Friday, January 29, 2010

Historical Moment: An inquiring mind - Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker had a heritage of boldness and courage. His grandmother was an English woman, Molly Walsh, who had immigrated to Maryland as an indentured servant, earned her freedom, and then started her farm. His grandfather was an African-American man, Bannaky, who had been hired by Molly to do farm work and had later been given his freedom. Over the years, Molly and Bannaky came to love each other and decided to get married. They did not let anything stand in the way of their hopes. In 1731, Benjamin was born to Mary Banneker, the daughter of Molly and Bannaky. Benjamin's grandmother taught him to read and write from the Bible. Later, he attended a local Quaker school. Benjamin clearly had a mind to learn.

When he was in his early twenties he saw a watch for the first time. The friend who owned the watch lent it to him and Benjamin proceeded to take it apart and carefully draw each piece. He then reassembled and returned the watch and set out to make his own replica. He carved each piece out of wood and then crafted his own watch so skillfully that it is reported to have run smoothly for the next forty years.

Another talent Benjamin developed was that of studying the stars, a skill passed on from his grandfather through the stories of his grandmother. In 1791, he published his first almanac. The "Benjamin Banneker Almanac" became well known throughout the northern colonies.

Banneker's achievements were recognized by many leading scientific minds, including President Thomas Jefferson who exchanged several letters with Banneker.

Through the perseverance of an inquiring mind and the heritage of his courageous grandparents, Benjamin Banneker achieved recognition as the first African-American scientist.

For more information see: "Molly Bannaky" by Alice McGill.

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