enslavement of African people in the Americas by the nations and peoples of
Western Europe resulted in the creation of the economic engine that fueled the
development of contemporary capitalism. The fact that the majority of
significant firms created by Western European and American merchants before to
approximately 100 years ago benefited directly from slavery should come as no
Lehman Brothers, whose financial empire had its
start in the slave trade, has revealed that they were involved in the slave
trade as well. As reported by the Sun Times, a financial services company has
confessed that its founding founders owned not one, but several enslaved
Africans during the Civil War era and that, "in all likelihood," the
company "profited tremendously" from slavery. “This is a tragic part
of our collective history... We sincerely regret any inconvenience... It was a
dreadful thing to happen... In the year 2005, ideally, there isn't a single person
sitting in the United States who would ever, in a million years, defend the
practice,” said Joe Polizzotto, chief counsel of Lehman Brothers, in a
selling policies in the 1850s that reimbursed slave owners for financial losses
when the enslaved Africans they held died, Aetna,
Inc. (the nation's largest health insurer), issued an apology to the
African-American community. According to Aetna spokesman Fred Laberge in 2002,
the firm has long admitted that it may have covered the lives of slaves for a
period of time shortly after its founding in 1853, for a period of many years.
"We express our sincere remorse for any involvement in this heinous
conduct on our part," the statement reads.
JPMorgan Chase publicly acknowledged the company's
involvement in slavery. During the period 1831 to 1865, two of our predecessor
banks—Citizens Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana—accepted approximately 13,000
enslaved individuals as collateral on loans and took ownership of approximately
1,250 of them when plantation owners defaulted on the loans, according to the
company in a statement published today.
It is the
largest mutual life insurance firm in the United States, according to New York
Life Insurance Company. Additionally, they assisted with the continuation of
slavery by selling insurance policies on enslaved Africans. An 1847 account
book held by W.A. Britton, the company's Natchez, Miss. agent, contains
evidence of ten additional New York Life slave policies, according to a report
published by USA Today. The book, which is part of a collection at Louisiana
State University, contains Britton's notes on slave regulations, which he wrote
for sums ranging from $375 to $600 in the course of his work. 339 of the first
1,000 policies written by New York Life,
according to a 1906 history of the firm, were written on the lives of slaves.
a report in USA Today, Wachovia
Corporation (now owned by Wells Fargo) has apologized for its past ties to
slavery after it was revealed that two of its previous predecessors owned
enslaved Africans and took their labor as payment. On Wednesday evening, Ken
Thompson, the chairman and chief executive officer of Wachovia Corporation,
issued a statement in which he expressed his company's regrets to all Americans
and in particular to African-Americans and persons of African origin.
"These findings have left us feeling very distressed."
The bank N M Rothschild & Sons, based in
London was implicated
in the slave trade. Formerly unreported connections to slavery in the
British colonies existed between the corporation and one of the most
recognizable names in the City of London. Nathan
Mayer Rothschild, the banking family's patriarch in the nineteenth century,
acquired his first personal gains by using enslaved Africans as security in
transactions with a slave owner, according to documents obtained by the
Financial Times and published by the newspaper.
Norfolk Southern has also had a long association with
the slave trade. Records show that the Mobile
& Girard corporation, which is now a part of Norfolk Southern, gave slaveholders $180 ($3,379 today) per
enslaved African who would rent to the railroad for one year for $180 ($3,379
today), according to the firm. Central
of Georgia, another corporation that is also affiliated with Norfolk
Southern Line, valued its slaves at $31,303 ($663,033 today), according to
investigation by USA Today revealed that their own parent business, E.W. Scripps and Gannett, had ties to the slave trade.
historical records, FleetBoston
evolved from an earlier financial institution, Providence Bank, which was created by John Brown, a slave trader
who possessed ships that were used to carry enslaved Africans to the United
States. Brown's slave excursions were subsidized by the bank, which made money
off of them. Brown is said to have even assisted in the founding of what would
become Brown University.
political and legal structure that existed more than a century ago, CSX used slave labor to construct
segments of some U.S. rail lines, which were later abandoned. John Henry and
Reuben were two enslaved Africans who were rented by the firm and were labeled
as such. In the document, it is stated that “they were to be returned clothed
when they arrived to work for the corporation.” Individual enslaved Africans
could be rented for a season for as little as $200 – the equivalent of $3,800
today – and CSX took full advantage of the situation.
The Canadian National Railway Company (CN) is a Canadian Class I railroad
with its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, that services Canada as well as the Midwestern
and southern states of the United States. As previously said, the firm has a
history of profiting from slavery. The Mobile
& Ohio Railroad, which is now a part of Canadian National, valued their
slaves that were lost during the war and liberation at $199,691 according to
records kept by the railroad. In today's money, that sum is worth almost $2.2
in 1818, Brown Brothers Harriman is
the nation's oldest and largest private investment bank and securities firm, as
well as the world's largest. According to a report published by USA Today, the
New York merchant bank of James and
William Brown, today known as Brown
Bros. Harriman owned hundreds of enslaved Africans and supported the
cotton economy by financing millions to southern landowners, merchants, and
cotton brokers throughout the Civil War.
the 1800s, Brooks Brothers is a
high-end suit retailer that began by selling slave apparel to various slave
dealers in the Caribbean. What a brilliant way to make a fortune in the immoral
of denials, Barclays, a British
global banking and financial services business headquartered in London, United
Kingdom has recently admitted that some of the companies it has acquired over
the years may have been involved in the slave trade.
a story in USA Today, AIG, based in
New York, has finalized the acquisition of American General Financial Group, a
Houston-based insurer that controls U.S.
Life Insurance Corporation. A U.S. Life insurance policy on an enslaved
African living in Kentucky was repeated in a 1935 article about slave insurance
in The American Conservationist magazine, which was published by the American
Conservationist Society. AIG claims to have “discovered documentation
indicating” that U.S. Life Insurance Company insured enslaved Africans.
Here Is A Narration Of The
Tour Given By Damaris Obi About New York City's role in slavery As Seen On BBC
scorching August day in New York's financial sector, a group of 25 individuals
had gathered around a little commemorative sign. Their tour guide informs them
that this was the site of one of the largest slave marketplaces in the United
and children were purchased and sold in the streets just a few blocks away from
the modern location of the New York Stock Exchange.
is not black history," explains Damaris Obi, the tour guide for the day.
"This is not New York City, nor is it the history of the United States.
This is the narrative of the world."
It is also a
history of economics.
the Underground Railroad in New York City is a popular trip that many people
are unaware of, according to Stacey Toussaint, the owner of Inside Out Tours,
which operates the NYC Slavery and Underground Railroad tour.
are completely unaware that enslaved people constructed the wall in honor of
which Wall Street is named," she explains.
some estimates, New York received 40 percent of all cotton earnings in The United States through the money made by its banking institutions, shipping
corporations, and insurance organizations.
this academics are divided on how close a connection can be found between slavery
and present economic practices in the United States.
Stanford University economic history professor Gavin Wright writes that people
in non-slave places, such as Britain and the free states of the United States,
"routinely transacted with slave owners and engaged in slave
commerce." According to him, the "uniqueness" of slavery's
economic contribution has been "exaggerated" by some, while others
flourished during the period of colonial administration. British and Dutch
settlers relied on enslaved people to assist them in establishing farms and
constructing the new towns and cities that would eventually become the United
States, which later became the United Kingdom.
individuals were brought to the cotton, sugar, and tobacco plantations to
perform as farm labor. The crops that they farmed were exported to Europe or
the northern colonies, where they were processed into finished goods. Those
finished commodities were used to fund journeys to Africa in order to purchase
additional slaves, who were then smuggled back to the United States of America.
investors, this triangle trading route proved to be successful.
potential plantation owners turned to the capital markets in London to get the
funds they needed to get their operations up and running. They sold debt, which
was then used to purchase boats, products, and eventually people. Later in the
nineteenth century, US banks and southern states would offer securities that
helped support the construction of slave-run plantations in the United States
policies were obtained in order to mitigate the risks associated with the
forced migration of humanity from Africa to America.
policies provided protection against the possibility of a ship sinking as well
as the possibility of losing individual slaves once they arrived in America.
York Life, and AIG were among the top insurance companies in the United States
at the time. They issued policies that guaranteed slave owners would be
compensated if the slaves they controlled were hurt or murdered.
middle of the nineteenth century, raw cotton exports accounted for more than
half of all US overseas shipments. Anything that wasn't sold overseas was
shipped to textile mills in northern states such as Massachusetts and Rhode
Island, where it was transformed into fabric.
that southern plantation owners made couldn't be hidden under mattresses or
behind loose floorboards anymore.
years, several major US financial institutions have issued public apologies for
their involvement in slavery.
Two of JP
Morgan Chase's subsidiaries, Citizens' Bank and Canal Bank in Louisiana, were
found to have taken enslaved individuals as collateral for loans in 2005,
according to the bank, which is today the largest in the United States. If
plantation owners failed to make their loan payments, the banks took possession
of the slaves they owned.
wasn't the only one to make a mistake. Citing their forefathers, the forebears
of Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo are among the well-known American
financial institutions that benefited from the slave trade.
Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University,
"Slavery was a disproportionately important factor in the development of
the American economy."
research, Prof. Beckert points out that while cities such as Boston were never
major players in the slave trade, the cities benefited from their linkages to
slave-driven economies. Merchants in New England gained money by selling lumber
and ice to customers in the South and the Caribbean. Northern merchants, in
turn, purchased raw cotton and sugar from the southerners.
England's fabric mills were crucial in the development of the United States
industrial revolution, but their cotton originated from the slave-dependent
Carolina cotton became high-end fashion because of brands like Brooks Brothers,
which is the oldest men's clothing retailer in the United States. Domino's
Sugar, long the largest sugar refiner in the United States, processed sugar
cane that had been cultivated by slaves.
in America also benefited from the money acquired by the slave trade. In the
southern United States, railroads were built expressly to transport
agricultural goods produced by enslaved people and slaves were also employed
as construction labor to construct the lines.
even believe that the usage of slavery influenced the development of modern
accounting. The historian Caitlin Rosenthal cites the example of slave owners
who, over time, depreciated or decreased the recorded value of slaves in order
to keep track of costs.