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January 27, 2017

Ledger Books Records of Life Insurance on Slaves

A life insurance company called New York Life opened in Manhattan’s financial district in the spring of 1845. One of the first things the company did to spur sales was to encourage slave owners to take out insurance on their slaves since they were considered valuable assets.

Ads in southern newspapers began appearing. Within 3 years, over 500 policies had been sold. New York Life kept their ledger books and records of these slave life insurance polices. When the books were discovered, company  turned over the names of slaves and slaveholders as required by law and donated several of the accounting books to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where they are available to the public. The company stored the rest in a private corporate archive. Other life insurance companies also sold policies that covered the lives of slaves but their records have not been found.

The New York Times has the full story at Insurance Policies on Slaves: New YorkLife’s Complicated Past

Credit Images: 
Image 1 Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina). Monday, February 3, 1845
Image 2 Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) Tuesday, October 2, 1849.

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