Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker, born in 1731, was a mathematician, astronomer, farmer, almanac compiler, and civil rights advocate. His skills were so great that he made celestial predictions and mapped out the stars. He was the son of formerly freed slaves who resided in Maryland. His maternal grandmother, an Irish-born former indentured servant, taught him how to read, but otherwise he was mostly self-educated. He showed a natural aptitude for mathematics, construction, and astronomy growing up, and he eventually could accurately predict lunar solar eclipses. He also worked on his parents’ farmland, and one of his earliest achievements was constructing an irrigation system for the farm. After the death of his father, he ran a farm and sold tobacco crops.

After receiving a watch from an acquaintance, he deconstructed the watch to see how it worked. He used this knowledge to build a famous massive wooden clock, at 22 years of age, that was accurate for many decades.  Due to his skills, he was often asked to repair watches, clocks, and sundials. Banneker Inc is the watch company that was named after him.

He started to receive modest recognition as a brilliant mathematician. After reading books on astronomy and receiving instrumentation, he was eventually hired to work in the observatory tent, surveying land and mapping out what later became Washington D.C. Benjamin would continue this for the surrounding states and published his “Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanack Ephemeris” in 1792. He created almanacs for 6 straight years, which were best sellers, and of great use to fishermen of his time. He also published about bees and identified the 17-year cycle of the locust.

He also aligned with the abolitionist movement in the colonial United States. He once composed a letter to appeal to Thomas Jefferson to view African Americans as more than slaves. He called out Jefferson and other patriots for their hypocrisy as they were ok fighting the British for their own independence. Benjamin would eventually venture back home and continue living in his log cabin until his passing in 1806. Sadly, most of his writings were lost in a fire that destroyed his cabin after his death. He is regarded as one of the first African American scientists in the history of the country.