Chesterfield County, Virginia Uncovered: The Records of Death and Slave Insurance Records for the Coal Mining Industry, 1810-1895


It is to be expected that the history of Chesterfield County's coal mines would include the explosive nature of the mines and related fatalities. However, the author discovered an even darker side of this history while researching public documents-a life insurance policy for a slave named Robert Moody, who was insured by his owner. The policy was effective February 16, 1847, and stated the slave would be working at the Clover Hill coal pits in Chesterfield County for one year. His owner purchased the policy and was listed as the beneficiary. These policies provided a risk-free opportunity for the owners to lease slaves; but it was far from risk-free for the slaves who were forced to work in the extremely hazardous conditions of the mines. Laborers, both black and white, were subjected to many deadly hazards. This excellent summary of risks was outlined in a Legislative Petition submitted to the General Assembly of Virginia in January 1851: "from the falling or crumbling of the roofs and pillars; from accidental fire (a casualty which has twice occurred to the Midlothian Company); from sudden irruptions of water flooding his works; from the fearfully destructive explosions produced by inflammable gas; and from the breaking of ropes and other accidents in ascending and descending the shafts, a danger which will be better appreciated when it is remembered that every laborer employed in mining is at least twice a day suspended over a depth of many hundred feet." Even Clay, a twelve-year-old slave who was also subjected to these risks, was insured. The unsettling story that unfolds on these pages includes an examination of the various aspects of selling these insurance policies and the financial benefits of the slave insurance business, the mining companies, and public perception, which precede the detailed documentation. Records of Death typically include: full name of the killed, presumed killed and injured; race; gender; date, place, and cause of death; and source. Some entries list additional information such as age, occupation, and more. The book identifies slaves and lists their owners. Insurance Records typically include: full name of the person insured, insurance company and policy number, gender, age, name of applicant, policy date, slave occupation, slave residence, benefit amount, premium and date due, expiration date and remarks. Several appendices, a bibliography, a full name index, and a Slave Insurance index add to the value of this work.


Nancy C. Frantel


2008, 5½x8½, paper, 234 pp.

ISBN: 9780788449024