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Banneker, Benjamin

Banneker, Benjamin, 1731–1806, African-American inventor, astronomer, and mathematician, b. Baltimore co., Md., at what is now Ellicott's Mills. A free black, Banneker was essentially self-taught. He built an an irrigation system for his family's farm and in 1753 constructed a working wooden clock after studying the design of a watch. He became friends with the Ellicott family, and George Ellicott loaned him astronomy and mathematics books as well as astronomical instruments, with which he began his study of the heavens, eventually forecasting eclipses. Having taught himself advanced mathematics and surveying, he helped (1791) Major Andrew Ellicott survey the boundaries for the District of Columbia. He authored a series of almanacs (1792–97) that included tables of his astronomical calculations as well as political and medical writings and tide tables, and a copy of his first almanac to Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state, along with writings on the evils of slavery and an appeal for abolition.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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