The Early Years
Benjamin Banneker was not born into slavery like so many other African Americans. His mother’s side of the family made this happen. His grandmother, Mary Walsh, was white. She was sentenced for seven years of indentured servitude for stealing milk. After those seven years, she bought some property and two African American slaves, one in which she married. His name was Bannaky, and they had many children. One of them was Benjamin’s mother, whose name was also Mary. Like her mother, Mary was white, but she bought and married an African American slave, whose name was Robert. Benjamin had many brothers and sisters. He was born on November 9, 1731, just outside of Baltimore, Maryland.
Banneker had the opportunity to learn in his early years, even though it was a very limited amount of education. He and his siblings were taught to read by their grandmother, Molly, who taught from the Bible. When he was twelve, a Quaker named Peter Heinrich moved in next to the Banneker’s tobacco farm (which he inherited from his father). He created a school for the Banneker’s boys. Benjamin excelled in math and science, and even advanced past his teacher’s abilities.
Benjamin as an Astronomer and Inventor
Benjamin was excited about a watch he was given to by Levi Josef. He took it apart to see how it was constructed. When Benjamin was 22 years old, he assembled a clock made entirely of wood; with each carving made by hand similar to the watch he had been given. It struck every hour for forty more than years. This was America’s first clock.
He also had an interest in astronomy. When Banneker’s friend Andrew Ellicot passed away, he left Benjamin books on astronomy, scientific instruments, and a telescope. Banneker studied the stars and made calculations on them. He used the calculations to predict a solar eclipse that took place on April 14, 1789.
His abilities in astronomy and math led him to make an almanac in 1792. As well...