Another Presbyterian First
by Rev. David T. Myers
Looking at a listing of the Nationwide Life Insurance Company today in the phone book, the average reader would not guess that part of that company constituted the nation’s first life insurance. And certainly, that same average citizen would not know that this first life insurance company had roots in Presbyterian history.
Started in 1718 by the Synod of Philadelphia, the fledgling company was known originally as “The Fund for Pious Uses.” Its purpose was to assist local Presbyterian ministers and their families. One of the original seven ministers of the Philadelphia Presbytery, Jedidiah Andrews, was its first treasurer. Other directors down through the years included Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Finley, and Frances Allison.
The name of the Fund changed in 1759 when it was chartered on January 11, but its purposes were unchanged. The new name became “The Corporation for Relief of the Poor, and Distressed Ministers, and of the Poor and Distressed Widows, and Children of Presbyterian Ministers.” Try writing that on a check! Mercifully, it came to be known simply as the Presbyterian Ministers Fund.
It is interesting to this contributor that the organization’s money, meager at best in the early years, was sometimes spent on matters other than poor servants of Christ. A new organ was purchased for Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Children captured by Indian raids on the frontier in central Pennsylvania were literally redeemed by the fund and brought back to their families. And perhaps the most astonishing of all outlays of funds was to the Continental Congress. The Presbyterian life insurance company loaned out five thousand dollars so the political body could pay its bills, most of which went to pay soldiers in the American Revolution.
John Baird wrote a full account of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund in Horn of Plenty: The Story of the Presbyterian Ministers’ Fund, published in 1982 by Tyndale House Publishers (pictured above). The book is out of print, but copies can be found on the used market, here, here, or here.
The organizational records of the Presbyterian Minister’s Fund are preserved at the facilities of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with a finding aid available here.
Words to Live By: “If anyone fails to provide for his relatives, and especially for those of his own family, he has disowned the faith [by failing to accompany it with fruits] and is worse than an unbeliever [who performs his obligation in these matters.]—1 Timothy 5:8 Amplified Bible