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THE VIRGINA CALCULATOR; HOW SLAVERY WASTED AFRICA’S BRAINS

The harm of slave trade goes far beyond the mere fact of taking away the continent’s most able bodies; philosophers, scientists, leaders and most intelligent people capable of taking Africa to world stage were uproot-ed to leave the bad and unwanted seeds that quickly multiplied to cre-ate a new Africa full of depraved people.
Thomas Fuller was an African, shipped to Amer-ica as a slave in 1724. He had remarkable powers of calculation, and late in his life was discovered by antislavery campaigners who used him as a demonstration that blacks are not mentally inferior to whites.
The place of his birth appears to have been be-tween present day Liberia and Benin. Known as Negro Tom, we know that he was described as a very black man and also we know that he lived in Virginia after being brought to the United States as a slave. Certain-ly late in his life he was the property of Elixabeth Coxe of Alexandria.
Power of calculation
Thomas Fuller, known as the Virginia Calculator, was stolen from his native Africa at the age of four-teen and sold to a planter. When he was about sev-enty years old, two gen-tlemen, natives of Penn-sylvania, viz., William Hartshorne and Samuel Coates, men of probity and respectable charac-ters, having heard, in travelling through the neighbourhood in which the slave lived, of his ex-traordinary powers in arithmetic, sent for him and had their curiosity sufficiently gratified by the answers which he gave to the following questions:
First, Upon being asked how many seconds there were in a year and a half, he answered in about two minutes, 47 304 000. Second: On being asked how many seconds a man has lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old, he answered in a minute and a half 2 210 500 800. One of the gentlemen who employed himself with his pen in making these calculations told him he was wrong, and the sum was not so great as he had said – upon which the old man hastily replied: stop, master, you forget the leap year. On adding the amount of the seconds of the leap years the amount of the whole in both their sums agreed exactly.
Another question was asked and satisfactorily answered. Before two other gentlemen he gave the amount of nine fig-ures multiplied by nine. … In 1790 he died at the age of 80 years, having never learned to read or write, in spite of his ex-traordinary power of cal-culation.
Present day thinking is that Fuller learnt to cal-culate in Africa before he was brought to the United States as a slave. Support-ing evidence for this comes from a passage written by Thomas Clark-son in 1788 describing the purchase of African slaves:-
It is astonishing with what facility the African brokers reckon up the exchange of European goods for slaves. One of these brokers has ten slaves to sell, and for each of these he demands ten different articles. He re-duces them immediately by the head to bars, cop-pers, ounces… and imme-diately strikes the bal-ance. The European, on the other hand, takes his pen, and with great delib-eration, and with all the advantage of arithmetic and letters, begin to esti-mate also. He is so unfor-tunate, as to make a mis-take: but he no sooner errs, than he is detected by this man of inferior capacity, whom he can neither deceive in the name or quality of his goods, nor in the balance of his account.
Despite Fuller’s calculat-ing abilities he was never taught to read or write and again this is evidence that he did not learn to calculate while in the United States. When someone who had wit-nessed his calculating abilities remarked that it was a pity he had not been educated, Fuller replied: “It is best I got no learning; for many learned men be great fools”.
Article by: J J O’Connor and E F Robertson

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