According to the USA Today's article "Insurance firms issued slave policies": Early in the 19th century, insurance companies debated whether to insure slaves as property — like work animals and buildings — or as human beings. Increasingly, owners renting their slaves out to mines, railroads and tobacco processors wanted to protect their investments. Insurers eventually began issuing one-year life policies at comparatively pricey premiums that reflected the dangerous nature of the slaves' work. USA TODAY has obtained a copy of a New York Life policy taken out on a Virginia slave by his master. The original is held by the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
(left) New York Life, then called Nautilus Insurance, charged a Virginia slave owner a $5.81 premium plus a $1 policy fee to insure slave Robert Moody for one year in 1847.
In 1847, the owners of Robert Moody insured his life with Nautilus Insurance, which later changed its name to New York Life. A handwritten note on the policy says he was hired out to work at the Clover Hill Pits, a coal mine near Richmond.
Evidence of 10 more New York Life slave policies comes from an 1847 account book kept by the company's Natchez, Miss., agent, W.A. Britton. The book, part of a collection at Louisiana State University, contains Britton's notes on slave policies he wrote for amounts ranging from $375 to $600. A 1906 history of New York Life says 339 of the company's first 1,000 policies were written on the lives of slaves.
New York Life says it "thoroughly reviewed" its archives to comply with a California law requiring insurers to produce any records tying them to slavery.
It says it won't comment on what it found until the California Department of Insurance makes the records public. That's expected soon.
Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, an independent New York researcher who is documenting corporate slave connections, provided USA TODAY with a copy of an 1854 Aetna policy insuring three slaves owned by Thomas Murphy of New Orleans.
The printed letterhead on the Murphy document reads "Slave Policy," and a hand notation describes it as policy No. 158, suggesting Aetna insured more than a handful of slaves.