Thomas Fuller: African Slave and Mathematician in the 1700s

Sir Isaac Newton

Here is a quote from the obituary of an African man born somewhere between modern-day Liberia and Benin in 1710, and enslaved and shipped to become a slave in America: “Thus died Negro Tom, this self-taught arithmetician, this untutored Scholar! — Had his opportunities of improvement been equal to those of thousands of his fellow-men, neither the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Science at Paris, nor even Newton himself, need have been ashamed to acknowledge him a Brother in Science” [Columbian Centenial, December 29, 1790, No. 707, p.123, col.32, Boston, Massachusetts]. So who was this Negro Tom, a slave who was given an obituary in an American journal in the 1700s?

ArithmeticsThomas Fuller, also known as Negro Tom or the “Virginia Calculator”, can be called today a mental calculator or simply a human calculator. In today’s world when most people run to their phones or calculators to find answers, He solved problems faster than over 99% of men of his time, and in his head!

When Thomas Fuller was 70 years old, a Philadelphia Quaker and businessman, William Hartshorne, and three fellow Quakers traveled from Philadelphia to meet the slave known for his arithmetic feats. One of the visitors took notes and made calculations on paper, and the others fired questions at the gray-haired old slave.

First question: How many seconds are there in a year and a half? In about two minutes came Tom Fuller’s reply — 47,304,000.

Next question: How many seconds has a man lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old? Fuller’s answer — 2,210,500,800 — came in a minute and a half. “Objection,” called the recorder, who was busily multiplying on paper. He challenged Fuller’s answer as being too large. But Fuller retorted promptly” ” ‘top, massa, you forget de leap years.” By adding the seconds of the leap years, the recorder finally acknowledged the correctness of Fuller’s result.


The final question was proposed to Fuller: Suppose a farmer has 6 sows and each sow has 6 female pigs the first year, and they all increase in the same proportion each year. At the end of the 8th year, how many sows will the farmer have? The question was stated in such a way that Fuller misinterpreted it. As soon as the statement was clarified, his lightning mind responded: 34,588,806. (Fuller misinterpreted the question because the term “proportion” was ambiguous.)

These questions were asked at a time when Thomas Fuller was 70 years old; just imagine how fast he must have been when he was younger? It is such a pain that such a great mind was imprisoned in slavery!

Yoruba man ca 1800s

His capacities were not a rarity in Africa. It is now known that Thomas Fuller must have already developed his calculation abilities in Africa. John Bardot’s 1732 account of people in Fida on the coast of Benin: “The Fidasians are so expert in keeping accounts, that they easily reckon as exact, and as quick by memory, as we can do with pen and ink, though the sum amount to never so many thousands: which very much facilities the trade the Europeans have with them.”

To learn more about Thomas Fuller, please check out the original article in the American Museum, Vol.V, 62, Phila., 1799., and the work of the Mathematicians of the African diaspora. Also check out this article in The Christian Science Monitor by Jane H. Pejsa, “A Wizard in any age.” I think the title should have been “a wizard in any age, and under any circumstances” because without slavery Tom Fuller would have been a genius and his name would have been on our lips the same way Newton’s has been for the past 300 years!

The Quest for a Fiancée

African princess
African princess

One day, two young men went looking for their future wife. They went towards the village and found a young girl. They were well received by her family who killed a chicken and offered it to them in a good meal.

While eating, one of them, thinking himself more clever, while the other was distracted, put his chicken bones in the other’s plate.

pouleFor desert, they were given peanuts (jinguba), the young man who thought himself more clever, did it again. After eating his peanuts, he would throw the peelings under the legs of his friend when he was distracted. Once the meal finished, the father of the young girl said:

My daughter will marry the one who ate and left the chicken bones and peanuts peelings. I do not want for in-law the one who has swallowed everything.

Thus, the young girl was given to the one who had been trapped by his friend.

Morale of the tale: Caution, do not try to trap your neighbor, for it could turn against you!

Sera de Leba in Huíla province, Angola (source:

This is an Olunyaneka tale from Lubango in the Huíla province of Angola. The original in Portuguese can be found on CONTAFRICA. The English translation is by Dr. Y.,

Proverbe sur l’experience acquise avec l’âge/ Proverb on Experience acquired through Age


Pluie / Rain

Ce qui a été mouillé par la pluie, ne saurait plus l’être par la brume (proverb Ovimbundu – Angola). – Le vieillard peut faire seul ce dont le jeune est incapable.



Brume- fog
Brume / Fog

What has been wet by the rain, can no longer be made wet by the fog (Ovimbundu proverb – Angola). – The old man can do alone what the young one cannot.

Celebrating 1 Million Views on the African Heritage Blog!!!

20170920_1Million viewsI would like to thank all my readers, and all the subscribers who have seen us through this journey. I never thought I would get to see the African Heritage blog reach the 1 Million views! Thank you to all of you for your constant support, and I promise to always bring you good content, and stories. This is truly a celebration to you, and to your readership! To celebrate, I am living you here with a gift available on Amazon!

A king, a beautiful princess, and a pot of hot chili sauce… the combination is bound to make you laugh. Enjoy this book, an African Children’s book, for young and young at heart! It is on kindle e-book.

The Hare, The Princess, and the Hot Chili Sauce

Celebrating Angola’s National Heroes Day 2017: ‘Western Civilization’ by Agostinho Neto

Agostinho Neto
Agostinho Neto

17 September marks National Heroes’ Day in Angola, in memory of its first president Agostinho Neto‘s whose birthday was on that day in Kaxicane. To join in the celebration, I publish here one of his poems, ‘Western Civilization‘. Sad how these words still ring true to factory workers, plantation workers, miners, sweatshop workers, etc, around the world to this day. Enjoy ‘Civilização Ocidental‘ by Agostinho Neto!




Civilização ocidental

Latas pregadas em paus
fixados na terra
fazem a casa

Os farrapos completam
a paisagem íntima

O sol atravessando as frestas
acorda o seu habitante

Depois as doze horas de trabalho

Britar pedra
acarretar pedra
britar pedra
acarretar pedra
ao sol
à chuva
britar pedra
acarretar pedra

A velhice vem cedo
Uma esteira nas noites escuras

basta para ele morrer
e de fome.


Western Civilization

Sheets of tin nailed to posts
driven in the ground
make up the house.

Some rags complete the intimate landscape.

The sun slanting through cracks
welcomes the owner

after twelve hours of slave

breaking rock
shifting rock
breaking rock
shifting rock
fair weather
wet weather
breaking rock
shifting rock

Old age comes early
a mat on dark nights

is enough when he dies
of hunger.


FCFA: France’s Colonial Tax on Africa


As the battle to end the FCFA, the Slave Currency, intensifies, I have decided to share with you this video about it. It tells it all, the mathematics of it in a short time. This has to stop. We, Africans, deserve to be independent, and independence starts with the ability to define how to use our money.

To summarize, the FCFA is the colonial tax paid by African countries to France since their independence. As Mawuna R. Koutonin says it, “African leaders who refuse are killed or victim of a coup. Those who obey are supported and rewarded by France with lavish lifestyle while their people endure extreme poverty, and desperation. It’s such an evil system even denounced by the European Union, but France is not ready to move from that colonial system which puts about 500 billions dollars from Africa to its treasury year in year out.” No wonder the French people are always on strike, requesting shorter times of work (32 h vs 35 h vs 37h per week): because Africans are slaving for them, and every year they get 500 billion dollars without even having raised a finger!

Amilcar Cabral and Culture as an Element of Resistance

Amilcar Cabral on a stamp with the flag of Guinea Bissau
Amilcar Cabral on a stamp with the flag of Guinea Bissau

A people who free themselves from foreign domination will be free culturally only if, without complexes and without underestimating the importance of positive accretions from the oppressor and other cultures, they return to the upward paths of their own culture, which is nourished by the living reality of its environment, and which negates both harmful influences and any kind of subjection to foreign culture. Thus, it may be seen that if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture.

The value of culture as an element of resistance to foreign domination lies in the fact that culture is the vigorous manifestation on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical and historical reality of the society that is dominated or to be dominated. Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people’s history and a determinant of history, by the positive or negative influence which it exerts on the evolution of relationships between man and his environment, among men or groups of men within a society, as well as among different societies.

Amilcar Cabral,

African Joke – 15 millions

Bag of money

A man sold his land for 15 millions. Since it was the weekend, he did not deposit the money at the bank. Not trusting his wife and kids, he decided to go to church with his 15 millions in his bag.

He stood up to go take the communion and when he returned to his seat to pray, his bag had disappeared in the midst of church.

All of a sudden he spits the communion and start screaming …

Angry face1

Thieves!! Murderers!! My mother is a witch!! You will all die!! My Fetish will kill you all!! Sakpata voodoo on you, heviesso voodoo on you, you will never see tomorrow !!! You will all go to hell, including your priest !!! Kanga bah.

Everyone is stupefied! Suddenly a little boy calls him, saying:

Papa, you are not at the right seat. Your bag is just here, two rows behind.

The original in French is found on . Translated to English by Dr. Y.