Jeremiah G. Hamilton


Report of Jeremiah Hamilton death (1875, May 22) The Daily Phoenix. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Public Domain


Jeremiah G. Hamilton


Jeremiah Hamilton, an African-American broker on Wall Street in the early 19th century, is commonly acknowledged to be the United States' first Black millionaire. Shane White writes in Prince of Darkness,

"In a March 1852 issue of Frederick Douglass' Paper, the Black intellectual and activist James McCune Smith referred to Jerry Hamilton as "the only Black millionaire in New York". Although McCune Smith scorned him for his single-minded pursuit of the dollar, he and other members of the Black intelligentsia such as Frederick Douglass had to concede the degree of Hamilton's success.  He thus became not just the first African-American, but also one of the earliest Americans, to be labeled a millionaire. At his death, twenty-three years later, dozens of newspapers from as far as Ohio, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, and California acknowledged that Hamilton was the richest colored man in the country -- as one of them put it, he had "accumulated a colossal fortune of nearly two millions ($2,000,000) dollars."

"The Black man cut a familiar figure downtown in the city's financial quarter. In 1836, according to the Courier and New-York Enquirer, he was "well known in Wall Street". Four years later, a Herald writer described him, backhandedly, as "a 'highly respectable' colored gentleman of some celebrity in Wall Street," and a New York Sun reporter identified him as being "commonly known as the colored broker of Wall St". Any reader of New York newspapers in the 1830s and 40s could scarcely avoid coming across stories mentioning Hamilton -- there were scores of articles and thousands of words detailing various incidents and controversies in which he was involved. Not only did  his picaresque comings and coings make him grist for the mill of the newly invented penny press, but he also was acquainted with several of the editors and, on occasion, found himself drawn into their internecine strife. The iconoclastic firebrand Mike Walsh acknowledged in the Subterranean: "We do not know much of Hamilton, beyond his newspaper reputation." Walsh then settled a few of his own scores by adding: "But it requires very little discernment to see that he is far ahead, both in talent and character to the miserable wretches of the Sun and Herald."

Hamilton acquired Glover House in Morris County New Jersey, and moved his family there. On August 5, 1850, the federal census-taker visited Glover House. He valued the property at $5,000, about half of what it would have fetched on the market, and then listed the members of the household.

"His celebrity was at its height in the 1830s, 1840s, and into the 1850s, tapering off in the last decades of his life. After a flurry of obituaries in 1875, the Black millionaire was very soon forgotten. There was no context in which to remember him.  Hamilton was part of no one's usable past. He was always too unusual a figure to fit comfortably into any history of Wall Street."

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