By Ryan Brennan
Dating back to 1852, an intellectual #black man, McCune Smith, wrote that Jeremiah G. Hamilton was the “only black millionaire in New York,” to Frederick Douglas. However, modern Americans have chosen to ignore this very successful African-American despite his achievements and the pursuit of wealth.
Behind the great story of Jeremiah Hamilton lies tens of thousands of words of newsprint specifically about him, as well as over 50 court cases that have Hamilton listed as either plaintiff or defendant. His story goes to show the limits and possibilities the black community has in one of the nation’s largest cities.
In the middle of the 19th century, Hamilton was a broker. He found success in the same place that ran New York at that time, Wall Street. Hamilton wasn’t just a broker trying to get by, either. He was adept to the trade and was viewed as a “skilled and innovative financial manipulator,” according to the New York Times.
However, no statue has ever been put up honoring Hamilton and in fact, that will probably never exist. This is mainly due to the fact that Hamilton wasn’t necessarily a saint. He was ruthless and aggressive with his business endeavors. On the other hand, you can’t exactly blame him. Being a successful black man in those days took courage and a lot of hardball. And hardball is exactly what was brought to Hamilton.
Hamilton saw a lot of rough patches in his days. One occurred when a group of white rioters kicked in the basement door of Hamilton’s house, where he lived with his white wife, Eliza Jane Hamilton. After running into Eliza, she told the rioters that he was away. One witness to the incident, a neighbor, had heard the commotion. After stepping outside to see what was going on, he was confronted by a “lookout” that cocked a pistol to his chest. The lookout said, “there is a nigger living here with two white women, and we are going to bring him out, and hang him on the lamp post, and you stop and see the fun.”
At the time of his death in 1875, Hamilton had a fortune of $2 million, being listed as the richest black man in the US by obituaries. His fortune would be worth around $250 million today. He was put through some rough incidents that regarded race but outlasted all of them while still finding success.