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Benjamin Banneker Biography - Space/Astronomy

Benjamin Banneker was an African-American astronomer, clockmaker, and publisher who was instrumental in surveying the District of Columbia.

He was born in Maryland on November 9, 1731. His maternal grandmother, Molly Walsh emigrated from England to Maryland as an indentured servant in bondage for seven years. At the end of that time, she bought her own farm near Baltimore along with two other slaves.

Later, she freed the slaves and married one of them. Formerly known as Banna Ka, Mollys husband had changed his name to Bannaky. Among their children, they had a daughter named Mary. When Mary Bannaky grew up, she also purchased a slave, Robert, whom, like her mother, she later freed and married. Robert and Mary Bannaky were the parents of Benjamin Banneker.

Bannekers grandmother, Molly used the Bible to teach Marys children to read. He also learned the flute and the violin. Later, when a Quaker school opened nearby, Benjamin attended it during the winter where he learned to write and basic mathematics. His biographers disagree on the amount of formal education he received, some claiming an 8th-grade education, while others doubt he received that much. However, few dispute his intelligence. At the age of 15, he took over the operations for the family farm. His father, Robert Bannaky, built a series of dams and watercourses that successfully irrigated the family farm.

Benjamin enhanced the system to control the water from the springs (known around as Bannaky Springs) on the family farm. Their tobacco farm flourished even in times of drought.

At the age of 21, Bannekers life changed when he saw a neighbors pocket watch. (Some say the watch belonged to Josef Levi, a traveling salesman.) He borrowed the watch, took it apart to draw all its pieces, then reassembled it and returned it running to its owner.

Banneker then carved large-scale wooden replicas of each piece, calculating the gear assemblies himself, and used the parts to make a striking clock, the first wooden clock in the United States. The clock

National Trust for Historic Preservation

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