Sunday, 12 February 2012

Benjamin Bannker.

African Americans have played a vital role in the history and culture of our nation since its founding. Many of their stories have been told. Many more, have not..
For example, until last week, I have never heard Benjamin Banneker. Born 1731. Died 1806.
November 9, 1731, Benjamin Banneker was born in Baltimore County, Maryland. He was the son of an African slave named Robert, who had bought his own freedom, and of Mary Banneky, who was the daughter of an Englishwoman and a free African slave.
 Benjamin grew up on his father's farm with three sisters. After learning to read from his mother and grandmother, Benjamin read the bible to his family in the evening. He attended a nearby Quaker country school for several seasons, but this was the extent of his formal education. He later taught himself literature, history, and mathematics, and he enjoyed reading.
As a young adult, Banneker inherited the farm left to him by his grandparents. He expanded the already successful farm, where he grew tobacco. In 1761, at the age of thirty, Banneker constructed a striking wooden clock without having ever seen a clock before (although he had examined a pocket watch). He painstakingly carved the toothed wheels and gears of the clock out of seasoned wood. The clock operated successfully for forty years, until the time of his death.
After the death of his father, Benjamin Banneker lived on his father's 100-acre farm.
Benjamin and his sisters lived a largely secluded from the world. He was self taught in the fields of astronomy and surveying, Benjamin Banneker assisted in the survey of theFederal Territiory of 1791 and  calculated ephemerides and made eclipse projections for Benjamin Banneker's Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Almanack and Epheremis, published during the years 1792-1797.
 Benjamin Banneker retired from tobacco farming to concentrate wholly upon his studies.
Banneker forwarded a copy of his calculations to Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826),  who was then secretary of state, with a letter criticizing Jefferson for his proslavery views and urging the abolishment  of slavery of African American people. He compared such slavery to the enslavement of the American colonies by the British crown.        
 Mr. Jefferson acknowledged Banneker's letter and forwarded it to the Marquis de Condorcet, the secretary of the Académie des Sciences in Paris. The exchange of letters between Banneker and Jefferson was published as a separate pamphlet, and was given wide publicity at the time the first almanac was published. The two letters were reprinted in Banneker's almanac for 1793, which also included "A Plan for an Office of Peace," which was the work of Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745–1813). The abolition societies of Maryland and Pennsylvania were very helpful in the publication of Banneker's almanacs, which were widely distributed as an example of an African American's work and to demonstrate the equal mental abilities of the races.     
The last known issue of Banneker's almanacs appeared for the year 1797, because of lessening interest in the antislavery movement. Nevertheless, he prepared ephemerides for each year until 1804. He also published a treatise on bees and computed the cycle of the seventeen-year locust.
Benjamin Banneker never married. He died on October 9, 1806, and was buried in the family burial ground near his house. Among the memorabilia preserved from his life were his commonplace book and the manuscript journal in which he had entered astronomical calculations and personal notations. Writers who described his achievements as that of the first African American scientist have kept Banneker's memory alive. Recent studies have proven Banneker's status as an extremely capable mathematician and amateur astronomer.

What a rich history we have as a people. As Black Americans.
As Americans.
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