- What was New York Life’s connection to slavery in the 1800s?
New York Life’s predecessor company, Nautilus Insurance Company, sold policies on enslaved persons’ lives between 1846 -1848. It is a deeply painful history for which the company has been open and transparent about for decades.
The company’s own published accounts of the Nautilus policies sold on enslaved lives appeared as early as 1895 and, in 2001, the company provided the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture with the original 155-year-old company archival records of the insurance policies sold to owners of those enslaved persons. According to the Nautilus records, the company insured 520 individuals who were either identified as enslaved persons or from the records are likely to have been enslaved, and paid claims on 15 of those individuals who died.
- How does your connection compare to other life insurers at the time?
Our research indicates that there were at least 60 other companies involved in the business at the time. Nearly all of those companies went out of business and/or do not have records detailing their history.
- Was this a major part of the company’s business at the time?
No. The policies Nautilus sold on enslaved persons' lives were a very small part – less than 5% – of the premiums collected by Nautilus during the short time the policies were sold.
- When did the company discontinue issuing policies on the lives of enslaved persons? What prompted this change in policy?
Nautilus records show that its board of trustees voted to end the practice in April of 1848, more than a dozen years before the Civil War and 18 years before the official end of slavery in the United States with the ratification of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. Two policies were sold in 1849 after the trustees vote, possibly due to challenges in communicating the decision nationwide. Nautilus’ records do not indicate the exact reason for the cessation.
- How has the company accounted for its historical ties to slavery?
We have made clear through our words and our actions for many years that our predecessor company’s involvement with slavery is a stain on our history that we can never forget. We are committed to fostering a greater understanding of slavery in America and supporting the Black community – and our actions reflect that commitment.
From donating our records of these then-155-year-old policies to the New York Public Library, to being a founding donor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, to sponsoring two PBS series, “Slavery and the Making of America” and “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” to establishing The New York Life Endowment for Emerging African American Issues at CUNY’s Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, New York Life has worked for years to shine a light on the worst of our nation’s history so it is never repeated and continues to shape our understanding of the present.
Learn more about our past and present here.