“The First Black Millionaire” -Jeremiah G. Hamilton [1807-1875]
Born in the West Indies in 1807, Jeremiah G. Hamilton became known as the first Black millionaire in the United States. Mr. Hamilton, whose story has been absent from the history books, made his way to New York in 1828 and began amassing his fortune by selling stocks to both Black and white entrepreneurs.
Mr. Hamilton defied many conventions of his time and became a prominent financier and businessman on Wall Street in the pre-Civil War era. He owned stock of railroad companies on whose trains he was not legally allowed to ride. He married a white woman named Eliza Morris, and took on the titans of industry, including battling Cornelius Vanderbilt over control of the Accessory Transit Company. Vanderbilt’s obituary stated that “There was only one man who ever fought the Commodore to the end, and that was Jeremiah Hamilton…the Commodore respected him.”
However, Mr. Hamilton also faced the racism and violence against African-Americans that was rampant in the mid-19th century. In the 1830s, insurance companies refused to underwrite his business ventures. During the draft riots in 1863, white men unsuccessfully tried to lynch Mr. Hamilton, breaking into his home only to be turned away by his wife.
Jeremiah G. Hamilton died in 1875 , leaving behind an estate of $2 million, which would be around $250 million today. His life disrupts the lily white history of Wall Street, and offers a window into the realities of race and class in the 19th century.