Benjamin Banneker Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Anna Reinking

Anni taught elementary school for eight years and is currently teaching college. She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction.

A man of many interests, Benjamin Banneker was a self-taught free African American who lived from 1731-1806. He advocated for racial equality, but also was interested in many scientific fields. In this lesson, you will learn about the African American scientist, Banneker.

Who was Benjamin Banneker?

At the time of Benjamin Banneker's birth not all African Americans were born free, some were born into slavery. However, on November 9, 1731, Benjamin Banneker, an African American baby, was born in the free state of Maryland to his parents, Robert and Mary, who were both freed slaves.

Benjamin Banneker

While he was mostly self-educated, Banneker was taught to read by his maternal grandmother and attended a Quaker school for a very short time. Regardless of who taught him or how he learned, he had many early accomplishments, which included creating his own almanac, surveying for Washington D.C., and tracking the bees and locusts.

Astronomer and Surveyor

In today's world, if we wanted to learn how to do something or how to build something, we might turn to a teacher or find a video online that could walk us through the process. Well, back in the 1700's, Banneker did not have the Internet to use or access to a teacher; therefore, he taught himself how to build things. For example, at a young age Banneker built an irrigation system for the family farm, which he later used when he owned the family farm and produced tobacco crops. At the age of 22, he built a wooden clock that kept accurate time for more than 50 years.

Not only could he built useful items; he also found astronomy, or the study of celestial objects like stars and comets, very interesting. He taught himself how to accurately forecast lunar and solar eclipses. He befriended a rich family, the Ellicott family, who loaned him multiple books focused on astronomy.

He also was an accomplished surveyor, or one who maps the land. He was even asked to help survey the land for the nation's capital. While working on surveying the nation's capital, Banneker also worked in an observatory tent to record the movement of the stars.

Publications and Letters

However, Banneker's most famous contribution was his almanacs, which he published between 1792 and 1797 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Not only did he use his knowledge of astronomy to calculate the stars, he created opinion pieces in areas like medicine and literature.

In addition to writing almanacs, in 1791, he also displayed his dedication to racial equality in the United States by writing to the then, Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. In his letter, he asked Secretary Jefferson to work on racial equality and the abolishment of slavery.

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