On this day October 9, Benjamin Banneker transitioned unto the realm of an ancestor.
Benjamin Banneker was born on November 9, 1731, in Ellicott's Mills, Maryland. A free black man who owned a farm near Baltimore, Banneker was largely self-educated in astronomy and mathematics a fact that did little to diminish his brilliance.
His early accomplishments included constructing an irrigation system for the family farm and a wooden clock that was reputed to keep accurate time and ran for more than 50 years until his death. In addition, Banneker taught himself astronomy and accurately forecasted lunar and solar eclipses. After his father's passing, he ran his own farm for years, cultivating a business selling tobacco via crops.
He was later called upon to assist in the surveying of territory for the construction of the nation's capital. He also became an active writer of almanacs and exchanged letters with Thomas Jefferson, politely challenging him to do what he could to ensure racial equality. In his letter, Banneker acknowledged he was “of the African race” and a free man. He recognized that he was taking “a liberty” writing to Jefferson, which would be unacceptable considering “the almost general prejudice and prepossession, which is so prevalent in the world against those of my complexion.” Banneker then respectfully chided Jefferson and other patriots for their hypocrisy, enslaving people like him while fighting the British for their own independence. Jefferson quickly acknowledged Banneker's letter, writing a response, which DARC affixed below dated August 30, 1791 from the Library of Congress:
I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th. instant and for the Almanac it contained. no body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colours of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America. I can add with truth that no body wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body & mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecillity of their present existence, and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic society because I considered it as a document to which your whole colour had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them. I am with great esteem, Sir, Your most obedt. humble servt. Th. Jefferson
Banneker's additional acclaim came from his almanacs, which he published for six consecutive years during the later years of his life, between 1792 and 1797. These handbooks included his very own astronomical calculations as well as opinion pieces, literature and medical and tidal information, with the latter particularly useful to fishermen. Outside of his almanacs, Banneker also published information on bees and calculated the cycle of the 17-year locust.
In 1972, scholar Sylvio A. Bedini published an acclaimed biography on the 17th-century icon—The Life of Benjamin Banneker: The First African-American Man of Science. A revised edition appeared in 1999. DARC encourages everyone to at the very lease, give it a look.