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Benjamin Banneker - A hero forgotten in time

Portland Tribune
Portland Tribune
 2022-02-02

Bannecker is an example of the African American contribution to the founding of this country.

It is unfortunate that Benjamin Banneker, an African American who contributed so much to the early history of this country, is not known by many people. As an African American, I am proud to present this information during Black History Month on his contribution to American clockmaking.

Banneker was born a free man in Maryland on November 9, 1731. He attended a few years of school as a very young child but was entirely self-educated after the second grade. He lived most of the first 60 years of his life within a few miles of his property, where he spent his time farming, studying, reading, and exchanging correspondence with other scholars. He enjoyed math, science, and music, among other things. He played the violin and flute and became accomplished at both. He was known to keep a large table in the middle of his home that was usually full of various papers and instruments he used for his many hobbies.

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A land-owning farmer of modest means, Banneker nevertheless lived a life of unusual achievement. In 1751, Banneker borrowed a pocket watch from a well-to-do neighbor. He took it apart and studied its workings. He made a drawing of each component and then reassembled the watch and returned it, fully functioning, to its owner. From his drawings, Banneker then proceeded to carve, out of wood, enlarged replicas of each part. Calculating the proper number of teeth for each gear and the necessary relationships between the gears, he completed the construction of a working wooden clock in 1753 that kept accurate time and struck the hours for over 50 years until it was destroyed along with most of Banneker's other belongings in a mysterious house fire that took place on the day of his funeral. Banneker has been credited for making the first clock to be built completely in America.

Banneker had many other historical accomplishments as an astronomer, almanac author and one of the original surveyors of Washington, D.C. Bannecker is an example of the African American contribution to the founding of this country.

Aaron Woods is the co-founder and co-chair of the Wilsonville Alliance for Inclusive Community.

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