Monday, March 15, 2010
Slave Era Insurance Policy
In 2000, the state of California passed legislation which required all insurance companies conducting business in the state to provide the slave insurance records of their predecessors. The deadline for submitting these records was set for October 2001. Although some companies stated that they could not find any records or that the records were destroyed, other companies were able to locate such records. By August 2000, the California legislature report 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."
Information was found by the following companies ACE USA; Aetna Life Insurance Company; AIG (United States Life Insurance Company of New York); Manhattan Life; New York Life Insurance; Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company; Providence Washington Insurance Company; and Royal & Alliance. From the information gathered a Slave Era Insurance Registry was created. The registry included the name of slaves, location/residence of the slaves, name of slaveholders, location/residence of slaveholders), and companies submitting the information.
New York Life Insurance Company’s reported that its predecessor the Nautilus (Mutual Life) Insurance Company of New York sold 485 slaveholders life insurance policies during a two-year period in the 1840s. There were three death claims with a total of $1,050.00 paid.
They also reported that the policies were generally written for under $500.00 and were for one-year terms.
A significant number of these policies were written for enslaved Africans working in the Clover Hill Pits and Mid Lothian Coal Mines located in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
The enslaved were usually leased or hired out by their owners. Due to the danger involved in mining, slave owners sought out insurance companies to protect their valuable property from loss. Nancy C. Frantel states "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.
In 1846, the heirs of Jameson Moody (1783-1842) would take out policies on their male slaves before hiring them out to work as miners in the Clover Hill Pits. They would take out policies for two consecutive years on Sam Jones (40), Harry Montague (25), Phill (50), Robert (20), Henry (16), and my great great great great grandfather Joe (35).
After the two year period, the Moody family would moved to Fairfield, Freestone County, Texas after being encouraged to relocate by their brother William Moody (1828-1920) who migrated there in 1852. My ancestors would be a part of this migration west to the Lone Star State.
The discovery of the insurance policies provided me with a broader perspective of the lives as well as the complexity of slave labor. There is an assumption that all enslaved Africans worked on the plantation in fields. Enslaved labor was used in factories, mines, railroad construction, waterways, and other areas.
The original ledger detailing these policies was donated to the Schomburg Center for Black Research and Culture in New York.