The New York Times posted a very detailed article about an insurance company that sold life insurance policies on slaves. Copies of some of those policies can be found at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Nautilus Mutual Life Insurance Company opened in Manhattan’s financial district in 1845. It wasn’t able to get enough sales of life insurance policies that year. The company started selling a different kind of life insurance policies in the South. Nautilus encouraged Southern slave owners to buy insurance on the lives of their slaves.
The New York Times reports: “Alive, slaves were among a white man’s most prized assets. Dead, they were considered virtually worthless. Life insurance changed that calculus, allowing slave owners to recoup three-quarters of a slave’s value in the event of an untimely death.”
Today, Nautilus Mutual Life Insurance Company is known as New York Life. It is not the only insurance company that sold life insurance policies on slaves. Aetna and US Life sold the those policies, too. In general, the policies were sold to slave owners “whose laborers engaged in hazardous work in mines, lumber mills, turpentine factories, and steamboats in the industrializing sectors of the South.”
The Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a division of the New York Public Library. It has digital copies of a few of the life insurance policies on slaves. One was on a slave named Robert Moody The policy was sold by Nautilus Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York. It is hand written and difficult to read.
Policy number 1141 was taken out on a slave named Warwick who labored on a Kentucky steamboat. He was assigned to feed the furnace that kept the steamboat moving. The New York Times reported that policy number 447 was on Nathan York, who labored in the Virginia coal mines. The New York Times also reported that policy number 1150 was on Anthony, who labored in a sawmill in North Carolina.
New York Life donated some of their old insurance policy documents that included the names of slaves and slaveholders to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (along with their old accounting books). Those documents are available to the public. New York Life has stored the rest of their slave insurance policy documents in a private corporate archive.
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