House Bill 2379, Slavery Era Policies, was passed by the Illinois legislature in 2003 and signed into law by Governor Rod Blagojevich on July 24, 2003. The law was effective January 1, 2004. The law is located in the insurance code at 215 ILCS 5/155.39.
The Act required any insurer licensed and doing business in Illinois to research and report to the Department of Insuranceinformation regarding policies issued to slaveholders for death or damage to their slaves that the company wrote either directly or through a predecessor corporation during the slavery era. Information specifically required by the Act includes the names of the slaves and the names of the slaveholders.
The Act required the Department of Insuranceto request and obtain information from insurers licensed and doing business in Illinois regarding any records of slaveholder insurance policies issued during the slavery era. The Department of Insuranceis required by the Act to make the names of any slaveholders or slaves described in those insurance records available to the public and the General Assembly.
On March 10, 2004, Company Bulletin 2004-01 was sent to all licensed insurers in the state of Illinois. The Department of Insurancerequested that companies conduct research to determine if they possessed information responsive to the Act. The insurers were asked to advise the Division whether or not such information was found. The Division asked each company to provide research methodology used. If a company found slavery era policies or information regarding slavery era policies, they were required to report the names of slaves and slaveholders. The Company Bulletin was sent to approximately 1700 insurers, with an approximate response of 99.6%.
Most responses indicated that the insurer and predecessor, if any, had been incorporated after the end of the slavery era (pre 1865) and therefore had no information to report.
The Division received a few responses from companies that were in business during the slavery era, but a search of their records and archives, revealed no information responsive to this Act. Some companies reported that records dating back to that time period had been destroyed or lost.
The following insurers found information responsive to the Act.
ACE USA filed a report on behalf of two subsidiaries, Insurance Company of North America and ACE Property and Casualty Insurance Company (formerly known as CIGNA Property and Casualty Insurance Company, formerly known as The Aetna Insurance Company “Aetna Fire”).
ACE USA hired the law firm of Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen, LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to assist with research. The law firm made contacts with archivists and historians from several universities and historical societies. Through this research, ACE learned of a database of information, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade: A database on CD-Rom, about the transatlantic slave trade published by Cambridge University Press. The database contains the records of 27,233 transatlantic slave ship voyages made between 1595 and 1866.
The company also searched its own historical records received from predecessor corporations. ACE USA found no policies on the lives of slaves or on vessels that were carrying slaves.
ACE USA did find a policy, issued by Aetna Life, which was not related to ACE USA at the time, that insures the life a slave named Peter, a laborer. The policy, dated June 1855, was written for a man named Francis Fountain in the Parish of County of Harrission, State of Mississippi. Aetna Life Insurance Company reported this policy on their response to the Department of Insuranceas well.
Aetna Life Insurance Company
Aetna Life Insurance Company established a team of lawyers, paralegals and business people to coordinate and oversee compliance to requests from regulators regarding any records of slaveholder insurance policies. The company searched their records and archives, as well as retained a professional archivist with expertise in 19th Century documents to review historical documents. The company took other action, such as communicating with the South Carolina Historical Society regarding documents in their possession.
Aetna Life Insurance Company reported 24 policies; some of the slave names are not available.
New York Life Insurance Company
New York Life Insurance Company’s predecessor, Nautilus Insurance Company, began writing life insurance policies in 1845. The company reported that Nautilus sold slaveholder life insurance policies during an approximately two-year period in the 1840s. The Trustees of Nautilus voted to end the sale of such policies on April 19, 1848, 15 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
New York Life stated that is abhors the practice of slavery and profoundly regrets that Nautilus was associated with the practice for even a brief period of time. The company 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. The company also retained outside professional archivists to assist with their research effort. New York Life reported 485 slavery policies to the Division.
Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company
Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company reported that its record retention policy provides for the destruction of policy issue records 10 years after policy termination. No policy records exist from the slavery era. The company also searched historical archives and found two documents regarding an offering by an agent of an unidentified insurance company, named Franklin Slaughter, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, of policies to be issued to slaveholders providing coverage for death of slaves. There is no indication of the identity of the insurance company and every indication in Penn Mutual’s records is that the insurance company issuing those policies could not have been Penn Mutual. The company has no records of agents during the slavery era. Penn Mutual reports that it did not do business in Virginia during the slavery era, according to a history of the company published in 1947.
Providence Washington Insurance Company
Providence Washington Insurance Company reported that it celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 1999. As a part of that event, the company went through all its files along with material from the Rhode Island Historical Society. The company found a book written about the history of the company that contained information regarding the formation and organization of the company. An account of the preliminary meeting held in the Coffee-House long room January 5, 1799 described how stock would be sold and subscriptions secured. Before subscription lists were opened, the meeting solemnly voted: “That 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.” Any subscriber unwilling to abide by this condition was privileged to withdraw; no one did.
United States Life Insurance Company in New York City
American Home Assurance Company reported on behalf of the United States Life Insurance Company in New York City, successor to The United States Life Insurance Company In The City Of New York. The company located two U.S. Life bound registries that contained a list of Policies Issued 1850-1872 and Claims Paid 1850-1872. Two certified archivists used the two registers to create lists of slaveholder policies issued by the company. A majority of the policies include only the first name of the insured slave. As a result of this effort, the company reported 174 slave policies.
The company also found a magazine article from The American Conservationalist, A Magazine of Information and Inspiration for Life Insurance Men June 1935, which contained a copy of an actual policy issued by The United States Life Insurance Company In The City of New York. That policy was issued to John G. Tillman on September 3, 1852 on the life of a slave named Charles. The policy was issued in Lexington, Kentucky.
Public Access to Information
The slavery era policy registry is available on the Department of Insurance website, here.