Forgetting Jeremiah Hamilton: Black History and Cultural Amnesia

The black stockbroker, Jeremiah G Hamilton, was a fixture of Wall Street in the decades before and during the Civil War.  Known for his sharp business acumen and ruthless lust for power, Hamilton was said to be the wealthiest black man in the United States.

Yet within decades of his death in 1875, he was all but forgotten. Even a respected historian of black New York such as Shane White did not question the orthodoxy that Wall Street was an all-white preserve.

Then White came across a reference to one "Nigger Hamilton" while trawling through city's historic newspapers. At first he thought it was some racist joke -- but their accidental meeting did not end there.

The historian kept on stumbling upon references to the black broker. Some were tributes to his business skill. Most were accusations of skulduggery and fraud. The more White probed, the greater his astonishment.

"He was a black man, who became rich while living out the American nightmare of race", summed up White. 

In 2013, Shane White penned a profile of Jeremiah Hamilton for the New York Times. Three paragraphs into writing the article, it struck White that this was largest collection of assembled facts about the black broker that had ever been gathered.

October 2015 sees the release of Prince Of Darkness,  Shane White's full length biography about Jeremiah G Hamilton. The history of Wall Street will never be quite the same.