CATONSVILLE, Md. (WJZ) – Cicadas long have fascinated Marylanders for hundreds of years.

In fact, one of the earliest known studies of the insects happened right here in Catonsville back in the 18th century.

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“Benjamin Banneker started studying the cicada, which a lot of people called the locust, way back in 1749 at age 17,” said Janet Barber, a research scientist and writer.

Barber and her husband, Asamoah Nkwanta, have been studying Banneker’s journal, where he recorded his observations of cicadas over 51 years on his Baltimore County farm that’s now a historical park and museum.

“He thought maybe these insects might be a little bit dangerous. He learned really fast that they were not,” Barber said.

The famous African-American scientist is best known for surveying the land that became Washington D.C., but his work on cicadas largely has been overlooked until the couple started studying his journal at the Maryland Center for History and Culture.

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“Hardly anyone knew about Benjamin Banneker being part of the study for the cicadas. He was not recognized. He was not in the storybooks,” Barber said.

Banneker watched the insects over four cycles throughout his life, and may have been one of the first to observe their short appearance every few years.

“It’s looking like he is really, really among the early Americans to record and document the 17-year cycle,” said Nkwanta, who is also chairman and professor of mathematics at Morgan State University.

The couple are hoping with the help of their research that Banneker’s work on cicadas will become better known.

“That was the purpose of our research, is to bring more notoriety and recognition for him for that contribution,” Nkwanta said.

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And if you want to learn more about Banneker’s work, you can come to the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Stetson Miller