69. The great Benjamin Banneker

Posted: February 9, 2010 in African American, Black History, Black Pride, Culture
Tags: , , ,

Benjamin Banneker (Nov. 9, 1731 – Oct. 9, 1806)

Profession: Mathematician, Astronomer, Surveyor

Birthplace: Ellicott’s Mills, Md.

Black History Month is a time when African Americans reflect, recall and recount the significance of their contribution to the world.  One of the culture’s largest contributors’ is a man named Benjamin Banneker.

Benjamin Banneker has been called by many the first African American intellectual. Self-taught, after studying the inner workings of a friend’s watch, he made one of wood that accurately kept time for more than 40 years. Banneker also taught himself astronomy well enough to correctly predict a solar eclipse in 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 and left, taking the plans with him, Banneker reproduced the plans from memory.  

An avid 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 never married.  He died on Oct. 9, 1806, and was buried in the family burial ground near his house.  Among the memorabilia preserved were his book and the manuscript journal where he’d entered astronomical calculations and personal notations.

On February 15, 1980, the United States Postal Service issued in Annapolis, Maryland, a 15 cent stamp that illustrated a portrait of Banneker.  An image of Banneker standing behind a short telescope mounted on a tripod is superimposed upon the portrait.  The device shown in the stamp resembles Andrew Ellicott’s transit and equal altitude instrument, which is presently in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  The stamp is part of the Postal Service’s Black Heritage stamp series.

Until next time,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s