Report on Slavery Era Insurance

The Legislation

On March 13, 2003, the Iowa House of Representative adopted House Resolution 29. House Resolution 29 urges the Iowa Insurance Commissioner to request slaveholder insurance policy records from the archives of Iowa-licensed insurance companies, including subsidiaries of international insurance corporations.

The Resolution states that it is the intent of the House of Representatives to rely on the voluntary cooperation and good example of insurers licensed to do business in Iowa; and asks the Commissioner of Insurance to seek the slaveholder insurance policy information from such insurers by request.

House Resolution 29 requests that the Commissioner of Insurance report the Commissioner’s findings to the General Assembly by December 1, 2004.


Prior to the Iowa Insurance Commissioner seeking information about slave era insurance policies, the states of California and Illinois passed legislation that required the reporting of such information.


In 2000, the California State Legislature passed SB 2199, entitled “Slavery Era Insurance Policies” and added section 13810 through 13813 to the California Insurance Code. SB 2199 was signed into law in September 2000. The statute took effect January 1, 2001. The statute required the insurance commissioner to obtain information from licensed insurance companies in California regarding any records of slaveholder policies.

The California Department of Insurance issued a public notice regarding the reporting requirements and held public hearings to gather public comment. On February 8, 2001, the California Commissioner invited nineteen insurance companies that were either identified in the press as having written slavery era insurance policies, or which the California Insurance Department identified as having transacted business in California in 1868 to attend the public hearings on the statute. As a result of the comments received, changes were made to the regulation and a final regulation became effective on October 13, 2001.

The California Insurance Department issued Circular SEIR-2001 to 1,357 carriers that were subject to the regulation. This included all life insurers and property and casualty insurers that were licensed to do business in California. The insurers were required to submit information via electronic format concerning the company’s involvement with slavery era insurance policies.

In May 2002, the California Department of Insurance issued a report to the California Legislature concerning its findings.


House bill 2379, Slavery Era Policies, was passed by the Illinois legislature in 2003 and signed into law on July 24, 2003. The law became effective on January 1, 2004. The law is located in the Illinois Insurance Code at 215 ILCS5/155.39.

The Act required any insurer licensed and doing business in Illinois to research and report to the Illinois Insurance Division information regarding policies issued to slaveholder for death or damage to their slaves that the company wrote either directly or through a predecessor corporation during the slavery era. The Act specifically sought the names of the slaves and slaveholders. The Act further required the Illinois Insurance Division to make the names of any slaveholders or slaves described in those insurance records available to the public.

On March 10, 2004, the Illinois Insurance Division sent Company Bulletin 2004-01 to all licensed insurers in the state of Illinois. The Company Bulletin was sent to approximately 1,700 insurers. The response rate was 99.6 percent.

The companies were asked to conduct research to determine if the company possessed responsive information to the legislation. The insurers were asked to advise the Illinois Insurance Division whether such information was found. The Division asked each company to provide research methodology. If a company found responsive information, they were required to report the names of slaves and slaveholders.

Iowa Implements HR 29

Based on the previous diligent efforts by the states of California and Illinois, the Iowa Insurance Division debated the best way to research whether insurance companies doing business in Iowa, and their predecessor companies, had information about slavery era insurance policies.

Since insurance companies doing business in the state of Illinois were required to report information about slavery era insurance policies at the same time the Iowa Insurance Division was seeking similar information, the Iowa Insurance Division decided to request information from those insurance companies doing business in Iowa, but not doing business in Illinois. The Illinois Insurance Division and the California Department of Insurance shared their findings and information with the Iowa Insurance Division.

On May 21, 2004, the Iowa Insurance Division sent a letter to 112 insurance companies, requesting their cooperation in searching for any records of insurance policies issued during the slavery era. The Iowa Insurance Division requested that the companies submit a report to the Division containing:

  1. the name, address, telephone number and NAIC number for the main office of the insurer making the report;
  2. the name, address and telephone number of the insurer’s contact person;
  3. a description of the research methodology used to identify and compile the records requested, including a description of the record, whether the insurer found responsive data and a summary of the responsive data; and
  4. names of slaves, slaveholders, beneficiaries, policyholders, a copy of the responsive policy and other identifying information.

The Iowa Insurance Division stated that a consolidated report may be submitted by the reporting insurer’s holding company on behalf of all members of the holding company. The reports were due at the Iowa Insurance Division on August 16, 2004.

On August 23, 2004, the Iowa Insurance Division sent a second letter to insurance companies doing business in Iowa, reminding them of the May 21, 2004, request for information concerning slavery insurance policies. All insurance companies were given a final deadline of September 1, 2004.

Insurer Responses

All of the 112 insurance companies responded to the Iowa Insurance Division’s request for information regarding any records of insurance policies issued during the slavery era. Additionally, many of these companies filed consolidated reports and included information about companies for which the Division did not seek information.

Most of the responses from the insurance companies indicated that the insurer and its predecessor, if any, had been incorporated after the end of the slavery era and thus had no information to report.

A few of the responses from insurers stated that the company or its predecessor were in business during the slavery era, but a diligent search of their records did not reveal any responsive information. A few of these insurers reported that old records were routinely destroyed.

As previously stated, the Iowa Insurance Division also relied on the findings of the Illinois Division of Insurance. Of the 1,700 insurers for which the Illinois Division of Insurance sought information, they found that most of the responses from insurers indicated that the insurer or its predecessor company was incorporated after the slavery era. These companies did not have any responsive information. The Division also received a few responses indicating that the insurance company was in existence during the slavery era, but did not have any responsive information. Additionally, some companies stated that their records dating back to that time period had been destroyed or lost.

According to the Illinois Division of Insurance, the following insurers found records of insurance policies issued during the slavery era; ACE USA; Aetna Life Insurance Company; New York Life Insurance Company; Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company; Providence Washington Insurance Company; and United Sates Life Insurance Company in New York City.

The California Department of Insurance responses mirrored those in Illinois. According to California, the following insurers found records of insurance policies issued during the slavery era; ACE USA, Aetna Life Insurance Company, AIG (United States Life Insurance Company of New York), Manhattan Life, New York Life, Penn Mutual, Providence Washington Insurance Company, Royal & Sun Alliance.

The following further discusses the findings from Illinois and California.


ACE USA (Ace) reported that it is the successor to two corporations, Insurance Company of North America (ICNA) and Aetna Fire. Ace reported that both of these companies conducted business during the slavery era.

Ace hired the law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, LLP to assist in its efforts to identify and compile all of the records and information related to slavery insurance policies. Archivists and historians from several universities and historical societies were contacted.

For historical purposes, Ace acquired a database of information, published by the Cambridge University Press, which contains the records of 27,233 transatlantic slave ship voyages made between 1595 and 1866. Ace also reported that it reviewed the historical records it received from its predecessor companies. Ace did not find any policies issued by Ace or its predecessors on the lives of slaves or on vessels that were carrying slaves.

Ace reported that it found a copy of a slave policy written in June 1855 by Aetna Life. Even though this policy was written after Aetna Life’s separation from Aetna Fire, in the interests of full disclosure, Ace submitted the document. The policy insured the life of a slave named Peter, a laborer. The policy was written for a man named Francis Fountain in the Parish of County of Harrission, State of Mississippi. Aetna Life also reported this policy in their response.

Aetna Life Insurance Company

Aetna Life Insurance Company (Aetna) reported that it established a team of lawyers, paralegals and business people to coordinate and oversee requests from regulators regarding any records of slaveholder policies. Aetna reported that the team conducted a thorough review of potentially relevant practices of all of its companies and predecessor companies that issued insurance anywhere in the United States. Aetna reported on materials and information still located within the company as well as materials and information transferred to the former subsidiaries.

Aetna searched their records and archives, and retained a professional archivist with expertise in 19th Century documents to review historical documents. Aetna also communicated with the South Carolina Historical Society regarding documents in its possession.

Aetna also reported that they spoke to former employees now employed at its former subsidiary. These employees informed Aetna that the administrative database that tracks all of the former life insurance policies did not contain any policies from the slavery era. Aetna reported that the system automatically deletes the files after the policies have terminated. Aetna reported that it tested the database with a query that produced an extract that listed the oldest policy as one that was issued in 1923. It reported that after reasonable efforts and due diligence, Aetna was not able to identify any additional records relating to slavery era insurance.

Aetna’s search did initially uncover seven policies that insured slaves. In most instances, there is no record of the last name of the insured slave. Five of the policies were found in the company’s archive and two were obtained from outside sources. These seven policies produced a list of 16 names of slaves. Sometime after its initial report, Aetna discovered a ledger book containing additional names of slaves and slaveholders. Aetna also submitted these names.


AIG reported that it used a professional staff of certified archivists to research the records of the company and its subsidiaries. Additionally, AIG interviewed staff in all offices and examined all potentially relevant documents. AIG also interviewed records administrators at their facilities in several states and at its outside storage facility.

AIG reported that only one of its companies, United States Life Insurance Company of New York (US Life) did business during the slavery era. The company located two registries that contained a list of policies issued between 1850-1872 and claims paid from 1850-1872. Two certified archivists used the two registries to create lists of slaveholder policies issued by the company. A majority of the policies only included the first name of the insured slave. The company ultimately reported 174 slave policies.

AIG also found a magazine article in The American Conservationalist, A Magazine of Information and Inspiration for Life Insurance Men, June 1935, which contained a replica of a policy issued to a slaveholder. The policy was issued to John G. Tillman on September 3, 1852, on the life of a slave named Charles, for $550. The policy was issued in Lexington, KY.

Manhattan Life Insurance Company

Manhattan Life Insurance Company provided one policy that insured shippers for their cargo of 700 Chinese slaves on a journey from China in 1854. In 1961, the president of the company gave a speech about the policy. He stated that New York ship owners approached Manhattan Life Insurance Company for insurance on a group of about 700 Chinese slaves. The slaves were valued at $120 each and the ship owners desired $84,000 of insurance to cover their lives. After much discussion the policy was issued and underwritten on the basis that certain stipulations were met, including that a doctor must make the voyage and be responsible for sanitary conditions, food and other factors affecting mortality.

Manhattan Life assumed one-fourth of the total risk, or $21,000 for a premium of $840. Within 24 hours after sailing, three of the slaves jumped overboard and were lost. During the 65-day voyage, 11 other slaves died of sundry diseases. On April 29, 1854, Manhattan Life paid $408, one-fourth of the total loss. Manhattan Life made $432 on this transaction.

This policy has been donated to the city Museum of New York. Manhattan Life enclosed a copy of the policy with its report.

New York Life Insurance Company

New York Life Insurance Company (NYLIC) reported that it undertook an extensive review of its slavery era archival records, including published histories of the company, Policy Registers, Index of Applicants and Death Claim Book. NYLIC also reported that it retained outside professional archivists to assist with the research effort.

NYLIC’s predecessor, Nautilus Insurance Company, began writing life insurance policies in 1845. NYLIC stated that Nautilus sold slaveholder policies for approximately two years in the 1840s. On April 19, 1848, approximately 15 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, the Trustees of Nautilus voted to end the sale of such policies.

NYLIC reported that of the first 1,000 policies written by Nautilus, 339 were on the lives of slaves. The slaveholder policies were usually written for less than $500 and for a term of one year. There were three death claims under the slaveholder policies in the period under review, with a total of $1,050 paid. NYLIC provided a list of 484 slave names and 233 names of slaveholders.

NYLIC stated that it abhors the practice of slavery and profoundly regrets that its predecessor was associated with it in any way. It went on to state that the fact that slavery was legal in certain parts of the United States during that time does not make it any less repugnant. NYLIC stated that while it regrets this history, it understands the historical value of its archival records and that contributing to our society’s understanding of the slavery era and helping people trace their genealogy are laudable objectives.

Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company

Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company (Penn) reported that during the slavery era it was licensed to do business in Pennsylvania only and did not write any slave insurance policies. Penn also reported that it was licensed to write insurance in Virginia as of 1912.

Penn further reported that its record retention policy provides for the destruction of policy issue records 10 years after policy termination. The company also searched its historical archives.

Penn reported that in its archives it found two documents regarding an offering by an agent of an unidentified insurance company of policies issued to slaveholders providing coverage for the death of slaves. The documents provided no indication of the identity of the insurance company that issued those policies, and no indication of how or why Penn had acquired the documents in its historical archive. Copies of the documents were provided along with their report.

Providence Washington Insurance Company

Providence Washington Insurance Company (Providence) reported that it celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1999. As part of this event, the company researched it files and materials from the Rhode Island Historical Society. Providence reported they did not find any indication that they had insured slaves.

Providence found an entry in one of the company’s historical reference books describing a company meeting held on January 5, 1799. A report from this meeting states “Before the subscription lists were opened, the meeting solemnly voted ‘[t]hat no insurance is to be made on behalf of this company upon any vessel, or property laden therein, for the purpose of carrying on the Slave Trade.’” The report went on to state that any subscriber unwilling to abide by this condition could withdraw. No one withdrew.

Royal & Sun Alliance

Royal & Sun Alliance reported that they conducted a thorough search for records of policies issued to slaveholders. They did not find any records. The company reported that historical records indicate that starting in 1720, one of their member companies, London Assurance, was a marine insurer. The limited available evidence suggested that this company might have insured owners of slave-carrying vessels.

Royal & Sun Alliance reported that it was not possible for them to quantify the extent of the insurance written by London Assurance. The company reported that the slave trade was abolished in England in 1806, pursuant to Parliament’s passage of the Abolition of Slaves Act. In the United Kingdom, the insurance of slaves and ships was prohibited in 1811 pursuant to the Slave Trade Act.

Royal & Sun Alliance provided copies of documents from London Assurance’s corporate history from 1728 through 1733 that suggested London Assurance partook in slavery insurance.

Public Access to Information

This report is available to the public on the Iowa Insurance Division’s website at The public may access the slavery era policy registry created by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation at their website, under the Insurance Division tab, at The California Department of Insurance also has a slavery policy registry for the public to view on its website at

View the PDF version of this report.

Return to the Consumer Affairs Bureau Page

slaveryreport.pdf47.83 KB