Benjamin Banneker, the largely self-taught mathematician, astronomer, and author, has remained as one of Black History’s most-discussed figures. On this day in 1791, it was reported that Banneker joined a fellow astronomer in surveying the layout of the Nation’s Capital.
Although historians have sought to debunk some of Banneker’s achievements, he is largely known as one of the surveyors who worked on the layout of what would become Washington, D.C. Major Andrew Ellicott, a wealthy farmer who owned land in what is now known as Ellicott City, Md., was commissioned by President George Washington to survey and mark the boundaries authorized by Congress to become the Nation’s Capital.
Ellicott held a shared interest in the stars, and was in awe of Banneker’s formidable intellect despite the racism he faced. When Ellicott was assigned to perform the Washington survey task, he hired Banneker to assist.
Banneker’s arrival to the region was reported on this day in Georgetown Weekly Ledger paper, and it was written that Ellicott was “attended by Benjamin Banneker, an Ethiopian, whose abilities, as a surveyor, and an astronomer, clearly prove that Mr. Jefferson’s concluding that race of men were void of mental endowments, was without foundation.”
Banneker didn’t remain with the project long, according to varying records, and later went on to write a series of widely read almanacs from 1792 to 1797.
Although Banneker owned several large plots of land in Maryland, he later retired and sold off his land to Major Ellicott.