Over two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson completed an application for fire insurance on his home, Monticello. The application was to be submitted to a newly established fire insurance company, the first in Virginia and one of the first insurers in the new nation. Then, largely because of the financial challenges that this company and all early American fire insurers faced, he decided not to submit the application. This Essay tells how Jefferson’s unfiled fire insurance application has facilitated contemporary interpretation of slave life at Jefferson’s plantation. The problems that early fire insurers faced – problems that led Jefferson not to file the application – have not entirely disappeared. Insurance law and regulation still must keep these problems in mind. And of course we live still with the legacy of slavery and the challenge of interpreting it at historic slave plantations. That these two totally different subjects should turn out to be connected helps to demonstrate that, not only are there coincidences in history, but there are coincidences in the study of history as well.
Kenneth S. Abraham, Jefferson’s Fire Insurance Policy and Monticello’s Reconstruction of Slavery, 11 The Green Bag Second Series 11–25 (2015).