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Bill Rankin and Michael Ralph, 2016

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Just as northern wage-earners began to buy life insurance in the early and mid-nineteenth century in order to protect their families, slave owners began to buy slave insurance in order to protect their investments in human property. By the middle of the century, there was as much insurance on slaves in the upper south as there was on white men in the north. The policies were often developed and sold by the very same companies, and some of these companies went on to be the insurance giants of today. Capitalism is inseparable from American slavery.

What this map shows is that the slaves who were insured — or at least those for whom historical records still exist — were disproportionately skilled and urban, and the geography of slave insurance is quite different from the geography of slavery in general. Insured slaves were usually rented to others; in many ways they were similar to skilled wage-earners, except that their labor and their earnings were controlled by their owner.

Data collected by Michael Ralph from the California and Illinois Departments of Insurance, the Baltimore Life Insurance Company, and other individual collections

For a full list of names, here is a spreadsheet in OpenDocument format.