After departing the federal capital area, Benjamin Banneker wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, who in 1776 drafted the United States Declaration of Independence and in 1791 was serving as the United States Secretary of State.
Quoting language in the Declaration, the letter expressed a plea for justice for African Americans. To further support this plea, Banneker included within the letter a handwritten manuscript of an almanac for 1792 containing his ephemeris with his astronomical calculations.
In the letter, Banneker accused Jefferson of criminally using fraud and violence to oppress his slaves by stating:
“…Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.”
The letter ended: “And now, Sir, I shall conclude, and subscribe myself, with the most profound respect, Your most obedient humble servant, BENJAMIN BANNEKER.”
Benjamin Banneker was a free African American scientist, surveyor, almanac author and farmer. Born in Baltimore County, Maryland, to a free African American woman and a former slave, Banneker had little formal education and was largely self-taught. He is known for being part of a group led by Major Andrew Ellicott that surveyed the borders of the original District of Columbia, the federal capital district of the United States.
Banneker’s knowledge of astronomy helped him author a commercially successful series of almanacs. He corresponded with Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the United States Declaration of Independence, on the topics of slavery and racial equality. Abolitionists and advocates of racial equality promoted and praised his works.
Parks, schools, streets and other tributes have commemorated Banneker throughout the years since he lived.