From the VIRGINIA GAZETTE.
You are requested to insert the following Letter from BENJAMIN BANNEKER, a Black
Man, to the SECRETARY of STATE, with his Answer thereto, and you will oblige
a number of your Readers.
To THOMAS JEFFERSON, Esqr.
Maryland, Baltimore County,
Aug. 19, 1792.
I AM fully convinced of the greatness of that freedom which I take with you
on the present occasion: A liberty which seemed to me scarcely allowable, when
I reflected on that distinguished, and dignified station in which you stand;
and the almost general prejudice and prepossession which is so prevalent in
the world against those of my complexion.
I suppose it is a truth too well attested to you, to need proof here, that
we are a race of beings who have long laboured under the abuse and censure of
the world, that we have long been looked upon with an eye of contempt, considered
rather as brutish than human, and scarcely capable of mental endowments.
I hope I may safely admit, in consequence of that report which hath reached
me, that you are a man far less inflexible in sentiments of this nature, than
many others, that you are a measurably friendly and well disposed toward us,
and that you are willing and ready to lend you aid and assistance to our relief
from those many distresses and numerous calamities to which we are reduced.
Now, Sir, if t his be founded in truth, I apprehend you will readily embrace
every opportunity, to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions
which so generally prevail in respect to us, and that your sentiments are concurrent
with mine, which are, that one universal Father hath given being to us all,
and that he hath not only made us of one flesh, but that he hath also, without
partiality, afforded us all the same sensations and that however variable we
may be in a society or religion, however diversified in situation or colour,
we are all of the same family, and stand in the same relation to Him.
If there are sentiments of which you are fully persuaded, I hope you cannot
but acknowledge that is the indispensable duty of those who maintain for themselves
the rights of human nature, and who profess the obligations of christianity,
to extend their power and influence to the relief of every part of the human
race, from whatever burthen or oppression they may unjustly labour under; and
this I apprehend a full conviction of the truth and obligation of these principles
should lead us all to.
Sir, I have long been convinced, that if you love for yourselves, and for those
inestimable laws which preserve to you the rights of human nature, was founded
on sincerity, you could not but be solicitous, that every individual, of whatever
rank or distinction, might with you equally enjoy the blessings thereof; neither
could you rest satisfied, short of the most active diffusion of your exertions,
in order to promotion, from any state of degradation to which the unjustifiable
cruelty and barbarism of men may have reduced them.
I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in
that colour which is natural to them of the deepest dye; and it is under a sense
of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the universe, that I
now confess to you, that I am not under that state of tyrannical thraldom, and
inhumane captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed; but that I
have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings, which proceed from
that free and unequalled liberty with which are you favoured, and which I hope
you will willingly allow you have received from the immediate hand of that Being,
from whom proceedeth every good and perfect gift.
Suffer me to recall to your mind that time, in which the arms and tyranny of
the British crown were exerted with every powerful effort in order to reduce
you to a state of servitude; look back, I entreat you, on the variety of dangers
to which you were exposed; reflect on that time in which every human aid appeared
unavailable, and in which even hope and fortitude wore the aspect of inability
to the conflict; and you cannot but be led to a serious and grateful sense of
your miraculous and providential preservation; you cannot but acknowledge, that
the present freedom and tranquility which you enjoy, you have mercifully received,
and that it is the peculiar blessing of Heaven.
This, Sir, was a time in which you clearly saw into the injustice of a state
of slavery, and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition-
it was now that your abhorrence thereof was so excited, that you publicly head
forth this true and invaluable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and
remembered in all succeeding ages. "We hold these truths to be self evident,
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit
Here was a time in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you
thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great valuation
of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings to which you were entitled
by nature; but, Sir, how pitable is it to reflect, that although you were so
fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of mankind, and of his equal
and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges which he had conferred
upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining
by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren under groaning captivity
and cruel oppression; that you should at the same time be found guilty of that
most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to
I suppose that your knowledge of the situation of my brethren is too extensive
to need a recital here; neither shall I presume to prescribe methods by which
they may be relieved, otherwise than by recommending to you and all others,
to wean yourselves from those narrow prejudices which you have imbibed with
respect to them, and as Job proposed to his friends, "put your soul in
their souls stead;" thus shall your hearts be enlarged with kindness and
benevolence toward them, and thus shall you need neither the direction of myself
or others in what manner to proceed herein.
And now, Sir, although my sympathy and affection for my brethren hath caused
my enlargement thus far, I ardently hope that your candour and generosity will
plead with you in my behalf, when I make known to you, that it was not originally
my design; but that having taken up my pen in order to direct to your, as a
present, a copy of an Almanack which I have calculated for the succeeding year,
I was unexpectedly and unavoidably led thereto.
This calculation is the production of my arduous study in this my advance stage
of life (59) for having long had unbounded desires to become acquainted with
the secrets of nature, I have had to gratify my curiosity herein through my
own assiduous application to astronomical study, in which I need not recount
to you the many difficulties and disadvantages which have had to encounter.
And although I had almost declined to make my calculation, for the ensuing
year, in consequence of that time which I had allotted therefor being taken
up at the Federal Territory, by the request of Mr. Andrew Ellicot, yet finding
myself under several engagements to Printers of this state to whom I had communicated
my design, on my return to my place of residence, I industriously applied myself
thereto, which I hope I have accomplished with correctness and accuracy; a copy
of which I have taken the liberty to direct to you, and which I humbly requested
you will favourably receive; and although you may have the opportunity of perusing
it after its publication, yet I chose to send it to you in manuscript previous
thereto, that thereby you might not only have an earlier inspection, but that
you might also view it in my own hand writing.
And now, Sir, I shall conclude, and subscribe myself with the most profound
respect, your most obedient humble servant,
N.B. Any communication to me may be had by a direction to Mr. Elias Ellicot,
merchant in Baltimore town.