Monday, September 01, 2008

[Hannah]: More research tidbits

From Marion Barber Stowell's Early American Almanacs: The Colonial Weekday Bible:
"A unique place in the history of almanacs is held by Benjamin Banneker, America's only Negro almanac-maker. His ancestry can be traced to Molly Welsh, an Englishwoman who chose to be transported to Maryland rather than imprisoned in England for the alleged theft of a pail of milk. After completing seven years of indentured service, she bought a small farm and acquired two Negro slaves. Molly eventually set the two men free and married one of them, Banaky, who claimed a chieftain's parentage in Africa. Mary, one of their four children, married Robert, a free African, who chose to be called by his wife's surname.

Benjamin, born in 1731, was the eldest child of Robert and Mary... Even before he became known for his almanacs, Banneker had already gained fame in the community through the construction of a clock that struck the hours...

George Ellicott, a Quaker and one of the proprietors of the four mills of Ellicott City ... recognized the farmer's uusual computational ability and let him borrow Ferguson's Astronomy, Mayer's Tables, and Leadbetter's Lunar Tables. Through the study of these texts, Banneker was soon able to make hius own astronomical calculations. ... Inspired and fascinated by astronomy, Banneker began to spend most of his time studying celestial mechanics...."

Banneker went on to create astronomical tables for a very popular Philadelphia almanac, which took his name (and occasionally put his picture on the cover). He sent a copy of his almanac to David Rittenhouse, America's foremost astronomer, and ... president of the American Philosophical society, who promptly replied:
"I think the papers I herewith return to you a very extraordinary performance, considering the Colour of the Author... Though I have had leisure to make but few comparisons I have no doubt that the Calculations are sufficiently accurate for the purposes of a cmmon Almanac. Every Instance of Genius amongst the Negroes is worthy of attention, because their oppressors seem to lay great stress on their supposed inferior mental abilities."

And then....
"Banneker sent a copy of his manuscript to Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State. The manuscript was accompanied by a letter soliciting Jefferson's support, which was published in the 1793 almanac with JEfferson's appreciative reply."

And finally:
"Banneker... sold his land to the Ellicotts for an annuity to last the rest of his life, remained a bachelor, and devoted himself to the study of astronomy. When the annuity expired eight years before he did, someone remarked that this error in calculating was the only one that Benjamin Banneker ever made."


At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I adore these stories, keep them coming! Why don't they name some streets after THIS guy?

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

I know, right? From a cursory google search, he has a lot of lousy-looking kids books named after him. Forget streets, how about gigantic science centers?


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