Benjamin Banneker, the brilliant scientist and former freeman

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 6/6/2013, 3:36 p.m.

Jefferson replied without directly addressing Banneker's complaint. He said, "Sir,I thank you sincerely for your letter of the 19th instant and for the almanac it contained. Nobody wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit that nature has given to our Black brethren talents equal to those of the other colors of men and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa and America.

"I can add with truth that nobody wishes more ardently to see a good system commenced for raising the condition both of their body and mind to what it ought to be, as fast as the imbecility of their present existence and other circumstance which cannot be neglected, will admit. I have taken the liberty of sending your almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris and member of the Philanthropic Society, because I considered it as a document to which your whole color had a right for their justification against the doubts which have been entertained of them".

I am with great esteem, sir, your most obedient, humble servant.Th. Jefferson"

This was the start of a correspondence that would last several years.

The 1793 almanac contained Banneker's correspondence with Jefferson, poetry by famed Black poet Wheatley, as well as anti-slavery speeches and essays from various American and English authors. It also contained "A Plan of Peace Office for the United States," written by Benjamin Rush.

Banneker's last almanac was published in 1797, though he prepared material for each year until 1804. Faced with declining funds, he became a recluse in his later years. He never married and sold much of his farmland to the Ellicotts.

Banneker died in his log cabin on Oct. 9, 1806, a month before his 75th birthday.


  • Look t up: Use the Internet or other reference source to learn more about the life and work of Benjamin Banneker. Talk about it with your classmates.
  • Talk about it: Examine a copy of the Farmer's Almanac or visit it online at What useful information did you find? Discuss it with your classmates.
  • Write it down: Choose a topic from today's "Week in Black History." Research the subject and write an essay on the topic.

This Week in Black History

  • June 4, 1832: The Third National Black Convention is held in Philadelphia with 29 delegates from eight states.
  • June 5, 1940: The American Negro Theater is organized in Harlem by Frederick O'Neal and Abram Hill as a training program for young actors. Graduates include Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis.
  • June 6, 1987: Mae Jemison is chosen by NASA to begin training as a space shuttle astronaut. She becomes the first Black female astronaut.