Form and Content

InYour Most Humble Servant, Shirley Graham has produced a biography of Benjamin Banneker, an African American who was born free in Maryland in 1731. The author begins her narrative in 1791, during Banneker’s mature years, when he and Major George Ellicott, under orders from Thomas Jefferson, traveled to Georgetown to design the new national capital of Washington, D.C. The author thereby demonstrates that Banneker was an accomplished scientist and was recognized as such by the highest authorities in the new United States of America. The book is divided into three major parts. A short prologue describes the British origins of Banneker’s grandmother, Molly Walsh, who was accused unjustly of stealing milk and sent as an indentured criminal servant to America to serve for seven years, and Banneker’s own chiefly African origins. An appendix reproduces a letter of Banneker to Jefferson, asking him to view African Americans as human beings and to end slavery, and an epitaph, written by Banneker himself, showing how he wished to be remembered. A concluding note on sources tells the reader that the biography is based on solid primary and secondary sources rather than on legends and hearsay.

Graham notes that Banneker, although born free, was of humble origins; he started his life as a young farmer on his grandmother’s land. Molly Walsh, after seven years, had obtained her freedom and settled on a small plot of land. She bought two African slave...

(The entire section is 505 words.)