Haitian-born Jeremiah G. Hamilton was America’s first Black millionaire, and he’ll get a movie
With the release of films like Hidden Figures, Black Americans are finally beginning to see its unsung heroes on film because … Black filmmakers.
Don Cheadle, who brought us Miles Ahead, a biopic on jazz maestro Miles Davis, will soon be bringing the real-life story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton to the big screen. Hamilton was a black man who left Haiti in 1828 and made his fortune on Wall Street less than a decade later, becoming railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt’s “true” rival.
Cheadle will adapt the 2015 biography, Prince of Darkness by writer Shane White, into the film. The Hollywood Reporter writes:
“Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire sheds light on the obscure story of Hamilton, who was mentioned in an obituary for Cornelius Vanderbilt as the tycoon’s true rival. White’s book details the rise of Hamilton as he is chased out of Haiti and becomes a broker and land agent in 19th century New York, his success prickling both white and black society. He broke many taboos of the times, including marrying a white woman and owning stock in rail companies on whose trains he wasn’t legally allowed to ride. When Hamilton died, obits at the time called him the richest black man in America.”
By 1875, the year of his death, Hamilton was worth about $2 million (about $42 million today based on inflation); his obituaries described him as the richest black man in America.
The more familiar Black American millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, who made her fortune in Black hair care, was not born until 1867. She remains the first self-made woman millionaire—of any race—in the United States.