The early days of the America’s history was a time of great advancement in both science and society. Historian Paul Johnson described the American Founders as “the greatest collection of minds in one place in the history of mankind”. Some of the brilliant individuals everyone is familiar with include names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. One such name that is not as well know is that of a man born in Baltimore County, Maryland (the only colony of the original 13 to be established by Catholic settlers) named Benjamin Banneker.
Benjamin was born of two free blacks and grew up the majority of his life on the family farm. He only received formal education until he was old enough to work on the farm, he spent the rest of his life educating himself. This resulted in him emerging as one the most brilliant minds of the American Colonies. At the age of 15, he took over his family’s farm and invented an irrigation system to control water flow to the crops from nearby springs. This enabled the farm to flourish even in times of drought. At the age of 22, he borrowed a broken pocket watch and took it apart to examine its inner workings. He then took what he learned and constructed a completely wooden replica. This replica struck on the hour and continued to work until after his passing. The attention he received from this enabled him to start his own watch and clock repair business. At the age of 57, after years of studying astronomy, he successfully calculated an impending solar eclipse in 1789 that surprised many in the Colonial science community. At the age of 60 he was hired, by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, as part of a survey team to do all of the surveying and lay out the plans and design the network of roads for the new national capital, Washington D.C. He wrote numerous solar and lunar astronomical almanacs which accurately predicted solar and lunar eclipses more than 10 years after his passing. Lastly, Banneker was, like his namesake Benjamin Franklin, was a fervent opponent of slavery and spoke out against it publicly when the opportunity presented itself. So, as you can see, Benjamin Banneker was one of early America’s brilliant, albeit unsung in today’s history books, minds was an inspiration to many.
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