Banneker, son of Robert and Mary BANNAKY, was born in 1731, near the Patapsco River located about 16 kilometers from Baltimore. BANNEKER's mother was a free Mulatto; His father, an African who had to buy his freedom to get out of his slave status. BANNEKER's grandfather was known as Bannaka; Then, under that of Bannaky. Her grandmother's name was Molly Walsh. She was first a servant in England, and then sent to Maryland, bound by a contract of apprenticeship as a servant.
After completing her 7 years of servitude, Molly Walsh bought a farm and 2 slaves who helped her run it. She freed her two slaves, and married one of them: Bannaky. They had several children including a daughter, Mary. When Mary grew up, she bought a slave named Robert, whom she later married; They had several children including Benjamin.
Benjamin BANNEKER grew up on the family farm which was located near a town called “Bannaky Springs” because of the fresh water sources there.
BANNEKER built ditches and small dams to control spring water needed for irrigation. BANNEKER's work was so serious that the crops of the Bannaky grew even in times of drought. Moreover, this family of blacks, free, only cultivated excellent tobacco. When neighboring farmers decided to change their tobacco crops to replace them with wheat, BANNEKER, with his solid mechanical knowledge, helped them build the mills on their farms.
BANNEKER's grandmother Molly Walsh had taught him and his brothers to read. For this, she used the Bible as a teaching book. And, in the valley where they lived, there was no school. One summer a Quaker schoolteacher came to live in the valley; He opened a school for boys. BANNEKER went there. The schoolmaster changed the name from Bannaky to BANNEKER. At school he learned to write and to do simple arithmetic calculation. BANNEKER left school at the age of 15 to take charge of family affairs on the farm. At the age of 21, in 1752, BANNEKER had an exceptional experience: he saw a pocket watch, branded, which belonged to a man named Josef Levi. BANNEKER was absolutely fascinated by this watch. He had never seen anything like it in his life. Levi offered it to him. This watch would turn BANNEKER's life upside down. He took the watch and tried to understand how it worked.
BANNEKER carved a similar watch from small pieces of wood and made his own clock; the first to strike the hour, completely made in America.
BANNEKER's clock was so precise that it struck every hour, on the hour, for 40 years.
BANNEKER's work on clocks led him to repair watches, clocks, clocks and sundials. BANNEKER even helped Joseph Ellicott build an intricate clock. He was a close friend of the Ellicott brothers who lent him books on astronomy and mathematics as well as stargazing instruments. BANNEKER, despite the self-taught nature of his studies in astronomy and higher mathematics, successfully predicted the solar eclipse of April 14, 1789, thus contradicting the predictions of eminent mathematicians and astronomers of the time. When BANNEKER's parents died, they left him the family farm, since his two sisters, married, had left it. BANNEKER built a cabin with a skylight to study the stars and do calculations. Working mostly alone, with a few visitors, BANNEKER compiled the results which he published in his almanac. He had addressed this almanac, together with a 12-page letter, to Thomas Jefferson (then Secretary of State), in reaction to the latter's racist remarks on the intellectual capacities of Africans.
BANNEKER continued to publish his almanac, and that of many other eminent scientists and artists of the day, from his farm in Maryland almost until his death.
Although BANNEKER studied and recorded the results of all his work until his death, he had to cease publishing his Almanac because of its poor sales. At the time he had built his observation cabin in 1791, BANNEKER was engaged, along with a team of surveyors appointed by President George Washington, to draw the plans for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC
BANNEKER was the only African to obtain a presidential commitment. BANNEKER and Andrew Ellicott, cousin of George Ellicott, worked closely with Pierre L'Enfant, the architect who handled the plans for the District of Columbia, Washington DC
The project was withdrawn from L'Enfant, because of his temperament, so that when he left, he took the plans with him. BANNEKER redrew from memory the plans of the city, thus sparing the American Government the effort and expense that would have been incurred the hiring of another designer.