Insurance and Slavery in World

Categories: Slavery And Freedom

Was a custom that the hulls of the slave ships were coated in copper to protect against tropical sea worms present off the coast of Africa. Despite the aforesaid, insurance coverage was initially not inclusive of cargo perishing i.e. the slaves dying from any means such as starvation, suicide, disease and murder to end insurrection. A special eye must be cast upon insurrection. The main reason it was not covered is due to the fact that it was an unpredictable but very probably occurrence.

This directly falls under the concept of excess in insurance law i.e. the aspect of the risk which the underwriter or insurer does not include in their economic accommodation due to its very high probability. Consequently, the fact that British insurance policies excluded coverage upon death of slaves illustrated that they recognized them not as human beings, but as mere commodities .

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However, the Dutch and French developed pseudo-life insurance policies in which Africans were recognized as something more than mere commodities . This happened due to the demand by captains which sailed to the Mediterranean that there be made a differentiation between life insurance policies and ransom/liberty insurance policies so that through the former, they could be redeemed with money if they were unfortunate enough to be taken by Turkish or North African Barbary pirates. The Dutch maneuvered around their laws prohibiting life insurance by instituting insurance concerned with solely the protection of liberty. The French also instituted a pseudo-life insurance by treating a life at sea different from a life on dry land .

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The structural integrity of the insurance industry matured as consequence of the aforesaid divergence. As slaves were considered property in some cases and persons in others, there was increased advancement in property insurance and life insurance through the plethora of common law cases and legislation that would have substantively fleshed out these areas .

Nonetheless, by 1781 British insurers had to include murder to stop insurrection as part of their policies . This indicated a turning point in the assigning of monetary value to life. However, death from disease and suicide was still not covered. These policies allowed merchants to have their cake and eat it too as African slaves were considered commodities i.e. if they died from disease and suicide, however they were considered more than mere commodities if killed to stop a mutiny. However, due to the high probability of occurrence insurers only covered the risk of insurrection partly by percentage as opposed to wholly . If less than 10 percent of the cargo were killed to quell insurrection, then this was not covered by the insurance policy.

Usually, it is the acts of slave revolts on the plantations coupled with the work of abolitionists that is highlighted as what led to the eventual abolition of slavery. However, the aforementioned illustrates how the rebellious nature of Africans not only on plantations but on the slave ships as well caused their status to shift from being mere commodities, but also of there being recognition of their status of possessing actual human life and value by merchants, underwriters and insurance agents.

Furthermore, another great structural instrument the insurance industry gained as a result of slavery is that of insurable interest. Despite being commonly known for originating from the Marine Insurance Act of 1745 and Life Assurance Act of 1774 , the concept of insurable interest actually has its roots in the French Ordonnance de La Marine of 1681 otherwise known as the Marine Insurance Code of 1681 which has been regarded by scholars as the source of modern maritime law . Article 9 provided a means by which adventurers could insure their liberty against that of kidnapping to cover ransom and the cost of returning home. Those who could insure an individual against capture included family members who had a financial interest in the insured and similarly to modern day life insurance, per the doctrine of assignability, insurable interest was necessitated only at the outset of the policy and later lack of interest could not nullify the contract. This amounts to an invaluable benefit which the slave trade bestowed upon the insurance industry as it forms the bedrock of insurance today . However, due to gradual obscurity brought on by the sands of time this is not common knowledge even within the insurance industry.

African slaves not only built up European empires with their labor power, but through their resistance they stirred the development of foundational economic structures, insurance being one of them. The evolution of maritime slave insurance to insurance against kidnapping gave way to the assigning of economic value to the person .

Slavery decisively contributed to modern day availability of life insurance as evidenced in employers claiming compensation for death of their employees as seen in cases such as Simcock v. Scottish Imperial . The inverse also takes place where employees are allowed to insure the life on their employers as exemplified in Hebdon v. West . Furthermore, apart from the contribution of insurable interest, ransom insurance of European adventurers that arose due to slavery undoubtedly aided in the development of modern-day insurance schemes such as hostage negotiation fees, kidnapping related expenses and the ordinary random balance itself .


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Insurance and Slavery in World. (2022, May 30). Retrieved from

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