Mathematician and Astronomer
Benjamin Banneker Is Born
9, 1731 - What do you see when you look at the
stars? Benjamin Banneker sees astronomical patterns from
which he can make calculations and predictions. A
mathematician and astronomer, Benjamin Banneker is born
on November 9, 1731, in Ellicott's Mills, Maryland.
Largely self-taught, Banneker was one of the first
African Americans to gain distinction in science. His
significant accomplishments include the successful
prediction of a solar eclipse, publishing his own almanac,
and the surveying of Washington, D.C. Banneker spent most
of his life on his family's 100-acre farm outside
Baltimore. There, he taught himself astronomy by watching
the stars and learned advanced mathematics from borrowed
In 1752, Banneker attracted attention by
building a clock entirely out of wood. The first ever
built in America, it kept precise time for decades. Twenty
years later, Banneker again caused a stir, when he
successfully forecast a 1789 solar eclipse. His correct
prediction contradicted those of better-known
mathematicians and astronomers. Banneker's abilities
impressed many people, including Thomas Jefferson, who
recommended him for the surveying team that laid out
Washington, D.C., making it the monumental capital it is
In his free time, Banneker wrote the
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac and
Ephemeris. The almanac included information on medicines
and medical treatment, and listed tides, astronomical
information, and eclipses calculated by Banneker himself.
He published the journal annually from 1791 to 1802.
On August 19, 1791, Banneker sent a copy of his first
almanac to Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state. In
an enclosed letter, he questioned the slave owner's
sincerity as a "friend to liberty." He urged Jefferson to
help get rid of "absurd and false ideas" that one race is
superior to another. He wished Jefferson's sentiments to
be the same as his, that "one Universal Father . . .
afforded us all the same sensations and endowed us all
with the same faculties." Jefferson responded with praise
for Banneker's accomplishments.