Thomas Fuller: The Math Genius Who Was Sold Into Slavery

Thomas Fuller was an enslaved African math genius, he was called the ‘Virginia Calculator’ thanks to his special gift. He was born in Africa between present-day Liberia and the Kingdom of Dahomey, now called Benin, situated somewhere around the ‘Slave Coast’ of Western Africa.

During his formative age, Thomas Fuller was shipped off from his birth country during the scramble for slaves and was sold and sent off to Colonial America in 1724, at age 14.

Despite not having the ability to read or write, the ‘Virginia Calculator’ was especially gifted with the power to relinquish accurate and speedy calculation, and for several years, he impressed his slave masters.

Fuller’s unique ability enabled him to resolve complex math problems in his head without the aid of a calculator which wasn’t even in existence back then.

An anti-slavery campaigner noticed his special talent and made every effort to sell the narrative that Blacks weren’t inferior to Whites.

Fuller’s talent was much needed, especially at a time when Blacks all over the country and the world were considered inferior to Whites and seen as a tool for slavery.

His skills came from experimental applications around the farm, like counting the hairs on a cow’s tail.

When Fuller was 70 years old, he met a businessman who was in association with other associates from Pennsylvania who were keenly interested in knowing more about him and how his brain functioned.

During the conversation with these associates, Fuller was quizzed as follows:

“What percentage seconds were in a complete year and a half?

“What percentage of seconds did a person who of 70 years have?

His answers were outstanding as he gave them the figures in about two minutes of being asked these questions.

One of the men that was present at the venue raised an objection, saying his own calculations were much smaller, to which Fuller quickly responded, “Stop, Massa, you forget the leap year.”

After putting into consideration the leap year in their calculations, they agreed with Fuller.

They later submitted Fuller’s computational abilities to the abolitionist to be freed and let go.

Thomas Fuller, the mathematics genius, unfortunately died on the Cox farm near Alexandria, Virginia in 1790. He was 80.

Salaudeen Olayinka

A lover of history

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