William Ellis was a Texas Slave who became a Mexican Millionaire. As a child, Ellis learned Spanish being raised along the Mexican border. After the emancipation, he used his skills to capitalize on his knowledge, appearance, and personality.
Ellis created an alter ego, the Mexican Guillermo Eliseo. However, Ellis was keeping a secret, he was not born Mexican, in fact, he was born a black slave on a cotton plantation in South Texas. Because of light complexion, he received privileges that most blacks were denied during that time. While in San Antonio, Texas he was Mexican. However, it wasn’t long before locals realized that Ellis was not Mexican; the city directory, then puts a C by his name, denoting “colored.” He disappeared, grew a large mustache, straightened his hair and began dressing in elegant clothes. He resurfaced in New York as a Mexican businessman at the height of the Gilded Age.
Ellis fair complexion allowed him to travel in first class by train, stay in the best hotels, and dine at fine restaurants. Eliseo achieved success by crossing the color line, however, because of his close ties to the black community, he began to raise questions about his racial background. Yet, he was so good at manipulating people about his race many believed that he was indeed Hispanic even after rumors spread that he was not what he appeared to be. By the turn of the century, Ellis was one of the first African Americans on Wall Street.