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Meet Thomas Fuller African slave whose mathematical ability shocked the world

Meet Thomas Fuller African slave whose mathematical ability shocked the world

The age-long imperialist notion that Africans were intellectually lower than their European counterparts, was proven wrong by the life of Thomas Fuller, an African slave with an incredible potential for mathematical calculation. Fuller's ability to offer prompt and accurate solutions to mathematical problems shocked white slave-masters, forcing them to reconsider their views on an average black man's worth.

History concurs to the claim that the name Thomas Fuller (1710 – 1782), an African who was sold to America in 1724, is synonymous with mathematical genius.

Popularly nicknamed 'Negro Tom', and described by his contemporaries as a very black man, Fuller's birth place seems to have been between what we now know as Liberia and Benin.

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After being sold off as a slave from Africa at age 14 to a farmer in the United States (US), Negro Tom lived in Virginia, a place linked to why he was later called the Virginia calculator.

No sooner had he arrived this strange land than the fame of his prowess in numeracy began to hit the white world. For instance, when asked how many seconds there were in a year by men of no small eminence and potentials in arithmetic, William Hartshorne and Samuel Coates, Fuller replied in two minutes: 47,304000, leaving his questioners lost in wonder and amazement.

Towards his gray years, Hartshorne said of him: "He was gray-headed, and exhibited several other marks of the weakness of old age. He had worked hard upon a farm during the whole of life but had never been intemperate in the use of spirituous liquors.

"He spoke with great respect of his mistress, and mentioned in a particular manner his obligations to her for refusing to sell him, which she had been tempted to by offers of large sums of money from several persons."

Also, Coates, having remarked in his presence that it was a pity he had not an education equal to his genius, Fuller interjected: "No, Massa, it is best I had no learning, for many learned men be great fools."

Perhaps one of his most outstanding feats was his brilliant reply to the question asked by one interrogator, "How many seconds has a man lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old? " Fuller responded in less than two minutes: 2,210,500,800.

Unsatisfied with the answer, one famous mathematician at the time approached Fuller, claiming that his result was wrong by some figures less. Fuller reminded him: "Stop master, you forget the leap year." Upon including the amount of the seconds of the leap years, the calculation of the whole in both sums matched perfectly.

As Fuller's mettle in calculation continued to rise, anti-slavery campaigners thought it wise to use him in staging several demonstrations that Africans were in no way inferior to Europeans.

Regrettably, he died at age 72, with little or no formal learning in writing and reading. But even if he had no academic certificate bearing his name, the life and times of Thomas Fuller have gone down into the annals of history.

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