Black History:  Special Delivery!!

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Thomas Fuller (1710-1790) was known as the “Virginia Calculator”. Fuller was stolen from his native land and came to America at the age of 14 in 1724. He was considered “illiterate” because he could not read and write in English. However he demonstrated an amazing aptitude for mathematics. He was able to solve extremely complex math problems in his head in very short periods of time. His slave owners, Presley and Elizabeth Cox were both illiterate as well but quickly recognized Fuller’s unusual talent. He became a key asset in the management of their plantation in Virginia.   It is believed that Fuller, acquired his mathematical skills as a boy in West Africa. He claimed that his knowledge came from experimental math functions such as counting the hairs in a cow’s tail or counting grains In a bushel of wheat. Some of the mathematical computations he solved are so complex that they are now done by computers. It is easy to see why his slave owners refused numerous offers to buy Fuller.

Another example of his ability happened in 1780 when he was 70 years old. Several men from Pennsylvania had heard of Fuller’s amazing talents and traveled to Virginia to challenge his skills. Two of the questions they asked him were, “How many seconds were in a year and a half?” and, “How many seconds had a man lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old?” He correctly answered, “47,304,000 and 2,210,500,800 in less than 2 minutes. He received an objection to one of his answers. One of the men felt that the answer was actually smaller. Fuller responded by telling the man, that he had forgotten to include the leap years in his calculation. The man then accepted that Fuller’s answer was correct. Fuller died in Virginia in 1790 at the age of 80. Despite his extraordinary math skills, he had never learned to read or write.

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