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Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  191 ratings  ·  49 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by St. Martin's Press
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Average rating 3.61  · 
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Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a beast! They didn't like him because he came from out of nowhere and beat them at their own game! I have so much respect for Shane White for basically making something out of nothing. He searched through newspaper articles and was able to give us a picture of this forgotten (intentional?) historical figure. Although I learned a lot, Hamilton is still somewhat enigmatic.
Nancy Oakes
good book. Like a 3.7 rounded up to a 4.

(thanks, St. Martin's Press!!)

It's very interesting that Shane White would choose Jeremiah Hamilton as the subject of his study, since there is very little information on this man to be had. Even though he was "Wall Street's First Black Millionaire," "sui generis, typical of nothing," almost nothing is known about him, which seems quite odd -- after all, in the 1850s, an African-American man with the kind of wealth Hamilton had amassed was unusual; given t
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
There are several possible reasons that no American historian has written about Jeremiah Hamilton, the first black American millionaire. There isn't much information about him -- he didn't leave diaries or letters and didn't write any memoirs. His history is scattered among intermittent court documents and newspaper articles. And while he suffered a lot of racist abuse during his life, he did not have black friends, or make a point of helping black neighbors. His own family was large -- he marri ...more
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jeremiah G. Hamilton was man of mystery. No one is sure where he was born – was it Virginia or Haiti – even he himself changed the story as it suited. His questionable start in business – passing counterfeit money in Haiti put a price on his head on that island. Defrauding insurance companies over boat accidents, buying and selling property with bad notes and airing his grievances in court and the newspapers made him notorious in America. It also made him a millionaire in New York City in the ea ...more
I don't think anyone could possibly have written a better biography of Mr. Hamilton, and "the black man" (as Mr. White calls him countless times) himself is to be commended for making his way so well in a society that was completely set up against him. But...this is some REALLY dry reading.

The research is meticulous, but even the most thorough historian can't find records that don't exist--and, as White reminds us over and over, Jeremiah G. Hamilton's past is pretty spotty. We don't get any of t
Theophilus (Theo)
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fantastic story of a man who has been hidden from American history. The idea of a black man making money on Wall Street is something that school children should be taught. Although many of his business dealings seem shady, they were not uncommon for many of the major players in the investment market then, and even now. A great book. It is easy to see the author was determined to research and gather as much material as possible, from a myriad of legitimate sources: court records, newspaper articl ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Oct 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Summary: My best nonfiction read so far this year, this author won me over with his enthusiasm and ability to share uncertainty in an honest and engaging way.

Jeremiah G. Hamilton was, as the subtitle says, the first black millionaire in America. He was also one of the first millionaires in America without qualification, despite incredible racial prejudice at the time. Living in NYC during the abolition of slavery, followed by a period with Jim Crow-style codified discrimination, he still managed
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
With ‘Prince of Darkness’ Shane White, the Australian Professor of History specialized in African-American history, managed to write a powerful biography of man that is not known these days, yet as a black man he reached up to the very top, in times when such things were almost impossible to achieve.

His main protagonist, Jeremiah G. Hamilton, was a well-known figure on Wall Street though what was not known, then and now, is that Jeremiah was African American. Yet for a colored man it seems surr
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I’d never heard of Jeremiah Hamilton, before coming across Prince of Darkness on the shelves at my library. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that none of the vast number of resources in the library of the HBCU (Historically Black College/University) where I worked, had no mention of a man who had amassed the kind of wealth and notoriety Hamilton had in a time when it was unheard of for a black man to claim such success. Moreover, I found little mention of Hamilton's existence referenced a ...more
This is an interesting yet weird biography of Jeremiah G. Hamilton. Weird in that there is no real fact about him, just bits and pieces from 3rd party perspectives and a few court cases. There are no surviving pictures of this man, nor any history about his birth or childhood, because of this it felt more like a history of the financial district of New York and a overall racial history of antebellum New York than a bio of someone.
But with as little is known about Mr. Hamilton, I do believe that
Ava M.
Oct 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book was eye opening for me personally!
Dec 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a piece of work! I think in his heart he actually thought he was white and although society tried to prove him otherwise he yet and still refused to believe the contrary.
Jerrika Rhone
Oct 08, 2020 rated it liked it
DNF @ 35%
This book is less about Mr. Hamilton(because there is little to no written history about him) and more about race relations in NY at the turn of the century. It's well written and well researched but just not that interesting. Mr. White says there was racism in the north...well, yea. There was a lot of fraud going on in five points...uhhh duh. The rest was just flourish with a mention on JGH when he made the papers.

Jennifer Espinoza Coates
Aug 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
Not even close to what I was expecting. I couldn't get past the 4th chapter. Basically written in author's point of view with no meat to the information he researched. You will read more over how much the author thinks of himself.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This is not exactly a fun read read although a very admirable one, and I am grateful to the author for attempting it at all – it must have been daunting writing a biography of someone about whom virtually no records or documentation are available, and none at all in the subject’s own voice. Well done to Shane White for unearthing what information there is. Jeremiah G Hamilton was the first African American to become prominent on Wall Street and was reportedly the richest coloured man in the US a ...more
Shenard Robinson
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly enjoyed reading about the life of this unknown man during antebellum America. What promise his legacy ushered forth for many African Americans whether acknowledged or known. I found it fascinating that Douglass knew of this man, and his power within the New York financial scene in addition to his interracial marriage, as mentioned in the Frederick Douglass Paper, especially since the abolitionist called on blacks to do more for the uplift of the race. A must read, and re-read as White ...more
Al Berry
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Behind Every Great Fortune is a crime;

For Jeremiah G Hamilton; who was sentenced to death in Haiti in Absentia; it was multiple crimes. America’s first black millionaire built his financial empire through Counterfeiting and insurance fraud.
I wish this had been an essay and not a full-length book. The author repeats a lot of phrases (for example, lily-white) and there just isn't enough information in the archives about Hamilton to fill a book. Still - an interesting read about a very interesting man.
Jim OBrien
I wanted to like it but...
Christine Sears
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
African American millionaire in the Civil War period. Definitely charted his own course through early capitalism and racism.
Rick Hammond
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is tricky, I’m giving this book a less than favorable review, based on the lack of available info about the subject not because a lack of ability of the author.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
I didn't really hate this book. In fact, I really admire the author and the dedication he put into the book. Shane White had his hands full when he decided to write about a black millionaire during the 1800s. It wasn't an easy task and that in itself speaks fortunes about humanity.

The truth is, there is little historical information about Jeremiah Hamilton. In fact, most historians often don't know about his existence. White had a tough time tracking anything associated with him because most hi
Margaux Tatin Blanc
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amazing research... amazing work, amazing book!
And of course amazing life put back together by Shane White through the full reading it seems of all the new york 19th century press!
If anyone does not believe that history is rewritten the way the powerful want it, here is the proof... People talk non stop about the slave narratives appearing in early 19th century, and they are quite right! But nobody seems to have talked about a "black" (his origins are so confused, and confusing, that I cannot re
Al Lock
This is a very interesting book about a man that I had certainly never heard of, even though I have done quite a bit of reading about that period of American history and specifically New York history. Jeremiah G. Hamilton is a bit of an enigma, the majority of the evidence of his existence and business dealings comes from court records and a few newspaper entries, and yet, he may very well have been the first black millionaire in the United States.
The author does an outstanding job of identifyi
May 04, 2019 rated it liked it
The first black American millionaire, Jeremiah Hamilton, makes for a compelling story that every historian should want to cover. Yet, no one did before Shane White. There's a reason for that: almost no information about Jeremiah survives to this day. White bases his biography on newspaper articles at the time, but these only cover a few lawsuits he was involved in. After reading the book, I still have no idea who Jeremiah was or how he achieved success. To add insult to injury, the newspaper art ...more
Christopher Cormier
Hidden history?

Not really. History that has been ignored for various reasons. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about a fascinating black capitalist who was Trump before Trump or Jay-Z before Jay-Z. A man whose life illuminates how blacks began the process of "passing" and demonstrates that Black History is much more than slave ships and poverty. Also an unmatched description of New York City pre-Civil War.
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
1.5 stars rounded up in this case, mostly out of respect for the amount of research. The author does a good job of painting a picture of New York during Hamilton's lifetime, but given the lack of primary sources, a picture of the main is near impossible. I think the author set himself up for failure in this case by over promising.
Wayne Bass
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
The book grew on me as did Mr Jeremiah Hamilton. I learned a lot about the life and tribulations of blacks who lived in NYC during the 1800's as well as info about historical events at that time. I reccommend it!
Jimmy Black
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
this is the most racist sh*t I have read that was well disguised. The author spent too much time focusing on Mr. Hamilton's origin and race rather than business tactics that lead to his sucess
Very interesting history but the writing wasn’t riveting.
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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 five 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 inst ...more

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“Far too often, historians treat African Americans as if white segregationists had succeeded, as if blacks lived in their own separate world, physically and culturally removed from everyone else. In effect, African Americans become segregated for a second time in the telling of their history, easily marginalized from the main American story, relegated to the footnotes.” 0 likes
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