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Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire by Shane White (St Martin’s Press)
In this dense, rich and vividly written detective story, Shane White pieces together the biography of a forgotten but fascinating figure in American history: the ‘first publicly acknowledged black millionaire’. Broker Jeremiah G Hamilton was a skilled, aggressive and innovative financial manipulator on New York’s Wall Street in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Known as the ‘Prince of Darkness’ among his contemporaries, he was a figure of awe and opprobrium because he constantly confronted the city’s colour line.
Hamilton was deliberately mysterious and later disappeared from the public record but White tracks him through the city’s penny newspapers and his serial appearances in court. As Hamilton comes to life, so does a lively antebellum New York, particularly the lives of its many African–American inhabitants, typecast as ‘irrelevant to economic progress’. In this intriguing portrait of a man and a city, White argues that Hamilton still has something to say, as a ‘black man whose very existence flies in the face of our present-day understanding of the way things were’.