Benjamin Banneker-Abolitionist, Inventor, and Intellectual by Elizabeth Cohan-Lawson


It appeared as though the plan would have to be scrapped, but Banneker, with his eidetic memory, spent the next two days recreating the entirety of the schematics, saving the entire project. Dubbed “The Man Who Saved Washington”, we owe the layout of our capital solely on Banneker’s memory and dedication to a project that was almost a complete failure.

With his building of the clock and his innovation of the irrigation system he built so early in life, we can see that Banneker was truly intelligent in many fields. Where other abolitionists of the time period could boast of being well-learned, good speakers or writers, Banneker was a man of many talents. He was a man who carefully thought out each detail of his life, whether it regarded the mechanism of a clock or the words within a letter. He once said “Presumption should never make us neglect that which appears easy to us, nor despair makes us lose courage at the sight of difficulties.” A polymath such as Banneker was the perfect proponent for equality and the dissolution of slavery in America, illustrating how in that time period a black man could be gifted, skilled, a gentleman and incredibly patriotic despite the significant adversity presented by Revolutionary America.

Residing in Baltimore, Banneker was considerably lucky for someone during his time-period. Had he tried to publish his almanac down south or was just a little less cautious in the content, he could have sparked major controversy for fighting the generalization of the “Ignorant Negro”. That resistance against the image sparked a lot of hatred up until his death on October 9th, 1806. The last projects Banneker was confirmed to have worked on were a dissertation on bees, the life-cycle of locusts and their plague cycle, and a few letters on the segregation of America, hardly harmful. Yet, the day of his funeral, his entire estate burned down, leaving barely any of his private, unpublished work intact. It is unknown what started the fire, but my personal theory is someone wanted to hurt Banneker, and not being able to harm the man himself, harmed him indirectly through his legacy by stopping the spread of any of his post-mortem works.