The Benjamin Banneker Biography...the first African American astronomer

Benjamin Banneker

The Benjamin Banneker Biography tells of Banneker being the first African American Astronomer as well as a clockmaker, mathematician, and publisher. He would become known as the Sable Astronomer.

Benjamin Banneker, the Early Years

Benjamin Banneker was born in Baltimore County, Maryland on November 9, 1731. His father Robert had bought his freedom and soon after married Mary Banneky, the daughter of an Englishwoman and a free African slave. Benjamin’s grandmother Molly taught her grandchildren to read using the Bible. Benjamin went on to attend a Quaker school for a few years, but had to quit to work on his father’s farm where he became a tobacco planter, a job he would do for a large part of his life. He taught himself Literature, History and Mathematics. He also learned to play the oboe and violin.

Benjamin Banneker’s Life Works

The Benjamin Banneker Biography details the turning point in Benjamin’s life at the age of twenty-one. He saw the pocket watch of Joseph Levi, a traveling salesman. He was so fascinated by it that Levi gave it to him. He spent hours examining it, taking it apart and putting it back together again. Banneker began to carve each part out of wood. Benjamin then returned the watch to Levi. He assembled the large wooden pieces into a striking clock. The clock continued to work until his death on October 9, 1805.

He continued to make and sell clocks and watches. One customer, George Ellicott, was so impressed that he lent Benjamin books on Astronomy and advanced Mathematics.

After teaching himself both subjects, Banneker turned his full attention to them. Using his study of Astronomy, Banneker was able to calculate eclipses of both the Sun and the Moon. He published his calculations as a graph, also known as ephemeris, in the Benjamin Banneker Almanac.

The Benjamin Banneker Biography describes how Benjamin sent his first almanac to Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. He also included a plea for justice for African Americans. Jefferson was so impressed with Banneker’s almanac that he sent a copy of it to the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris, France showing it as evidence of the talents of the black man. Banneker’s almanac helped convince many people that African Americans weren’t inferior to white Americans.

Benjamin Banneker was hired around this same time to assist Andrew and Joseph Ellicott in the planning of Washington D.C. This made Banneker the first African American to be appointed by a President.

Despite all of his other works, Banneker went on to write a scientific paper on bees, did a study of the seventeen year cycle of the locust, and wrote about the anti-slavery movement.

His gravestone marker still exists at the Westchester grade school in Ellicott City, Maryland. In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honoring him.

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