Karl Jacoby is the author of The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire. From his Q & A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: How did Ellis make his money, and how unusual was his story at the time?--Marshal Zeringue
A: I was desperate to get my hands on bank records. It’s a little suppositive. One main thing that happened in the Gilded Age was the birth of middle-class America, consumer society.
Almost everything that was emerging as a consumer item was linked to Mexico: automobiles were linked to petroleum and rubber. Electrification and the telephone were linked to copper wires…
Americans realized they were tremendously connected to Mexico. When Porfirio Diaz opens up Mexico to U.S. investment, a lot of Americans don’t understand Mexico and how to navigate there. William Ellis is a broker who helps facilitate that, selling almost a fantasy of Mexico as a land where everybody can...[read on]