Black in the Day…A Man Ahead of His Time
November 9, 1731:
On this day the greatest minds ever was born. Almanac author, inventor, surveyor , naturalist and farmer; Benjamin Banneker was born as a free African American in Baltimore County, Province of Maryland, British America.
Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland to Mary Banneky, a free black, and Robert, a freed slave from Guinea. There are two conflicting accounts of Banneker’s family history. Banneker himself and his earliest biographers described him as having only African ancestry. None of Banneker’s surviving papers describe a white ancestor or identify the name of his grandmother.
As a self-taught engineer, Banneker began his scientific journey with his friend Josef Levi’s watch. After seeing the watch only once, Banneker, only 2 months later created a clock of wood that kept precise time for more than 40 years. With only rudimentary books available to him, Banneker also taught himself astronomy and correctly predicted the solar eclipse of April 14, 1789. From 1791 to 1802 he published the Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and Ephemeris, which contained tide tables, future eclipses, and medicinal formulas. It is believed to be the first scientific book published by an African American. Also a surveyor and mathematician, Banneker was appointed by President George Washington to the District of Columbia Commission, which was responsible for the survey work that established the city’s original boundaries. When the chairman of the committee, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, suddenly resigned taking the plans with him, Banneker reproduced the plans from memory, saving valuable time, and hundred so thousands of invested dollars. A staunch opponent of slavery, Banneker sent a copy of his first almanac to then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to counter Jefferson’s belief in the intellectual inferiority of blacks.
Banneker was a spokesperson against slavery and for the foundation of Christianity in American homes. He worked for civil rights and freedom for his fellow African Americans bound by slavery. He wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson when he was Secretary of State challenging the country’s views and laws in regards to African Americans. Banneker died at age 74 in Baltimore County, Maryland on October 9, 1806.