‘Inherent vice’: marine insurance, slave ship rebellion and the law

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Reparations activism has forced many large multinational insurance corporations to disclose their early profiteering from underwriting slavery and the slave trade. This paper further contributes to the reparative project of tracing slavery’s occluded legacies by analyzing aspects of the development of British, French and American marine insurance law in response to shipboard rebellion in the transatlantic slave trade, and the American ‘domestic’ maritime slave trade. It explores the ways in which marine insurance developed and adapted its ancient legal concepts – notably, the concept of ‘inherent vice’ - to the requirements of commodifying life for the purposes of modern slave trading. This history further illuminates the conceptual lineaments and practices that were involved in the slave trade’s processes of dehumanization but it also highlights the ways in which marine insurance lawyers, in the face of shipboard rebellion, were compelled debate not only the humanity of the enslaved but their desire for freedom. In this context, the archive of marine insurance offers an unexpected route into the history of resistance to slavery.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-44
Number of pages14
JournalRace & Class
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Anita Rupprecht, 'Inherent Vice': Marine Insurance, Slave Ship Rebellion and the Law, Race & Class (57:3) pp. 31-44. Copyright © 2016 The authors. Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.


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