(1806 – 1875)
Jeremiah Hamilton was Wall Street’s first Black millionaire, and the only African American broker to join mid-19th-century New York’s millionaire’s club. He escaped Haiti in 1828 and began building his fortune by selling to both white and black entrepreneurs. Acclaimed actor and filmmaker Don Cheadle plans to adapt his story for the big screen.
In the midst of a segregated New York, Hamilton worked freely out of an office on Wall Street and participated in the city’s real estate boom. He invested in land and property around the Hudson River, and owned stock in railways that denied access to members of his race. He purchased a rural New Jersey mansion, married and had children with a white woman. One of Hamilton’s contemporaries observed that he brazenly “assumed the privileges of a white man,” but he and others were unable to check his ambitions. He ignored, denounced, or outsmarted racial attacks, even thwarting a lynch mob during the Draft Riots of July 1863.
In the 1850s, Hamilton sued tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company, which earned him the notoriety of being referred to as the only “man who ever fought the Commodore” in Vanderbilt’s obituary. By the time Hamilton died in 1875, he was worth about $2 million (which would be about $42 million today based on inflation) and was described as the richest black man in America.