Thursday, January 2, 2014

Life Insurance for Slaves

Doing my research on slavery advertisements in Kentucky's Civil War newspapers last spring I was surprised not to come across ads by companies offering life insurance to owners for their enslaved property. From the slaveholders' perspective, it seems a wise business decision to protect an investment with insurance coverage. 

Life was fragile in the antebellum era. Diseases, infections, and agricultural accidents all claimed both black and white lives at an alarming rate during this period. Therefore it would seem that insurance companies would want to promote their services in publications, especially in a state that claimed the third most number of slaveholders. 

But, it was not until searching in earlier newspapers that I started to locate some of these types of advertisements. The notice above from the famous (and still surviving) Hartford Insurance Company was found in the Lexington Observer and Reporter in the July 5, 1854, edition.    

Another ad (shown above) ran in the Frankfort Daily Commonwealth on February 11, 1854. It interestingly mentions that insurance could be purchased for slaves "whether employed on land or steamboats." Period steamboats could be especially hazardous occupations as craft were constantly blowing boilers and hitting snags causing hundreds of people to burn or drown. Unlike the first advertisement, this one does not mention a specific company, only the name of the local agent, who's office was in the newspaper office building in Frankfort.

Union Mutual Life Insurance Company agent, S. Carpenter, Jr. ran an advertisement in the April 7, 1853, edition of the Bardstown Herald. This ad offered insurance to both "White Men and Negroes." The notice also attempted to provide assurance of a sound investment with "one of the safest and most responsible companies in the Union."

I am still a little surprised that I have not come across more advertisements like these. Perhaps these insurance policies were costly and thus prohibitive to Kentucky's many small slaveholders. Unfortunately, no real information is given on the cost. Or, perhaps the terms were not favorable to owners who felt a greater risk of their property by running away rather than by loss of life.   


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