Cover image for Prince of Darkness
Title:
Prince of Darkness

The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire
Author:
White, Shane
Subject:
Biography & Autobiography
History
Sociology
Nonfiction
Description:
In the middle decades of the nineteenth century Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a well-known figure on Wall Street. Cornelius Vanderbilt, America's first tycoon, came to respect, grudgingly, his one-time opponent. The day after Vanderbilt's death on January 4, 1877, an almost full-page obituary on the front of the National Republicanacknowledged that, in the context of his Wall Street share transactions, "There was only one man who ever fought the Commodore to the end, and that was Jeremiah Hamilton." What Vanderbilt's obituary failed to mention, perhaps as contemporaries already knew it well, was that Hamilton was African American. Hamilton, although his origins were lowly, possibly slave, was reportedly the richest colored man in the United States, possessing a fortune of $2 million, or in excess of two hundred and $50 million in today's currency. In Prince of Darkness, a groundbreaking and vivid account, eminent historian Shane White reveals the larger than life story of a man who defied every convention of his time. He wheeled and dealed in the lily white business world, he married a white woman, he bought a mansion in rural New Jersey, he owned railroad stock on trains he was not legally allowed to ride, and generally set his white contemporaries teeth on edge when he wasn't just plain outsmarting them. An important contribution to American history, Hamilton's life offers a way into considering, from the unusual perspective of a black man, subjects that are usually seen as being quintessentially white, totally segregated from the African American past.
Publisher:
St. Martin's Publishing Group

St. Martin's Press
Date:
2015/10/13
Digital Format:
Adobe EPUB

HTML

Kindle
Language:
English

Summary

Summary

In the middle decades of the nineteenth century Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a well-known figure on Wall Street. Cornelius Vanderbilt, America's first tycoon, came to respect, grudgingly, his one-time opponent. The day after Vanderbilt's death on January 4, 1877, an almost full-page obituary on the front of the National Republican acknowledged that, in the context of his Wall Street share transactions, "There was only one man who ever fought the Commodore to the end, and that was Jeremiah Hamilton."

What Vanderbilt's obituary failed to mention, perhaps as contemporaries already knew it well, was that Hamilton was African American. Hamilton, although his origins were lowly, possibly slave, was reportedly the richest colored man in the United States, possessing a fortune of $2 million, or in excess of two hundred and $50 million in today's currency.

In Prince of Darkness, a groundbreaking and vivid account, eminent historian Shane White reveals the larger than life story of a man who defied every convention of his time. He wheeled and dealed in the lily white business world, he married a white woman, he bought a mansion in rural New Jersey, he owned railroad stock on trains he was not legally allowed to ride, and generally set his white contemporaries teeth on edge when he wasn't just plain outsmarting them. An important contribution to American history, Hamilton's life offers a way into considering, from the unusual perspective of a black man, subjects that are usually seen as being quintessentially white, totally segregated from the African American past.


Author Notes

SHANE WHITE is the Challis Professor of History and an Australian Professorial Fellow in the History Department at the University of Sydney specializing in African-American history. He has authored or co-authored several books, including Playing the Numbers , and collaborated in the construction of the website Digital Harlem. Each project has won at least one important prize for excellence from institutions as varied as the American Historical Association and the American Library Association. He lives in Sydney, Australia.


Reviews 3

Kirkus Review

A specialist in African-American history pieces together the remarkable career of an antebellum Wall Street broker who was married to a white woman, ambitious, ruthless, successful, and black: in short, "a racist's nightmare come to life." An 1875 death notice of Jeremiah G. Hamilton labeled him "The Richest Colored Man in the Country." Relying almost entirely on newspapers, government files, court records, the public cloud of dust kicked up by Hamilton's tumultuous financial maneuvering, and his otherwise private life, White (History/Univ. of Sydney; The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons and Speech, 2005, etc.) recovers a surprising amount of information about this amazing wheeler-dealer. The natty, shrill-voiced Hamilton enjoyed fine livinghe bought only the best homes, cigars, and lawyersand serious books. During the course of compiling his $2 million fortune, he was at various times sentenced to death in absentia in Haiti for his role in a counterfeiting scheme, banned from coverage by New York insurance companies, and blackballed by the stock exchange. He exploited the financial chaos amid the ashes of the city's Great Fire of 1835 and smartly used the Bankruptcy Act to recover from the 1837 panic. In a largely unregulated Wall Street, with gambling and speculation rife, the ethically challenged Hamilton beat his slippery white adversaries at their own gameand they resented him for it. Combative (in old age, he fought off a Broadway pickpocket), endlessly litigious (he once sued Cornelius Vanderbilt), Hamilton understood the importance of the press and manipulating public opinion. White expertly mines the era's penny press for stories and charactersWilliam Thompson, junk shop and brothel owner, Thomas Downing, oyster-house proprietor, himself book worthythat help explain the era's racial climate and Hamilton's notoriety as assessed by the likes of John Russwurm, publisher of New York's first African-American paper, the Herald's race-baiting James Gordon Bennett, and Hamilton's ally, the Sun's Benjamin Day. Superb scholarship and a sprightly style recover an unaccountably overlooked life in our history. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Though now historically obscure, Jeremiah Hamilton, at his death, was the richest black man in America, worth more than $250 million in modern currency. Hamilton's obscurity springs from more than the usual reasons that so little is written about the history of black Americans in the nation's first centuries. Aside from the anomaly of being a wealthy black man in the particularly unwelcome landscape of Wall Street, Hamilton was no race hero. He started his career as a broker and ruthless investor by selling counterfeit Haitian currency in the chaos of its liberation. He went on to all manner of skulduggery, including railroad stock speculation and insurance fraud, often with the backing of wealthy white investors who sought to keep their names out of the papers. The black press disparaged Hamilton for his avaricious pursuit of money, even at the expense of other blacks. The author draws on a trove of public documents, including newspaper accounts and court documents, to offer a portrait of a relentlessly driven man. Despite the fact that Hamilton left no personal papers behind, White details his incredible life, marriage to a white woman, and contentious presence on Wall Street, in the process revealing the ways that historians reconstruct the past. An engaging look at an extraordinary man.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2015 Booklist


Library Journal Review

Though Jeremiah Hamilton (d. 1875) was one of the first African Americans to make his fortune on Wall Street, amassing over a million dollars in the 1840s and 1850s while fighting constant prejudice and discrimination, his life was uncelebrated and nearly forgotten. White (history, Univ. of Sydney) revives the remarkable story of Hamilton in this biography. It was not an easy task. There are no related manuscripts, personal documents, photographs, or portraits; it is not even known where Hamilton was born. White relies almost exclusively on newspaper accounts and court records. Hamilton's often questionable business dealings made him a fixture in the press and led to frequent legal troubles. But these records don't give a complete picture of the man, leaving White with unanswered questions about his subject. VERDICT Hamilton's story is gripping; so, too, is his puzzling near disappearance from the historical record. White does an excellent job drawing out the facts of Hamilton's life and supplementing them with details from the history of Wall Street and of other African American New Yorkers of the era. Recommended for readers interested in African American history, New York City, or the history of American business.-Nicholas Graham, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.