A Presbyterian council incorporated the Corporation for Relief of Poor and Distressed Widows and Children today in 1759, marking the first time life insurance was sold in America. Now WE know em

Francis Allison

Francis Allison

The Presbyterian Presbytery of Philadelphia led by Reverend Jedediah Andrews formed “The Fund for Pious Uses” in 1718 to assist local Presbyterian ministers and their families.

When Reverend Jedediah Andrews died in 1747, Reverend Robert Cross became treasurer of the fund, and found himself an assistant named Francis Allison.

Francis Allison had been the first American minister to receive from Glasgow University in Scotland a doctor of divinity degree, and he also had once been a tutor to the Dickinson family (including a young John Dickinson, who would become a formidable early American politician).

Francis Allison then proposed in 1754, that the Presbyterian Synod offer life insurance to ministers rather than just charitable grants to ailing and deceased ministers and their families.

A Synodical Company was subsequently formed, which oversaw two funds: a “Widows Fund” to which company ministers could subscribe, and the existing “Fund for Pious Uses” to which non Presbyterian ministers could also subscribe.

In either case, the ministers (or in most cases their churches) would pay annual premiums towards annuities that would be granted to themselves if they were sick or ailing or to their families upon their death.

To give this company more legal standing, Rev. Cross and Rev. Allison sought a charter for these funds from Pennsylvania Governor Richard Penn, which was granted on January 11, 1759.

The Presbyterian Synods of Philadelphia and New York officially incorporated this company as a life insurance company and changed its name to the “Corporation for Relief of Poor, and Distressed Ministers, and of the Poor and Distressed Widows, and Children of Presbyterian Ministers” in order to make life insurance available to these poor families.

Even though Benjamin Franklin had formed his Philadelphia Fund for the Insurance of Houses from Loss of Fire in 1752, this was the first time life insurance had been sold in America.

This fund early on, meager as it was by today’s standards, insured not only Presbyterian families, but actually paid ransoms on children captured during Indian raids on the frontier in central Pennsylvania and brought them back to their families.

And perhaps the most astonishing of all the organizations outlays of funds was to the Continental Congress.

Many Presbyterian ministers favored independence from England, and in May of 1777, the Presbyterian life insurance company loaned out five thousand pounds to the Continental Congress to help the political body pay its bills, most of which went to pay soldiers during the American Revolution.

Unfortunately, during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s there was a lack of interest in life insurance from most people who could afford it.

The company tried several tactics to attract new customers.

They added a new “Ministers’ Fund” to their roster in the early 1820s, into which ministers could pay and receive an annuity upon reaching a certain age (fifty, fifty-five, or sixty). This plan was open to congregations who wanted to support their ministers, as well as the clergy themselves, but people were slow to respond.

In the late 1830s the corporation issued notice that any minister of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America could subscribe to any of its funds.

In the 1850s, the corporation cast its net even wider and encouraged subscriptions from ministers from any church under the Presbyterian umbrella, like reformed churches.

Eventually this new life insurance company also began to sell life insurance not only to ministers and their families, but anyone, becoming one of the first life insurance companies in the world to do so.

Soon the company became known simply as the Presbyterian Ministers Fund for Life Insurance, and then in 1888 the name was shortened to the Presbyterian Ministers Fund.

The Fund grew steadily in the early to mid 1900s, despite war and depression.

In 1941, it acquired the Ministers Mutual Life Insurance Company (formerly called the Methodists Ministers Relief Insurance and Trust Association) of Boston, Massachusetts.

By 1950, the Presbyterian Ministers Fund, which had always been based in Philadelphia, had created satellite offices in Boston, St. Louis, and Atlanta.

The next forty years proved challenging as the cautious, small insurance firm with a limited customer base tried to maintain its low rates and financial integrity in spite of increased costs and competition.

PMF endured its final name change in 1990 when it became the Convent Life Insurance Company.

This firm was then taken over by Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1994; which itself was acquired by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company in 2002.

Today, the organizational records of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund are preserved at the facilities of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Now WE know em

 

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