Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731, in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. An absolutely free black who owned a farm near Baltimore. Banneker was mainly self-educated in astronomy by watching the stars and in mathematics by reading borrowed textbooks.
The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.
~ Benjamin Banneker
Astronomer. Entirely self-educated, Benjamin Banneker was the son of an ex-slave named Robert, whose wife, Mary Banneky, was the daughter of an Englishwoman and an African ex-slave.
Due to the fact both of his parents had been free, Benjamin escaped the wrath of slavery as well. He was taught to read by his white grandmother, Molly, and for a short while attended a small Quaker school.
For the most part, though, Banneker was self-educated, a fact that did little to diminish his brilliance. His early exploits included building a wooden clock in his early twenties, in spite of having seen just one other timepiece in his life. Additionally, Banneker taught himself astronomy and precisely forecasted lunar and solar eclipses.
Banneker’s talents and intelligence eventually came to the attention of the Ellicott brothers, industrialists who had made their name and good fortune by building a number of gristmills in the Baltimore area in the 1770s. George Ellicott, a fellow mathematician and astronomer, loaned Banneker numerous books in both fields.
In 1791 Banneker teamed up with Major Andrew Ellicott, an American surveyor, to map out a new national capital.
Banneker’s real acclaim, however, originated from his almanac, which usually he published for six consecutive years between 1792 and 1797. These almanacs included his very own astronomical calculations along with opinion pieces, literature, and medical and tidal info, among other things.
Beyond his almanacs, Banneker likewise published information on bees and calculated the cycle of the 17-year locust.
Letter to Jefferson
Banneker’s self-confidence expanded into other realms. During Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as secretary of state, Banneker published the respected Virginian and attacked his proslavery stance. He criticized Jefferson, a slave owner himself, for his “absurd and false ideas” and urged him to recognize that “one Universal Father…afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all with the same faculties.”
To his credit, Jefferson acknowledged Banneker’s letter, writing him a response, which Banneker published alongside his original piece of correspondence in his 1793 almanac.
Banneker’s outspokenness with regard to the issue of slavery earned him the widespread support of the abolitionist societies in Maryland and Pennsylvania, both of which helped him publish his almanac.
Benjamin Banneker died in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 25, 1806. He was buried at the family burial ground near his house.
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Benjamin Banneker was a completely self-taught mathematical genius who achieved professional status in astronomy, navigation, and engineering.
A biography of the eighteenth-century African-American who taught himself mathematics and astronomy and helped survey what would become Washington, D.C.