The Free African Society was started in 1787 and it paved the way for a great number of enterprises. As a mutual aid society, members paid dues and out of that, the Society cared for all those who were in need. Naturally, it created a model easily adaptable to the insurance business. In 1810 the African Insurance Company of Philadelphia was created. The company is widely acknowledged as the first known, Black owned insurance enterprise in the United States. More than 40 years before Aetna was founded, the African Insurance Company was in business.
The African Insurance Company‘s office was located at 159 Lombard Street in Philadelphia. The company opened “with a capital of $5,000, in $50 shares.” The company’s first president was Joseph Randolph. Cyrus Porter was treasurer and William Coleman was secretary. The African Insurance Company was modeled after the Free African Society and sought to capitalize off of the growing population of free Blacks in Philadelphia. Even 20 years before the company opened its doors, in fact, the city already had some 2,000 free Blacks, out of of a population of 28,522. The African Insurance Company was founded at a time when millions of Black people were literally in chains and yet, they were attempting to be a player in the financial industry.
No records exist for the company after 1813. Evidently, the company failed to attract a sufficient customer base and was forced to give up their Lombard Street office and move the business into the home of its secretary, William Coleman. Even so, the company proved that it could be done, even in the time of chattel slavery. Other Black owned firms took their model and would go on to have more success, in later years.