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November 9, 1731
October 19, 1806
Almanac author, surveyor, farmer
(November 9, 1731 – October 19, 1806
Benjamin Banneker was an African-American naturalist, mathematician, astronomer, compiler of almanacs, inventor, and writer, one of the first important African American intellectuals.
Banneker demonstrated a particular facility for mathematics. At the age of 20 he built a wooden clock that kept precise time. Banneker was also encouraged in the study of astronomy by George Ellicott. As early as 1788, Banneker began to make astronomical calculations, and he accurately predicted a solar eclipse that occurred in 1789. In 1791, while working with Andrew Ellicott and others in surveying the land that would become Washington, D.C., Banneker made other astronomical observations.
As an essayist and pamphleteer, Banneker opposed slavery and advocated civil rights. In 1791 he sent Thomas Jefferson, then U.S. secretary of state, a letter asking Jefferson’s aid in bringing about better conditions for African Americans. With the letter, Banneker also sent a handwritten copy of the manuscript for his 1792 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris, which he continued to publish annually through 1797.
Bannecker is an example of the African American contribution to the founding of this country. His significant accomplishments include the successful prediction of a solar eclipse, publishing his own almanac, and the surveying of Washington, D.C. Banneker became a folk-hero after his death, leading to many accounts of his life being exaggerated or embellished. The names of parks, schools and streets commemorate him and his works, as do other tributes.
“Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties.”
“The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”
“Were there no uniforms, there would probably be no armies.”