An Unexpected Turn of Events

Early in 1791, Banneker had an unexpected personal visit from Major Ellicott. A location had been established for a new seat of government. Both Maryland and Virginia had surrendered large tracts of land to serve as the new federal territory. Under the direct employ of George Washington, the first president of the United States, the major was quickly recruiting help in the survey of the land. Work was soon to begin on what, when finished, would be called the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.). Major Elliott wanted Banneker on the team to assist him in the surveyor's observatory tent. Banneker was overcome with excitement, especially at the thought of getting to see and perhaps use the major's surveying instruments, such as his transit and equal altitude instrument, the large zenith sector, and his astronomical clock.

Flattered at the major's confidence in him, Banneker readily agreed, and arrangements were made for his sisters, who lived nearby, to look after the farm. He was soon on his way, mounted on horseback beside the major, taking with him a gentlemen's wardrobe provided by George's wife, Elizabeth Ellicott.

When the trip was over, Banneker found himself in Alexandria, Virginia, where the major set up his base camp and astronomical tent. Banneker's job, though he was untrained in the art of surveying, was to serve as Major Ellicott's assistant. He maintained notes, made calculations, and used the astronomical instruments to establish base points of the area. He was kept so busy that he took up residence right in the astronomical tent. In his spare time, he worked on his 1792 ephemeris.

Yet Banneker was no longer a young man. He was 60 years old. Due to the extremes of the climate, to which he was unaccustomed, and his fondness for strong drink, Banneker's health was beginning to degenerate. Though he fully enjoyed the work and the company of the men, after just four months on the job, Banneker decided to return to his farm to rest and work on his almanac.

Telescopes Mastery

Telescopes Mastery

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