Thought of the Day 11.9.12 Benjamin Banneker


“Evil communication corrupts good manners. I hope to live to hear that good communication corrects bad manners.”

“The colour of the skin is in no way connected with strength of the mind or intellectual powers.”

“Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair make us lose courage at the sight of difficulties”

Benjamin Banneker

Woodcut of Benjamin Bannecker

Woodcut of Benjamin Bannecker (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Benjamin Banneker was born on this day outside Ellicott City, Maryland USA  in 1731. Today is the 281st anniversary of his birth.

His maternal grandmother, Molly Walsh, had been an indentured servant who came to colonial Maryland from Ireland. At the end of her seven years of bondage she bought a small farm and two slaves. Eventually she freed the slaves, marrying one of them, Bannaky. Their daughter Mary Bannaky married a slave named Robert (who may have been a fugitive; may have been freed after the wedding;  or may have been bought out of slavery after the wedding).  Mary and Robert had four children, Benjamin and his three younger sister.

All of the children had to help run the tobacco farm. They weeded the tobacco plants, picked worms and caterpillars off the leaves… by Benjamin’s calculation it took 36 chores to raise a crop of tobacco. He also cared for the farm animals, helped plant the corn, and did other farm chores with this father.

His maternal grandmother used a Bible to teach Benjamin (and her other grandchildren) how to read.

He learned to play the flute and the violin, and when a Quaker school opened in the valley, Benjamin attended it during the winter where he learned to write and elementary arithmetic. He had an eighth-grade education by time he was 15, at which time he took over the operations for the family farm. He devised an irrigation system of ditches and little dams to control the water from the springs (known around as Bannaky Springs) on the family farm. Their tobacco farm flourished even in times of drought. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

It was at school that a teacher suggested he change his last name to the more anglicized Banneker, the rest of the family followed suit.

He loved to read and to do arithmetic . He taught himself advanced mathematics and eventually astronomy.

He would borrow books from his neighbors and friends. His close friends, the Ellicott brothers, lent him most of their books. [American Heroes: Benjamin Banneker]

A clock similar to the one Banneker made.

He loved puzzles and challenges too.

Sometime in the early 1750s, Benjamin borrowed a pocket watch from a wealthy acquaintance, took the watch apart and studied its components. After returning the watch, he created a fully functioning clock entirely out of carved wooden pieces. The clock was amazingly precise, and would keep on ticking for decades. As the result of the attention his self-made clock received, Banneker was able to start-up his own watch and clock repair business. [Famous Black Inventors]

He predicted the solar eclipse of 1789. He earned the nickname the “Sable Astronomer” He started to compile information into Almanac and Ephemeris of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland best-selling almanacs. He even put a skylight in the ceiling of his cabin so he could watch the stars at night. He sent a copy of his almanac to Thomas Jefferson along with “a letter urging the abolition of slavery.” [Ibid]

When Banneker was 60 George Washington appointed him along with his friend Andrew Ellicott to survey what would become the District of Columbia.

A contemporary reprint of Andrew Ellicott's 17...

A contemporary reprint of Andrew Ellicott’s 1792 “Plan of the City of Washington in the Territory of Columbia” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Banneker and Ellicott worked closely with Pierre L’Enfant, the architect in charge. However, L’Enfant could not control his temper and was fired. He left, taking all the plans with him. But Banneker saved the day by recreating the plans from memory. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

[For more on Pierre L’Enfant visit his Thought of the Day bioBlog HERE]

He published a treatise on bees, did a mathematical study on the cycle of the seventeen-year locust, and became a pamphleteer for the anti-slavery movement. [Mathematicians of the African Diaspora]

On October 9, 1806 Banneker died at his Ellicott City/ Oella farm.

The Banneker postage stamp. [Image courtesy: USPS]

In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in his honor. [Benjamin Banneker Center]

Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker (Photo credit: crazysanman.history)

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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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