Benjamin Banneker

Recognition of Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker was born a free man in 1731. He lived in Maryland with his mother, a free African American woman, and his father, a former slave. While researchers believe young Benjamin spent some time attending a Quaker school, he had little opportunity for formal education. So the young man taught himself—and soon revealed his brilliant mind.

Flexing his ability to calculate the positions of celestial objects at regular intervals, Banneker began publishing almanacs from 1792 through 1797. Each issue included Banneker's astronomical calculations, weather predictions and tide tables, as well as poetry and writing on literature, medicine, and politics. A digital scan of Banneker's almanac from 1793 can be found here.

Banneker's scholarly pursuits led to his correspondence with Thomas Jefferson. In a letter from 1791, Banneker respectfully challenged the then-Secretary of State's view on slavery and the intellectual capacity of Black people. Jefferson responded, and Banneker later published their correspondence. 1791 also saw Banneker join a survey team tasked with establishing the boundaries of the nation's capital. However, given the lack of historical documents, the exact nature of Banneker's participation is difficult to discern.
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