|Planters Advocate July 23, 1856|
Banneker - Md State Archives
From the Southern Literary Messenger.
Bannaker [sic], the Black Astronomer.
The casual mention of this remarkable man—, in the volume entitled "Richmond in By–Gone Days," induced a literary friend to furnish the materials for an authentic notice of him.
Like all conspicuous men of humble origin, ancestry differs in different biographies. Two memorirs [sic] of him have been read before the Maryland Historical Society: one by Mr. Latrobe in 1845, the other by Mr. Norris in 1854. The former says, his father was a native African, and his mother a child of a native of Africa. But Mr. Norris, who derives his authority from a lady among whose ancestry Banneker and his progenitors lived, and who had possession of his manuscripts, states that his maternal grandmother Molly Welsh, a native of England, came to Maryland with a ship load of emigrants, then called redemptioners, and was sold to service for seven years, to pay the expenses of her emigration.— After her term of service expired, she bought a small farm, near the present site of Baltimore, for a mayor nominal price, and subsequently purchased from a slave ship, in Chesapeake Bay, to negro men. They both prove to be valuable servants. One of them, said to have been the son of an African King, a man of industry, integrity, find disposition and dignified manners, she liberated from slavery and afterwards married. His name was Bannaker, which she assumed.— They had four children. Mary, the oldest, married a native of Africa, who was baptized by the name of Robert Banneker. Their only son, Benjamin, the subject of this memoir, was born November 9th, 1731. His father, (according to Mr. Latrobe and to the record,) purchased from Robert Gist, on 10th March, 1737, for the consideration of 7000 lbs of Tobacco, a tract of 100 acres of land, called Stout, then almost in a wilderness, although within 10 miles of Baltimore, but 10 years previously Baltimore was the farm of John Hamming, and in 1740, the town was surrounded by a board fence as a protection against the Indians.
Benjamin's grandmother taught him to read and sent him to a small school near her residence. He was very studious and devoted his play–time to reading. After his minority, he continued to reside with his mother and occupied the same farm all his life, cultivating it industriously and living comfortably. The winter months, and all other time not occupied in farming, he devoted to study, and besides books of scientific character, he read such on general literature as he could borrow, and he occasionally directed his mind with mechanical projects. In this department is wooden clock— his only time-piece when completed— was his greatest achievement, and was made long before 1772. It was a correct time–keeper and justly considered a great curiosity, as the work of an untaught black man, who had, it was said, never seen o'clock and worked out his and pension from investigating the works of a watch.
In 1787, Mr. G. Ellicott lent him Mayer's Tables, Ferguson Astronomy and Leadbetter's Lunar Tables and some astronomical instruments, but was prevented at the time from giving him any instruction as to the use of them. Before they met, and the interval was brief, Banneker had instructed himself, and from this time the study of astronomy became the great and absorbing object of his life. He was unmarried, and the sole occupant of the log cabin on his farm. — By contracting his wants, he reduced his hours of labor, on which he depended for support, and increased his hours of study. "Is favorite time for study was night, when he could look out on the planets, the story he was reading, and whose laws he was gradually but surely watching." When not obliged to toil on his farm, he slept during the day and thus in the estimation of those who knew nothing of his celestial occupation, he lost his reputation for industry acquired in early life.
"Soon after he had obtained the astronomical books and instruments, and had turned his attention to the science they taught, he determined to compile and Almanac. Of the labor of the work few of those can form an idea who would at this day commence such a task, with all the assistance afforded by accurate tables and well digested rules." Banneker had no such aid and it is narrated as a well-known fact that he had commenced an advanced far in the preparation of logarithms necessary for his purpose, when he was furnished with a set of tables by Mr. G. Ellicott. About this time, he commenced the record of his calculations, which is still extant, and is deposited with the Historical Society for examination." He noticed some errors in Ferguson and in Leadbetter, "who would probably have looked incredulous if told that their works had been reviewed by an uneducated Negro in the then almost unknown valley of the Patapsco."
The first Almanac which Banneker prepared for publication, was for the year 1792. By this time his acquirements had become known, and among those who took an interest in him was James McHenry, Esq. He wrote a letter to Goddard and and Angell, publishers of Almanacs in Baltimore, and it was probably the means of procuring the publication of Bannaker's first Almanacs. It contains a short account of the author, as the most appropriate preface that could be furnished to his work, and states that it had met the approbation of the most distinguished astronomers in America, particularly the celebrated Mr. Rittenhouse.
Publishers asked the patronage and support of the public for the work, "not only for its intrinsic merits, but to draw modest merit from obscurity and controvert illiberal prejudice against the race." This almost solitary exception rather proves the rule.
Bannaker was fifty-nine years old when he published his first Almanac, and had high respect shown to him by scientific men, as one whose colour did not exclude him from their class. In 1789, the commissions appointed to run the lines of the District of Columbia, then called the Federal territory, invited Banneker to accompany them, and they retained him till the service was performed. He used to say of them they were very civil gentlemen, who overlooked his complexion on account of his attainments, and invited him to be seated at their table; and honor which he thought fit to decline, and requested that a side-table might be provided for him. "He continued to calculate and publishes Almanacs until 1802, and the folio laid before the society, containing the calculations already copied, and the figures used by him in his work. The handwriting is very good and remarkably distinct having a practice look, although evidently that of an old man." [*This note appears in his MS. foloi. —"2nd April, 1795, sold to Butler, Edwards & Kiddy, the right of one Almanac for 1786, for the sum of 80 dollars."]
"Bannaker was an acute observer; many, instances of this are to be seen in the record of his calculations, which he used occasionally as a common-place book. For example,' December 23, 1790, about 3 o'clock, A. M., I heard the sound and felt the shock like heavy thunder, but could not observe any cloud above the horizon. I therefore conclude it must be a great earthquake in some part of the globe. A similar conclusion was drawn by Pliny 1800, years before!' In April 1800, he writes, "the first great locus year that I can remember, — I was then about 17 years of age, when thousands of them came and were creeping up the trees and bushes. I then imagine they came to eat and destroy the fruit of the earth, and would occasion a famine in the land; I therefore began to kill and destroy them, but soon saw that my labor was vain. Again, in 1766, which is 17 years from their first appearance, they made a second and full as numerous; I then had more sense than to destroy them, knowing they were not so pernicious. Again, in the year 1783, which was 17 years from their second appearance to me, they made their third, and they may be 1800. So that, if I may venture to express it, their periodical return is 17 years; but they, like the comments, make but a short stay with us. The female has a sting in her tail as hard and as sharp as a thorn, with which she perforate the branches of trees and in the holes lay eggs. The branch soon dies and folds. Then the egg, by some occult cause, emerges a great depth into the earth and there continues for the space of 17 years. I like to forgot to inform, that if their lives are short, they are merry. — They begin to sing or make a noise from first they come out of the earth, till they die. The hinder most part rock off and it does not appear to be any pain to them, for they still continue on singing till they die." Our philosopher seems to have overlooked their change of coats soon after exhumation.
When he had become engrossed in his studies, he endeavored to relieve himself from the cares of his farm and have more time for the former, by renting out the land, divided into small tenements. His tenants were not punctual, if he was urgent they grew insolent, until it last, saying that "it was better to die of hunger than of anger." He determined to sell his farm for an annuity. He made a calculation of the chances of his life, upon such data as he could obtain, and the Ellicott family bought the land on the terms he proposed. An annuity of £12, Maryland currency, or $331/4, with the privileges of residing on it during his life, which was of eight years longer duration than his estimate. He died in 1804, aged 71.
On a very bright day, then he walked out to enjoy the air. He met an acquaintance to whom he complained of feeling unwell. They returned together to his cottage, where online down, he immediately became speechless and died soon afterwards.
He is described as kind, generous, hospitable, humane, dignified and pleasing; abounding in information on the subjects of the day, the lighting in the society of visitors at his own house. — His dress was uniformly drab broadcloth, with broad brimmed hat. His complexion was not jet black but decidedly negro.
He was constantly in correspondence with other mathematicians in this country, with whom there was an interchange of questions of difficult solution.
Bannaker sent a copy of his first Almanac in MS. to Mr. Jefferson, then Sec. of State, with a letter in which he feelingly alludes to the degradation of his own people. In his reply, Mr. Jefferson says, "I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanacs to M. de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris, and member of the Philanthropic Society, because I consider it a document to which your whole color has a right for their justification against the doubts that have been entertained of them."
 Planters' Advocate. July 23, 1856. Ed. Thomas J. Turner. Upper Marlborough, Maryland. Maryland State Archives. Planter's Advocate Collection. MSA SC 3415.msa_sc3415_scm3599-0126
Transcribed by John Peter Thompson July 27th, 2014.
The 1856 Planters' Advocate spells the name Bannaker; tpday's spelling is Banneker.
 Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught (1), free African-American tobacco farmer, whose brilliance in astronomy and mathematics garnered the attention of the most powerful white men in the new nation. With the approval of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Ellicott enlisted Banneker to assist in surveying the territory which was to become the District of Columbia. After the survey’s completion Banneker would go on to engage in a correspondence with Jefferson about the equal abilities of men of African descent. http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2014/02/06/the-dreams-of-benjamin-banneker/
 James McHenry was born at Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, in 1753.
During the War for Independence, McHenry served as a military surgeon. Late in 1776, while he was on the staff of the 5th Pennsylvania Battalion, the British captured him at Fort Washington, NY. He was paroled early the next year and exchanged in March 1778. Returning immediately to duty, he was assigned to Valley Forge, PA, and in May became secretary to George Washington. About this time, McHenry apparently quit the practice of medicine to devote himself to politics and administration; he apparently never needed to return to it after the war because of his excellent financial circumstances. McHenry stayed on Washington's staff until 1780, when he joined that of the Marquis de Lafayette, and he remained in that assignment until he entered the Maryland Senate (1781-86). During part of this period, he served concurrently in the Continental Congress (1783-86). In 1784 he married Margaret Allison Caldwell. McHenry missed many of the proceedings at the Philadelphia convention, in part because of the illness of his brother, and played an insubstantial part in the debates when he was present. He did, however, maintain a private journal that has been useful to posterity. He campaigned strenuously for the Constitution in Maryland and attended the state ratifying convention.
From 1789 to 1791, McHenry sat in the state assembly and in the years 1791-96 again in the senate. A staunch Federalist, he then accepted Washington's offer of the post of Secretary of War and held it into the administration of John Adams. McHenry looked to Hamilton rather than to Adams for leadership. As time passed, the latter became increasingly dissatisfied with McHenry's performance and distrustful of his political motives and in 1800 forced him to resign. Subsequently, the Democratic-Republicans accused him of maladministration, but a congressional committee vindicated him. McHenry returned to his estate near Baltimore and to semiretirement. He remained a loyal Federalist and opposed the War of 1812. He also held the office of president of a Bible society. He died in 1816 at the age of 62, survived by two of his three children. His grave is in Baltimore's Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery.
 David Rittenhouse was born the son of farmer Matthias Rittenhouse in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He married Eleanor Coulston, and then after her death, Hannah Jacobs. He became an astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker and one of the leading American scientists of the eighteenth century, second only to Benjamin Franklin.
Self-taught, he early showed mathematical and mechanical ability, and mastered Newton's Principia in an English translation. As a young boy Rittenhouse constructed a model of a watermill, and by the age of seventeen he had built a wooden clock, but having little opportunity to attend school, he largely educated himself from books and a box of tools inherited from his uncle David Williams, a furniture maker. At the age of nineteen he began making clocks and other mechanical and scientific devices.
Over the next thirty or forty years he made many highly-prized and innovative mathematical and astronomical instruments, most famous of which were two orreries he constructed for the Colleges of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). These orreries show the solar and lunar eclipses and other phenomena for a period of 5,000 years either forward or backward. After moving to Philadelphia in 1770, Rittenhouse used both astronomical and terrestrial observations to survey canals and rivers and to establish the boundaries between many of the Mid-Atlantic States. He held the post of city surveyor of Philadelphia in 1774.
His scientific thinking and experimentation earned Rittenhouse considerable intellectual prestige in America and in Europe. He built his own observatory at his father's farm in Norriton, outside of Philadelphia. Rittenhouse maintained detailed records of his observations and published a number of important works on astronomy, including a paper putting forth his solution for locating the place of a planet in its orbit. He was a leader in the scientific comunity's observance of the transit of Venus in 1769, which won him broad acclaim. He also sought to solve mathematical problems, publishing his first mathematical paper in 1792, an effort to determine the period of a pendulum. He also experimented with magnetism and electricity.
Rittenhouse was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1768, serving over the years as curator, librarian, secretary, vice president and, from 1791 to 1796, its president. He was elected to its committee to observe the transits of Venus and Mercury in 1769 based on plans he had made. Over the years he received a number of honorary degrees including those from the Colleges of New Jersey and Philadelphia. In addition he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the Royal Society of London.
Rittenhouse used his scientific skills for practical purposes during the American Revolution. In 1775 he began his service on the Committee of Safety as an engineer supervising local casting of cannon, improvement of rifles, supply of ammunition and selection of sites for gunpowder mills and magazine stores. In the late 1770s Rittenhouse was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly, the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1776, and the Board of War. From 1779 to 1787 Rittenhouse was Treasurer of Pennsylvania, and from 1792 -1795 he served as Director of the United States Mint.
Rittenhouse was Penn's Professor of Astronomy at Philadelphia from 1779 to 1782 and Vice-Provost in 1780 and 1782. He also served Penn as a trustee of the University of the State of Pennsylvania (1779-1780 and 1782-1791) and then, after its 1791 union with the College of Philadelphia, as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania (1791-1796). http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1700s/rittenhouse_david.html
 Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet 17 September 1743 – 28 March 1794), known as Nicolas de Condorcet, was a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist whose Condorcet method in voting tally selects the candidate who would beat each of the other candidates in a run-off election. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he advocated a liberal economy, free and equal public education, constitutionalism, and equal rights for women and people of all races. His ideas and writings were said to embody the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment and rationalism, and remain influential to this day. He died a mysterious death in prison after a period of flight from French Revolutionary authorities. from Wikipedia 2014.