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Benjamin Banneker
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Astronomer
    (November 9, 1731-October 9, 1806)
    Born in Baltimore County, Maryland
    Astronomer, surveyor and almanac author
    Part of the group that surveyed the boundaries of the District of Columbia (1790-91)
    Published six almanacs in 28 editions (1792-97)
    Thomas Jefferson hinted that the calculations required for his almanacs were done by Andrew Ellicott, a friend and surveyor who had hired him for the DC boundary job.
    Many of his accomplishments have been exaggerated:
    He is said to have been a member of the planning commission for Washington, DC. (He wasn't.)
    He has been credited with making the first clock in America. (While he did make clocks, the first clockmaker recorded in America was Thomas Nash in 1638.)
    He was credited with being the first person to realize that cicadas emerge every 17 years. (Although he mentioned cicadas in his 1783 almanac and predicted their return in 1800, the insects' 17-year cycle had become common knowledge by the 1750s.)
    Except for a few lessons at a Quaker school, he was self-taught.
    He published poems by Phillis Wheatley in his almanac.
    His almanacs were hailed by William Wilberforce and other abolitionists as proof that blacks could be the intellectual equals of whites.
    Jefferson's suspicions may have been sour grapes after Banneker wrote him a letter pointing out the hypocrisy of the guy who wrote 'all men are created equal' owning slaves.
    It ain't like he can control people in the centuries after his death from puffing up his reputation.

Credit: C. Fishel


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