Slave insurance in the United States

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Slave insurance in the United States has become a matter of historical and legislative interest. In the history of slavery in the United States, a number of insurance companies wrote policies insuring slave owners against the loss, damage, or death of their slaves. The fact that a number of insurers continue the businesses that serviced these policies has brought attention to this history.

Attorney Deadria Farmer-Pallmann discovered an 1852 circular that named insurers that serviced some of these policies. National Loan Fund Life Assurance Company distributed a circular entitled. "A Method by Which Slave Owners May Be Protected From Loss" which named The Merchants Bank and The Leather Manufactures Bank as institutions able to pay and adjust claims. Under a typical policy a slave could be insured for $500.00 with an annual premium of about $11.25.

Disclosure legislation[edit]

On September 30, 2000 Governor Gray Davis of California signed two bills relating to slave insurance. One bill was written by former California State Senator Tom Hayden.[1] The California legislature found that:

[I]nsurance policies from the slavery era have been discovered in the archives of several insurance companies, documenting insurance coverage for slaveholders for damage to or death of their slaves, issued by a predecessor insurance firm. These documents provide the first evidence of ill-gotten profits from slavery, which profits in part capitalized insurers whose successors remain in existence today.[2]

The California insurance commissioner has the power to request slave insurance policies from insurance companies doing business in California.

A second bill, which is called UC Slavery Colloquium Bill(SB 111737) allows the University of California the option to hold a conference on the economics of slavery. Important organizations such as Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH and the NAACP supported these bills.

In California and other states calls have been made to verify any documents that showed profits from slavery on the part of capitalized insurers whose successors remain in existence today.

Part of Governor Davis' Bill included: 13810 The Commissioner shall request and obtain information in the state regarding any records of slave-holder insurance. Next the Commissioner shall obtain the names of any slave holders or slaves described in the insurance records. Also each insurer licensed and doing business in the state must show any insurance policies issued to slave-holders that provided coverage for damage to or death to their slaves. Last any slaves whose ancestors' owners were compensated for damages by insurers are entitled to full disclosure. Articles 12810,13811, 13812, 13813 part of the California Code of Regulations,Tile 10, Sections 2393-2398 implement the statute.

While researching coal mining history, an author recently discovered additional information regarding the use of life insurance policies for coal mining slaves. "These policies provided a risk-free opportunity for the owners to lease slaves; but it was far from risk-free for the slaves who were forced to work in the extremely hazardous conditions of the mines." Insurance companies even wrote policies on 12-year-old slaves who labored underground in the mines.[3]


  1. ^ Slavery Era Insurance Registry Report from the California Department of Insurance
  2. ^ Calif. SB2199 Sec. 1(a)., quoted online at Consumers:Slavery Era Insurance Registry at the California Department of Insurance
  3. ^ Frantel, Nancy C. Chesterfield County Virginia Uncovered, The Records of Death and Slave Insurance Records for the Coal Mining Industry, 1810-1895. Westminster, Md: Heritage Books, Inc. 2008.
  1. Sharon Ann Murphy, “Securing Human Property: Slavery, Life Insurance, and Industrialization in the Upper South,” The Journal of the Early Republic, Roderick A. McDonald (ed.), University of Pennsylvania Press, Winter 2005.