Insurance Policies on Slaves: New York Life’s Complicated Past

In 1846, when sales slackened, New York Life began issuing policies insuring the lives of slaves. Reporter Sharon Ann Murphy, a historian at Providence College, told the New York Times, “Slave policies were an opportunity for them [New York Life] to break into the industry and they actively promoted these policies in the early years. . . . We can be disturbed by this, but we shouldn’t be surprised by it,” she said. “It wasn’t just Southern companies that benefited from slavery; many Northern institutions also benefited directly or indirectly.”

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2 Comments on “Insurance Policies on Slaves: New York Life’s Complicated Past

  1. Honestly, I cannot say that I am surprised as I am sure many may be shocked. In the movie, Belle released in 2013 an inspired true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a biracial daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay. Belle strongly encouraged her uncle who served in the high court to deny an insurance claim made by slave ship owners when the ship of slaves drowned. That was my first time broaching the conversation of additional economic benefit off slavery. Shocked, no because the same practices exist today – mass incarceration, impoverished communities, joblessness, and a web of institutionalized oppressive practices that serve some from an economic standpoint and disadvantages others.

    • Thank you for linking the instances described in the article to modern practices. What the article reinforced for me was how embedded slavery was throughout the American economy almost from the very beginning and how much the wealth of the U.S. economy derives from that hideous fact–a fact this country still has not fully acknowledged.

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