Mutual Assurance Society (Richmond and Henrico County Policies, 1796-1867)

[General Arrangement of Finding Aid]   [Format of Collection]
[More Information about the Collection]   [Related Resources]

Description of Collection

This finding aid indexes policies issued by the Mutual Assurance Society between 1796 and 1867 for buildings in Richmond and Henrico County. (Accession 30177) Individual policies (declarations) and revaluations are indexed. Policies include the name of the insured, place of residence, location of the insured property (with references to contiguous property), the name of the occupant of the property, a description and estimated value of each structure insured, and the date and signature of the insured. An appraiser's statement regarding the value of the property is also included.

At the bottom of each policy appears a sketch of the insured property. In most instances the sketches are rough outlines of the buildings as if viewed from above. The roofing material and distance from streets and from other structures are also noted.

Revaluations of assurance contain the same information as declarations and give the prior declaration number.

General Arrangement of Finding Aid

Arrangement is alphabetical by the last name of the owner or occupant. Cards contain the policy number, date of policy, place where the insured building is located, whether the individual is the owner or occupant and the volume number and microfilm reel where the document can be located.

Format of Collection

Microfilm and original documents.

More Information about the Collection

Entry 174 in A Guide to the Business Records in the Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond, 1994).

The "Mutual Assurance Society, against Fire on Buildings, of the State of Virginia" was incorporated by the General Assembly on December 22, 1794. The plan of the society was suggested by William Frederick Ast, a Prussian then residing in Richmond, and is alleged to have been modeled after a system of mutual guarantee introduced by Frederick the Great.

As required by the act of incorporation, a subscription of three million dollars was necessary before the charter could be carried into effect. As a result, the organizational meeting of the society was not held until December 24, 1795. At that meeting, a constitution, rules, and regulations were adopted and officers selected. The general office of the society was to be in Richmond. Management was to be by the president and directors, while the principal agent and cashier-general were charged with administrative duties.

The following officers were selected: William Foushee, president; James Bradder, James Brown, Jacob J. Cohen, Andrew Dunscomb, William Duval, Robert Mitchell, George Pickett, and Bushrod Washington, directors for Richmond and vicinity; Robert Bolling, director for Petersburg; George French, director for Fredericksburg; Alexander St. Clair, director for Staunton; Jonah Thompson, director for Alexandria; John Peyton, director for Winchester, Thomas Newton, director for Norfolk; Jacquelin Ambler, cashier-general; William F. Ast, principal agent. The society eventually insured property in Virginia, West Virginia (until 1868), and the District of Columbia.

Insurance offered by the society was against "all losses and damages occasioned accidentally by fire." Rates of hazard were determined by the material composition of the buildings, by the uses to which the buildings were put, and by what may be kept in them. Mills, playhouses, liveries, and buildings containing machinery propelled by steam or in which combustible articles were stored could be insured only by special contract. Revaluations of insured property were required every seven years or whenever additions were made to a policy.

Until 1819, the society returned to policy holders the interest accumulated on its reserve fund in excess of the amount deemed necessary to pay annual claims for losses and damages. When costs exceeded income, the society was authorized to require members to pay "quotas," the amount depending on the sum insured and the rate of hazard. Insured property was considered security and could be sold to obtain the quotas. Annual quotas were not regularly required until 1809.

During its history the society made numerous revisions in its constitution. In 1805, the number of directors was reduced, and in 1809 the offices of president, cashier-general, and the directors were abolished. In their place a committee was to be appointed by the annual general meeting. While property located in towns and rural areas was initially insured alike, a constitutional change in 1805 established town and country branches. Funds were divided between the two branches and the premiums, quotas, and claims were kept separately. Because of heavy losses sustained by the country branch, no new insurance of rural property was issued after August 15, 1818. The country branch was eventually abolished in March 1822.

Up to the Civil War, the society was financially secure and prosperous. Although war risks were not taken by the society and any damage caused by the invasion was not covered by the assurance, the financial crisis caused by inflation, currency depreciation, and the loss of investments with the fall of the Confederacy left the society "without a dollar in money." However, the society's reserve fund, required by law, enabled it to recover rapidly from the effects of the war.

The following individuals served as principal agents of the society between 1795 and 1866: William F. Ast, 1795-1807; Samuel Greenhow, 1808-1815; James Rawlings, 1815-1837; Colonel John Rutherford, 1837-1866.

Related Resources



  • A Collection of the Acts of the Legislature of Virginia in Relation to the Mutual Assurance Society (Richmond, 1856).
  • Entries 174 and 284 in A Guide to the Business Records in the Virginia State Library and Archives (Richmond, 1994).
  • "Explanations of the Plan of the Mutual Assurance Society …' Established the 26th of December, 1795," Broadside. (Special Collections)
  • Mutual Assurance Society, Constitution, Rules and Regulations of the Mutual Assurance Society. Amended and revised 1819, and 1898. (Special Collections)
  • Historical Sketch of the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, from its Organization in 1794 to 1879. Compiled by John B. Danforth and Herbert A. Claiborne (Richmond, 1879).
  • Love, Richard. Founded Upon Benevolence: A Bicentennial History of the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia (Glen Allen, VA, 1994).
  • Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, An Index to Declarations, 1796-1867. Available on Miscellaneous Reels 776-780. The index is arranged by city and by county. There are also index divisions for plantation or estate names and listings for taverns, hotels, and other public buildings.

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