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Jeremiah Hamilton 

Jeremiah G. Hamilton (a.k.a. Jerry Hamilton, though both names may be fictitious) was known as the “Prince of Darkness” and considered the wealthiest African American of the 19th century. Casting his eyes on Wall Street, he soon became a successful but ruthless trader. He also profited from maritime insurance scams that involved sinking or otherwise disposing of merchant ships for big payouts. In the early 1840s, Hamilton borrowed money to take advantage of a real estate boom and went bankrupt after buying expensive properties in Poughkeepsie and Astoria, New York. Nonetheless, he rebounded by purchasing his former properties at a much lower price when the market bottomed. After which, he benefited from the city’s Great Fire of 1845.

Hamilton amassed a fortune worth an estimated $2 million through various business ventures, including questionable business dealings involving counterfeit Haitian coins. His legitimate business involved operating what is known today as a hedge fund. Hamilton made a fortune on Wall Street because he ingeniously operated a prototype of what is known today as a hedge fund. This investment fund involved using a pool of money from investors who trusted his expertise as leverage to borrow more money which allowed him to take an aggressive position in the stock market. Another source of revenue for Hamilton was his string of lawsuits filed against companies in which he had bought shares. He forced them to bring in a receiver to have all of the assets of the company redistributed to shareholders. One such company, Accessory Transit Company, was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, the premier American industrialist of the mid-19th century who grudgingly acknowledged Hamilton’s manipulative skills. Hamilton himself was sued several times but to no serious effect. According to sources, he amassed $12 million from his various enterprises throughout his lifetime. By the time of his death in 1875, Jeremiah Hamilton, also known as Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire, died the richest black American.

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