Benjamin Banneker

One mystery about Benjamin Banneker was the ancestry of his family. Ethnomathematician Ron Eglash at RPI traveled to Africa to try to find his family origins. He started with the following clues:

  1. Banneker’s British grandmother, Molly Welsh, was falsely accused of stealing milk, and sent to work as an indentured servant in the American colonies in 1685. Released from servitude in 1692, she was given money to purchase 2 newly arrived enslaved Africans, one named Bannaka. This gives us the date of the slave ship arrival, and his grandfather’s African name.
  2. Bannaka (it was later changed to Banneker to sound more American) refused to work, saying it was not permitted because he was of royal heritage. Molly eventually married him. So the second clue is that someone of royal heritage had been taken as a slave.
  3. Bannaka’s skin color was exceptionally dark, “blue black” as they sometimes say.
  4. Bannaka’s grandson, Benjamin Banneker, kept a journal of his dreams. In it, he described a shape that he said had religious significance: “quincunx”. It is made of 5 squares: one at center and one at each corner:

Let's see if we can solve the mystery of Benjamin Banneker's family origins! Four teams will be needed to explore the riddles of his name, the report of an enslaved royal, Banneker's dark skin color and his memory of the Quincunx. Once assigned to a team, you will click on a link below and learn about each of these riddles. Be prepared to share what you learn with the group when you solve your part of the riddle.



Dark skin color