America in the 1800s, was a hostile place for any black man. Slavery was at it’s peak and the black man had almost no rights. The majority of blacks endured a hard life of servitude and hard labor under the authority of strict plantation owners. However amidst this great depressing situation some triumphed over the unpalatable America for blacks and became very successful.
These individuals, through luck and hard work, were able to overcome a system magnanimously against them. They serve as source of inspiration to achieve the unbelievable. Here are top ten slaves who turned the table around to become millionaires in hostile America.
1. Bridget Mason Bridget “Biddy” Mason (August 15, 1818 – January 15, 1891) was an African-American nurse and a Californian real estate entrepreneur and philanthropist. She is the founder of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles, California. She began as a black female slave who later gained her freedom thanks to the help of her white son-in-law, Charles Owens. Bridget had three daughters, each of whom were fathered by her slave master, Robert Smith.
Bridget Mason obtained her freedom in 1856 and worked as a nurse in Los Angeles. She eventually saved enough money to purchase two estates, making her one of the first black women to own property in Los Angeles.
Over several years, she bought and managed more property. She leased out this property commercially and sold portions of it. As Los Angeles grew, so did the value of her real estate.
In 1872, she financed the city’s first black church. By the late 1800s, Mason had acquired a fortune of $300,000, making her the wealthiest black woman in the city.
2. Amanda America Dickson (November 20, 1849 – June 11, 1893) was a mulatto or mixed-race socialite in Georgia who became known as one of the wealthiest African-American women of the 19th century after inheriting a large estate from her white planter father. Although she was born into slavery in 1849, Amanda enjoyed a more privileged childhood than other black girls.
She learned to read and write and play piano and was sheltered away from the harsh reality her maternal cousins experienced. When Amanda’s father died in 1885, she was bequeathed most of his estate, including 17,000 acres of land, much to the chagrin of her snubbed white relatives.
Amanda later left the plantation and moved into a racially integrated, affluent community in Augusta, Georgia. She attended Atlanta University, married her white cousin Charles Eubanks, and later remarried a fellow upper-class biracial man named Nathan Toomer.
After that ordeal, he was undertook an apprenticeship as a sailmaker. He invented a sailmaking device that brought him great fortune. By the 1830s, his estimated worth was $100,000, which equates to roughly $2.5 million in today’s money.
Forten became a leader in the black community and advocated for the abolishment of slavery. He refused to do business with slave trade vessels, and he invested his money into antislavery initiatives. He also helped to enlist 2,500 black volunteers to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812.
4. William Alexander Leidesdorff Jr. (October 23, 1810 – May 18, 1848) was a mixed-race man who rose to great distinction. His father was a Danish sugar planter, and his mother was an American of Spanish and African descent.
Leidesdorff Jr. is regarded as the first millionaire in America of black descent. In 1856, his estate was valued at $1.4 million, which is equivalent to over $20 million today.
His business later declined due to Wilcox’s negligence and taste for an extravagant lifestyle. His estate had an estimated worth of $60,000.
Rather than do the same, Gordon decided to stockpile his own coal supply. Then he hired biracial men who could pass as whites to buy up the cheaper coal from his competitors. When freezing weather prevented suppliers from using the waterways to deliver new coal, the coal reserves of Gordon’s competitors dwindled while his thrived.
This shrewd business tactic allowed Robert Gordon to win the “coal war” and earned him respect among the white coal dealers.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Southern plantation industry suffered greatly and this probably contributed to Dubuclet’s pivot into politics. In 1868, he was elected state treasurer of Louisiana where he faced the hearty task of rectifying Louisiana’s financial insolvency. Dubuclet was lauded by both Democrats and Republicans, and he managed to serve more than one term in office.
He continued to work in McCreight’s gin shop until age 26, at which point he had been equipped with all the skills necessary to become a successful independent professional. He legally obtained his freedom in 1817 and moved to Sumter County, South Carolina, where he ran a successful gin shop.
Ellison owned a 900-acre cotton plantation, $58,000 worth of estate, and 37 slaves (according to an 1850 census). Highly respected for his professionalism, he built an excellent reputation as a black man sharing the same social status as whites.
9. Anthony Johnson (b. c. 1600 – d. 1670) was a black man who emigrated from Angola to America during the early 1600s, a time when both black people and white people worked as indentured servants and not slaves. Like other immigrants at this time, Johnson worked as a contract laborer with the promise of a land grant from the colony upon completion of his tenure.
John Casor, a black servant working for Johnson, eventually sought to be released from his servitude. But after a court ruled his tenure as permanent, Johnson legally became the first slave owner.
This was the first case in which a servant was sentenced to permanent servitude without having committed a crime. Unfortunately, this set a precedent that paved the way for the proliferation of legalized slavery..
In 1776, his hard work earned him enough money to purchase a 116-acre farm in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Cuffee managed to build a lucrative shipping business and established the first racially integrated school in Westport, Massachusetts.
He is also credited as the first free African American to visit the White House and meet with a sitting president. Cuffee was politically active and sought to establish a prosperous colony for black people to return to in Africa. Cuffee died in 1817 and left behind an estate with an estimated value of almost $20,000, which today equates to roughly $500,000.