Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught man of extraordinary ability. He was a gifted mathematician, astronomer, inventor, surveyor and almanac writer. He was a man determined to use his acquired knowledge and God-given talents to the best of his ability and to influence the world around him. His correspondence with Thomas Jefferson called into question some of Jefferson's long held views on the position and capabilities of Blacks and Jefferson's views on slavery. His letters made Jefferson at least ponder his long held views on race matters.
Born on November 9, 1731, it was Benjamin's grandmother who taught him to read and write and who fostered his great thirst for knowledge. He attended a Quaker school and studied after long days of work on the farm. He kept journals from a young age about the things he saw around him.
In 1752 Banneker completed the first wooden clock in the American colonies. According to the many people who visited his clock, it kept perfect time for 40 years.
At the age of 60, despite being physically tired and worn. Benjamin Banneker was chosen to assist in the laying out of the base lines and boundaries for the new Capitol in Washington, D.C. He was responsible for surveying and astronomy and keeping the time piece on which all activity was based in perfect running order and union with the stars.
Banneker had been writing almanacs for years but it took until 1792 for his almanac to be published. The book is considered by some to be the 1st thoroughly scientific book written by an African-American in the United States. All the calculations in Banneker's almanac he devised and calculated himself. His tide tables which were taken from his observations and calculations were used widely by seaman of the northeast. His weather predictions were praised by many for being quite accurate.
His almanacs included recipes, lists of medicines to ward off disease, poems and short essays by many contributors.
Benjamin Banneker died on Oct 9, 1806. He had lived his life much like he had written in his Maryland Almanac of 1794. "Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties."
photo courtesy: National Archives