This Day in Black History: Oct. 9, 1806

Illustration of Benjamin Banneker, 1731-1806. American mathematician, astronomer, writer, and farmer.

This Day in Black History: Oct. 9, 1806

Scientist and mathematician Benjamin Banneker died on Oct. 9, 1806.

Published October 9, 2013

(Photo: Stock Montage/Getty Images)

A second generation “free” man, Benjamin Banneker was born on Nov. 9, 1731, to an African-American mother and an ex-slave father in Baltimore County, Maryland. Although his parents were free, Banneker still did not have formal education. However, he managed to become a pioneer in astronomy and mathematics. His research and publishings continued almost up until his death on Oct. 9, 1806.

Banneker displayed interest in science and math at an early age. He was taught to read by his white grandmother, then he attended a small Quaker school for a short time. However, he was mostly self-taught.

His inquisitiveness and innovative approach to science led him to make his first timepiece, in his early 20s, after only seeing a clock one time in his life. He also taught himself astronomy and accurately forecast lunar and solar eclipses. 

His most acclaimed work came in 1792 when Banneker published his first almanac, featuring his own astronomical calculations as well as opinion pieces, literature and medical and tidal information. He continued to publish them for six years. Over the course of his life, Banneker was considered outspoken and borderline genius, especially for Blacks in the 1700s.

He even wrote a letter confronting the then secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, regarding his pro-slavery stance. Jeffeson was so intrigued with Banneker that he requested Banneker be on the planning committee for the nation's capital. Banneker is responsible for saving the project, as he is credited for reproducing plans in just two days.

Benjamin Banneker died on Oct. 9, 1806, in his Baltimore cabin, a month before his 75th birthday. He was buried at his family’s burial ground near his house.

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Written by Dominique Zonyéé


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