Benjamin Banneker & Washington DC

Legend has it that Benjamin Banneker reconstructed Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's Washington DC design from memory after L'Enfant ran off with the plans. Banneker biographer Silvio Bedini argues that the story cannot be true, since Banneker left the project long before L'Enfant did:

[Banneker's departure from the District of Columbia] occurred at some time late in the month of April 1791.... It was not until some ten months after Banneker's departure from the scene that L'Enfant was dismissed, by means of a letter from Jefferson dated February 27, 1792. This conclusively dispels any basis for the legend that after L'Enfant's dismissal and his refusal to make available his plan of the city, Banneker recollected the plan in detail from which Ellicott was able to reconstruct it.

Silvio Bedini, Life of Benjamin Banneker, (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1999) p. 136

Historian Bob Arnebeck, author of Through A Fiery Trial and other Washington DC historical literature, cites more evidence against the story:

While Benjamin Banneker helped Ellicott survey the district line in 1791, the story about Banneker recalling L'Enfant's plan from memory, so that the plan could be engraved after L'Enfant quit, is not true. Andrew Ellicott's letter to the commissioners [shows] that it was his brother Benjamin Ellicott, not Benjamin Banneker, who helped him prepare a map of the city for engravers after L'Enfant refused his use of the original plan.

Source: Bob Arnebeck's homepage (accessed 9/07/2003).

According to Arnebeck, "There is no evidence that Banneker contributed anything to the design of the city."