Benjamin Banneker: Meet The Astronomer & Mathematician That Helped Design Washington D.C | History Matters

Born on November 9, 1731, Benjamin Banneker was raised in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland with his parents Robert and Mary Banneky. His family were free so young Benjamin did not spend any time as a slave. For years he served as an indentured laborer on the Prince Georges County Plantation ran by Mary Welch and she would teach him to read.

While only attending a Quaker school for a short amount of time he was primarily self-educated and obtained most of the knowledge he had from reading books. Early on, he showed his love and proficiency in construction and mathematics by building a clock on his own using wood. The creation was marveled in his neighborhood for its design and ability to tell the right time. His skills would soon catch the attention of a wealthy white family the Ellicott’s.

In 1788, George Ellicott who was an amateur astronomer lent Benjamin books that would help him create tables to predict the positions of the stars and future solar and lunar eclipses. Three years later, another member of the Ellicott family Andrew hired Benjamin to help him survey the boundaries for the ten-mile square site of the future federal capital of Washington D.C. His duties included making astronomical observations at Jones Point in Alexandria, Virginia to ascertain the location to the starting point for the survey and maintaining the clock that he used to relate points on the ground to the positions of stars at specific times.

In the same year, he would publish his work in the poplar form of the time which was an almanac. His publication was a success and he would produce twenty-seven more additional issues over the next 5 years. Benjamin sent a manuscript copy of his work to the secretary of state Thomas Jefferson along with a plea to stop slavery and injustice towards Melanated people. It’s important to note that Benjamin Banneker was a masterful astronomer, mathematician, and inventor and he did all of this at a time when Melanated people were considered ignorant and without the necessary brain compacity to learn or complete a difficult task.

















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