literature that documents daily life and culture, based on the use of accounting records of small family businesses [see, for example, Carnegie, 1997; Walker, 1998; Vollmers and Bay, 2001; Schultz and Hollister, 2004; Vollmers and Tyson, 2004]. Financial documents also shed light on differences of power and control in the community related to gender and class [Tinker and Neimark, 1987; Fleischman and Tyson, 2000].

Traditionally, social and cultural historians have focused on a society's key institutions and the powerful individuals who shaped them. The impact of these institutions on the lives of ordinary people has rarely been subjected to comparable scrutiny. Seeking to tell a fuller version of history, micro historians focus on the everyday experiences of both ordinary and atypical individuals who help to shape society through their daily conduct and behavior. By studying the source documents authored by those who participated in history, we gain a sense of how individuals, families, and small groups interacted with their immediate environment and with the social institutions that shaped their daily lives. Micro history has become an increasingly popular approach to historical analysis in Europe and should prove useful for studying American history, particularly as a means of examining issues related to gender, race, and ethnicity [Magnusson, 2006a, b].

The dominant narratives about business history have similarly excluded the history of women in American business. …

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