BANNEKER, BENJAMIN Born of a free mother and slave father in 1731, Benjamin Banneker ultimately became one of the m prominent and respected blacks in the early history of the United States. Although he only received the equivalent of eighth-grade education, Banneker was exceptionally intelligent. His mathematical aptitude and knowledge of astronomy, for example, enabled him to accurately predict the solar eclipse of 1789. In 1791 he began publishing an annual scientific almanac which in large part was devoted to mathematics and astronomy but which also included useful information concerning medical science and chemistry. Banneker is credited with having invented the first workable clock constructed in the United States.
In addition to his inventiveness, his mathematical genius and his writing ability, Banneker was also a surveyor. In this capacity, he became the first black presidential appointee when President Washington chose him to assist Andrew Ellicott and Pierre-Charles L'Enfant in surveying Washington, D.C. When L'Enfant, the team leader, abruptly resigned in the midst a dispute with government officials, Banneker was able to precisely reproduce the Frenchman's plans and blueprints of the national capital from memory. He died in 1806.