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New Book Chronicles the History of Insurers’ Role in the Rise of the US

Author offers a look at how insurers supported the expansion of American maritime expertise and economic development.
  • Lori Chordas
  • November 2021
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Underwriters of the United States—How Insurance Shaped the American Founding

Hannah Farber's new book, Underwriters of the United States—How Insurance Shaped the American Founding, chronicles insurers' contributions to the birth of the United States.

Hannah Farber

Hannah Farber

Farber, an assistant professor of history at Columbia University, reports how during the American Revolution, U.S. maritime insurers used their position at the pinnacle of global trade to help shape the new nation. Following is an edited transcript of an interview with AM Best TV.

What inspired you to write the book?

During graduate school, I was looking for stories of dashing adventures on the high seas and the new republic. What I found, strangely, was a large number of references to insurance.

During the American Revolution, insurance was a tremendously wealthy business, one of which American merchants and the British government were very aware. I discovered a big business that was closely entangled with the political conflicts of the time, the political life of the empire and the rebelling colonies, and with the United States as it formed shortly thereafter.

How did the 18th-century marine insurance business contribute to the making of the U.S.?

Marine insurance at that time was not an actuarial business but a business conducted through a coordinated group of people with much expertise about how the merchant world functioned and how political events might unfold.

What fascinated me about this story was the constant risk of capture that American merchants faced between the outbreaks of the American Revolution through the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

During that time, there was tremendous political risk but also an opportunity for merchants to work together to form insurance groups and share their risks amongst each other, while also making money.

What do you hope people will take away from the book?

It's important for everyone to listen to the language that big financial industries are using when they talk about their relationships with the government.

During the 18th century, insurance companies and their founders invested their funds in the United States by buying U.S. securities and betting on American merchant ships. The U.S. became a financially solvent country with a functional merchant fleet, which paid off for insurers. That's a story about the founding of our nation that's rarely told because we like to think of people having purely patriotic motivations to take risks on behalf of their country.

Lori Chordas is a senior associate editor. She can be reached at

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