Benjamin Banneker: Letter to Thomas Jefferson


Benjamin Banneker’s letter to Thomas Jefferson was written August 19, 1791, to accompany a copy of the almanac that Banneker was to have published in the next year. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries almanacs were not simply catalogs of information providing calendars, astronomical and seasonal predictions, weather forecasts, and agricultural ideas; they also included entertaining and educating stories, commentaries, and even poetry, therefore offering much more in the way of reading material at a time when such things were scarce. And since almanacs were common to most households, a wide variety of people were likely to have read Banneker’s Almanac.

Banneker based his almanac predictions on his own table of the position of celestial bodies, called an ephemeris. Creating an accurate ephemeris was not an easy task; it took great mathematical and astronomical skill. Thomas Jefferson, as a farmer and someone with a keen interest in astronomy, would have recognized this...

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Mural of Benjamin Banneker and his achievements as surveyor, inventor, and astronomer (Library of Congress)

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