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Thomas Fuller (1710–1790), also known as Negro Tom and the Virginia Calculator, was an enslaved African renowned for his mathematical abilities.


Born in Africa somewhere between present-day Liberia and Benin, Fuller was enslaved and shipped to America in 1724 at the age of 14, eventually becoming the legal property of Mrs. Elizabeth Cox of Alexandria, Virginia. Stories of his abilities abounded through the Eastern seaboard. His skill was even used as proof that enslaved Blacks were equal to whites in intelligence, which fueled some pro-abolitionist discussion.
Documentation of abilities

When Fuller was about seventy years old, William Hartshorne and Samuel Coates of Pennsylvania were in Alexandria and, having heard of Fuller's powers, sent for him. They asked him two questions which satisfied their curiosity.

First, when they asked him how many seconds there were in a year and a half, he answered in about two minutes, 47,304,000. Second, when they 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 men was working out the problems on paper, and informed Fuller that he was wrong, because the answer was much smaller. Fuller hastily replied, "'top, massa, you forget de leap year." When the leap year was added in, the sums matched.[1]

^ American Museum, Vol.V, 62, Phila., 1799

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External links

O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Thomas Fuller", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.

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