The African Insurance Company was founded in 1810, with headquarters at 159 Lombard Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was the country’s first African American-owned insurance company. Joseph Randolph was the first president, with Cyrus Porter as treasurer and William Coleman as secretary. African Americans founded an insurance firm as a natural progression from the beneficent societies that formed shortly after the American Revolution.
Beneficial societies provided social and economic safety nets for an impoverished community; in Philadelphia, the Free African Society, founded on April 12, 1787, charged members monthly dues in order to create a pool of money from which to draw if women were widowed, a member became ill, or to provide a Christian burial for a member who died.
This guarantee that one would be looked after by an organization in the event of a disaster was a great inducement for people to donate to the Free African Society. The Free African Society, on the other hand, was far from non-profit; in 1790, it placed $100 in Philadelphia’s Bank of North America. If members were healthy and deaths were kept to a minimum, the Society aimed to amass a sizable sum of money that could be used for future dividends and convince present members that their needs would be met correctly.
The African Insurance Company was founded in 1810 as a for-profit enterprise based on the Free African Society model.
The company attempted to capitalize on Philadelphia’s rapidly developing free African American population, which included newcomers who were either not allowed in or chose not to join the Free African Organization yet craved the security the society afforded its members.
However, the corporation only operated until 1813. It failed to acquire a strong customer base, and its three officers were obliged to close its Lombard Street office and relocate the company to William Coleman’s home. There are no records for the corporation beyond 1813. Nonetheless, the African Insurance Company’s early model was subsequently adopted by several successful post-Civil War era black insurance companies.