Life Insurance On Slaves Helped Build New York Life Insurance

Jan 10, 2017

Slaves working on James Hopkindson's plantation, circa 1862–1863
Credit Henry B. Moore, Library of Congress via Wikipedia

In the modern financial world, Wall Street is king, but that ascent did not happen without exploitation. In particular, African slaves provided capital for some of the nation's most powerful financial institutions.

Nautilus Mutual Life Insurance offered policies on slaves and allowed slave owners to claim funds on their lost property when slaves died. But the financial gain was not only for the slave owner. Nautilus and others used premiums on slave policies to build their wealth and grow their companies. Nautilus is now New York Life Insurance, one of the nation's largest insurers.  

New York Times correspondent Rachel Swarns researched the sale of these policies, including some in eastern North Carolina. She located an ad from The Wilmington Chronicle in 1848. 

Host Frank Stasio talked with Swarns about the legacy of life insurance policies on slaves.

The State of California created a disclosure registry to document slaveholders and the slaves who were insured.