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The Davis Library’s collection includes two insurance policies on the lives of slaves. This week’s post will be about one of the policies, an 1863 policy from the American South. Next week will feature the other, which is from Havana, Cuba, in 1857.

The first of three related documents is a letter dealing with the purchase of a female slave to be a maid to the daughter of Samuel Pearson, who initiates the matter in a letter to his son-in-law, A. W. Lewis, which reads as follows:

“Columbia, October 3rd 1863
Mr. A. W. Lewis, Augusta, Ga.
Dear Sir My Dear Son I have intended for some time to give my Daughter Lizzie your wife a good trusty negro woman to wait on her and who can be depended on when she goes out and one that can take care of the children + house. Now if you can find such a servant in your judgement, get her and let me know the amount, and I will settle A + C. All are well.
Yours respectfully
Saml Pearson”
Letter regarding purchase of a slave, 1863

The second document is a receipt showing that a slave was bought according to Mr. Pearson’s instructions, a week after the letter was written.

[2850] Augusta, Ga. Oct 10th 1863
Received of Samuel Pearson Twenty Eight Hundred and fifty Dollars, being in full for the purchase of two negro slaves named Sarah + Child the right and title of said slave I warrant and defend against the claims of all persons whatsoever; and likewise warrant them sound and healthy to date. As witness my hand and seal P. L. Dawson.”  Receipt for the purchase of a slave, 1863

The same day as the purchase of the slave named Sarah, and her child, A. W. Lewis purchases insurance on the life of Sarah and child. It is Negro Policy No. 1079 of the Southern Mutual Life insurance Company of Columbia, South Carolina. For the premium of $75 paid by A. W. Lewis, Trustee, of Augusta, Georgia, the life of the slave “Sarah, sometimes called Henrietta, 30 years” is insured for one year for the sum of $2000. The policy will remain effective for up to 5 years if the annual premium of $75 is paid on time. Insurance policy on the life of a slave, 1863

An endorsement on this policy (handwritten on reverse) shows that approximately 5 months later, on March 24, 1864, Lewis paid an additional premium and substituted his slave “Sally” aged “about 42 years,” for the “Sarah or Henrietta” named in the policy, “after due examination by Doct Henry A. Bignon, Physician for the Sou Mut Life Ins Co for the balance of the term named in this policy.”

Below this is a note of the receipt of $82.50 for the renewal of the policy for an additional year, until October 10, 1865 at noon.

The conditions of the policy read:

“That if the application signed by A. W. Lewis Trustee and dated the 10th October 1863 shall be in any respect fraudulent or untrue or if the said slave or slaves, or any of them, shall die by his, her or their own hands, or by intemperance, or by the hands of justice, or in the violation of law, or by or in consequence of a mob, a riot, a foreign invasion, a civil war, or an insurrection, or any military or usurped power, or by the final-treatment or neglect of the owner, or of any person to whom he, she or they may be entrusted; or if the said slave or slaves, or any of them, are now, or shall be hereafter insured in any other Company, or shall abscond or be kidnapped, or shall, without the written consent of the said Company, either be sold or given to a new owner, or be removed fifty miles from their present residence, or be employed in a more hazardous occupation than their present one, the degree of hazard to be estimated by the said application and the scale endorsed on this policy, whenever it is applicable, or if, in case of the sickness of the said slave or slaves, or any of them, he, she or they shall fail to receive all due and proper care, promptly, and without delay, or if this policy shall be assigned, without the written consent of the said Company; then, and in all such cases, the said Company shall not be liable to pay the sum insured and set opposite the name or names of the said slave or slaves, deceased, or any part thereof, and this policy, so far as relates to such payment, shall be utterly void. And it is further agreed, That the said Company shall not be bound to pay more than two-thirds of the value of such of the said slaves as may die during the continuance of this policy, the said value to be estimated as at the beginning of the last illness.”

Additional conditions on the reverse read:

“Not hazardous when employed by their owner in ordinary occupations. Hazardous when hired out, even in ordinary occupations. Extra hazardous when employed on steamboats, vessels, railroads, rice-fields, or about a steam engine.”

Insurance policy on the life of a slave, 1863, reverse

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