The Discovery and Archeological Investigation of the Benjamin Banneker Homestead (18BA282), Baltimore County, Maryland
Robert J. Hurry
BENJAMIN BANNEKER, widely regarded as America's first African American man of science, resided for most of his life on a farm in Baltimore County, Maryland. Historical records provide scant glimpses of the home where this humble farmer and self-taught astronomer lived from 1737 to 1806. Susanna Mason of Pennsylvania, who visited Banneker in 1796, described his house as a “lowly dwelling built of logs, one story in height and surrounded by an orchard.” Banneker's house reportedly burned to the ground on the day of his funeral. The passage of time and forces of nature gradually erased any visible vestiges of the house and farm.
Over 175 years after his death, the combined efforts of historical and archeological research led to the exciting discovery of Benjamin Banneker's homestead. During the 1980s, archeological testing identified the remains of at least two dwellings on the farm — an early structure likely built by Banneker's parents and the later dwelling that burned following his death. The excavations recovered artifacts revealing the everyday aspects of Banneker's life — buttons and buckles, a razor blade, pipestem fragments, thimbles and straight pins, farming implements and gun flints, cutlery, many pieces of the ceramic and glass vessels he used for cooking and eating, and evidence of the wild and cultivated foods he ate. Testing also uncovered traces of Banneker's scientific endeavors and personal pursuits — slate pencils, an optical lens, and a jaw harp.
The archeological discoveries reveal tangible evidence of Banneker's homestead and yield new insights into the life and times of this important figure. While the initial archeological testing has just begun to scratch the surface of this significant site, preserved within Baltimore County's Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, future research efforts will expand our knowledge and appreciation of Benjamin Banneker.
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