Published 5:28 pm Monday, February 26, 2018
Benjamin Banneker, like many African Americans in his generation, was largely self-taught. He was the son of former slaves and most of his advanced knowledge came from reading and self-study. He took over his family’s tobacco farm when he was 15-years-old and invented an irrigation system to control water flowing to the crops from a nearby spring.
Since African-Americans did much of the menial labor when he was growing up, it’s not surprising that they would discover and invent ways and devices to make their work easier. So, even in times of drought, Banneker’s farm flourished.
And that would be enough to make him a memorable character during Black History month, but it was his clock that ensured his place in history, white or black. During the early 1750s, he borrowed a pocket watch, took it apart, and studied its components and how they worked together to tell the time. After returning the watch, he built his own clock (the first clock made in America), which was amazingly precise for decades after he finishing building it entirely of wood.
Joshua 5 tells us the story of the people of God crossing into the promised land.
“As soon as the priests stepped into the river, the water stopped flowing and piled up, far upstream at Adam, the city beside Zarethan. The flow downstream to the Dead Sea was completely cut off, and the people were able to cross over near Jericho.” (Joshua 5)
Benjamin Banneker could stop his water from flowing because he’d created the irrigation system. God could stop his water from flowing, because he’d created the river.
But that’s not the end of the story of Benjamin Banneker. He published an almanac and journal and sent a copy to Thomas Jefferson asking him to abolish slavery. Jefferson later recommended Banneker to join the surveying team laying out Washington, D.C. After the lead architect quit and took the plans with him, Banneker recreated them from memory, thereby saving the entire project.