Friday, September 18, 2020

Who Was Jeremiah G. Hamilton?


Although this man found a place in history, there are no surviving photographs or paintings of him, yet he left his mark.  The man,  Jeremiah G. Hamilton,  was born around 1806 in Haiti at least according to his death certificate but newspaper articles claimed he'd been born in Richmond, Virginia to free parents.  Yes, there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding his early years. 

It is known that Jeremiah was well educated, fluent in French, extremely literate, and filled with ambition, more so than many have, even today.  He also used his past as he chose and adjusted it to his need.  Furthermore, his path to Wall Street curved in unique ways.  At the age of 21, he transported a load of counterfeit coins from Canada, through the United States, to Haiti for a group of New York businessmen.  The Haitian government got wind of it but he got away.  If he'd been caught, he'd have been shot because Haiti charged and tried him in absentia.  The judge sentenced him to death when convicted. 

He remained hidden in Haiti for twelve days with a price on his head before hopping on a ship and sailing off to New York City.  By the time of the Great Fire of 1835, Jeremiah resided there with a rented office on Wall Street.  It is said he took advantage of the fire to acquire $5 million from many of the victims.  He then invested in real estate by purchasing 47 different lots in the present day area of Astoria.  In addition, he bought wharves, docks, and more land in Poughkeepsie.  

Jeremiah G. Hamilton began making deals with other businessmen.  They thought Jeremiah would be an early mark but he played hard and was more aggressive and ruthless than the others.  In fact, he took people to court on a regular basis and became known for it.  Furthermore, insurance company refused to insure him after a few of his ships sank and he collected.  In 1843, one insurance company accused him of trying to con them out of $50,000.  Eventually, they dropped the case but he managed to accuse them of sending someone to try to drown him in the East River.

He wasn't having much more luck when dealing with the stock market.  The secondary stock market threatened to expel any member who bought or sold stock for him by 1845. Although, newspapers suggested members of the stock market didn't want to deal with him due to the color of his skin, that really wasn't true.  Furthermore, he didn't let anything stand in his way to acquiring and increasing his fortune.  Throughout his life, he kept on fighting and it didn't bother him to stand up to his enemies.  During one case, he object to a witness to the point that when the judge, Jeremiah, and the witness took their argument out into the hall and all three ended up in an altercation.  

In addition, he lived his life straddling two worlds.  At work, he was in charge.  He made deals, he made money, and was on top of everything but at night, he had to live his life as a second class citizen due to being black.  Although, he had aspirations to be better than other African Americans and he took pains to try to distance himself, he couldn't because he was classified by the color of his skin. 

This didn't stop him from associating with white society, nor did it stop him from marrying a young white woman who had his first child when she was no more than 15 and he about double her age.  Together they had 10 children and stayed together some 40 years until he died. All through the Civil War, he continued his manipulations so the money people lost to speculation, he managed to gain from the same deals.  It wasn't until after the Civil War ended that he finally gained some respectability as a millionaire until his death.

He made history because he became the first African American broker and  millionaire on Wall Street which up to that point had been inhabited strictly by white businessmen.  When he died in 1875, it is said he had a fortune of over $2 million which is $250 million in today's dollars.  It took a long time before another African American succeeded on Wall Street like he did.  There are no visual records of the man but there is a great paper train.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to her.  Have a good day.

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