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Thu, 08.21.1806

Jeremiah Hamilton, Financier born


*The birth of Jeremiah Hamilton is celebrated on this date in 1806.  He was a 19th-century Black stockbroker, forger, and financier. 

Sometimes called Jerry Hamilton, Jeremiah G. Hamilton was born in Haiti.   His death certificate stated he was born in the West Indies and listed Port-au-Prince as the birthplace of his parents.

Hamilton first became prominent in 1828 after hiding in a fishing boat in the Port-au-Prince harbor and escaping the Haitian authorities. They had discovered he was transporting counterfeit coins to Haiti for a group of New York merchants; he was sentenced to be shot.  The ship he had chartered, the Ann Eliza Jane, was confiscated by the port officials; Hamilton claimed he had escaped with $5000 of the counterfeit coin.  

After the 1835 Great Fire of New York destroyed many buildings on the southeast tip of Manhattan, Hamilton amassed about $5 million in 2013 by "taking heartless advantage of several of the fire victims' misfortunes."  His business practices were divisive; where most Black entrepreneurs sold their goods to other Blacks, "Hamilton cut a swath through the lily-white New York business world of the mid-1830s, a domain where his attacks soon earned him the nickname of "The Prince of Darkness." Others, with even less affection, called him Hamilton.  

Soon thereafter, he used about $7 million to buy up substantial land and property in modern-day Astoria and Poughkeepsie. Hamilton would go on to struggle with white-industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt over control of the Accessory Transit Company. James McCune Smith noted him as "the only Black millionaire in New York" before the American Civil War.  Although he circulated among the financial elite and was himself very wealthy (he amassed a 2018 equivalent fortune of around $250 million),

Hamilton was also a victim of racism against Blacks during his life. During the New York City Draft Riots in 1863, white men seeking to lynch Hamilton broke into his house but were turned away with only liquor, cigars, and an old suit. His white wife, Eliza, said her husband was not home.  Hamilton was a shrewd financial agent. He amassed a fortune of $2 million ($250,000,000 in 2018 dollars) by his death on May 19, 1875.   Hamilton's obituaries said he was the wealthiest black man in America. He is buried in his family lot in the Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.  

Despite the image of this article, there is said to be no known surviving image of Jeremiah Hamilton. As biographer Shane White has reasoned, Hamilton "almost certainly did have photographs taken, and quite likely commissioned a painting, but if any likenesses have survived, they are probably cataloged under ‘miscellaneous’ or as ‘subject unknown.' The 2015 biography "Prince of Darkness" by Shane White chronicles the life of Jeremiah G. Hamilton. 

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