This very rare American composition features 9 maps, 2 views, and 1 topographical cross-section, and was created by the eccentric businessman, inventor and cartographer George May Powell, who was a prime supporter of the missionary activities of Bishop William Taylor, who founded many stations in Africa. The map was printed by Taylor’s newspaper, The African News, on the press of T.B. Welch & Son, in what was the small town of Vineland, Cumberland County, New Jersey, located about 40 miles south of Philadelphia.
In making the map, Powell, who had experience as a surveyor in the Holy Land, used many fine authoritative sources, and relied upon expert external advice, as a faintly printed note in the bottom left margin of the main map reads, ‘The aid of Prof. Geo. M. Sayre, Cartographer of E.H. Butler & Co.’s Geog. Establishment, is cordially acknowledged.’
The main map, The African News Map of Central Africa published by The African News, Vineland, N.J., which takes up the upper 60 percent of the sheet, embraces the midriff of Africa, from 16° South up to 6° North, and is centered upon the Conge Free State, which shaded in green, was a corporate entity personally owned the Belgian King Leopold II. The map shows that while the geography of Africa was by then overall reasonably well understood, there were still many blank areas, with the conjectural routes of unexplored rivers represented by dashed lines. While the boundaries between the colonial possessions of the various European powers, as agreed at the Berlin Conference (1884-5), are shown to be reasonably well-defined near the coasts, in the interior, these frontiers are improvised, for instance, the Congo Free State’s limits have an artificially ‘boxy appearance’, ignorant geography that would determine its course. The territories of the various indigenous nations are noted, as are the locations of numerous European settlements and outposts.
The main purpose of the map is to depict the locations of American and British Protestant missions in the Conge Free State and neighboring Portuguese Angola. While the Conge Free State was run on slavery and terror for the advantage of Leopold II and his associates, creating an environment later made famous by Joseph Conrad’s novella The Heart of Darkness (1899), it was nevertheless a major focus of missionary activities.
The Free State was dominated by the Congo River, the route into the heart of Africa, and its immense natural resource wealth. However, while navigable for about 160 km from the sea, passage further upstream is barred by a succession of astoundingly violent rapids and cataracts.
In the context of the ‘Scramble for Africa’, following the legendary Welsh-American explorer and tireless self-promoter Henry Morton Stanley’s epic expedition of 1876-7, during which he became the first Westerner to explore the upper reaches the Congo, proving that from ‘Stanley Pool’ (Pool Malebo, near modern Kinshasa-Brazzaville), the river was navigable for steamboats 1,600 kms further into the interior. This opened the possibility of the creation of a vast inland empire of limitless natural resources wealth. It also availed Christian missionaries with the possibility of ‘saving’ millions of souls in the heart of Africa, with the first of many missions established in the Congo in 1878.
King Leopold II of Belgium seized upon the economic-political opportunity, and in 1881 hired Stanley to be his agent with the mandate of establishing the Congo Basin as an empire owned by his person, as opposed to the Belgian state (the kingdom’s parliamentary government rejected any involvement in the scheme). With remarkable skill and speed, over the next four years Stanley founded many trading posts along and near the Congo River, including Léopoldville (Kinshasa), in 1881, ideally located at the base of the Congo’s vast inland navigation. The French, led by Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (the founder of Brazzaville), were also setting up outposts in the right bank of the Congo.
The present map appeared just over a decade after the first Christian missions had been established in the Congo, and by this time several different societies had founded outposts, some deep in the interior.
Returning to the main map, the ‘Explanation’, in the lower right corner, identifies the symbols used to denote the Boundaries of the Congo Free Trade Area – Bold Black Dashed Lines (an open commerce zone as agreed by the European powers); The Proposed Railway from Matadi to Stanley Pool – Bold Black Tracked Lines (so avoiding the lethal rapids of the lower Congo); as well as the locations of the Stations of Bishop Taylor’s Mission – Bold Black Circles; the Stations of American Baptist Missionary Union– Bold (English) – Bold Black Hollow Squares; and Stations of the English Auxiliary Congo Balolo Missionary Society – Bold Black Stars (also known as the Congo-Balolo Mission (CBM), a British Baptist missionary society, founded in 1888, with the boundaries of the Balolo lands marked on the map).
The map also features interesting notes and details such as the ‘Supposed general line of Stanley’s march to relieve Emir Bey’ (Henry Morton Stanley’ s 1886 route to recuse Emin Pasha, the besieged Governor of Equatoria, Sudan); and at Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika, it is marked ‘Here Stanley found Livingston, November 10, 1871’ (scene of Stanley’s supposed “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” greeting). The map aslo featured ‘Powell’s ‘Radial Key’, with concentric circles of distances from Léopoldville.
To the lower right of the main map is the African News Map of Liberia based on Anderson’s drawings corrected by Heli Chatelain. Liberia was a country founded in 1822 by the American Colonization Society in order to provide a home for freed American slaves, in the grandest example of the ‘return to Africa’ movement. Interestingly, the map records the various land divisions acquired by Liberia over the years, with their boundaries and dates, as well as the 1883 boundary settlement between Liberia and British colony of Sierra Leone. The names of towns which are underlined are home to stations of Bishop Taylor’s Mission.
To the left of the Liberia map are contextualizing maps, including a general map, Africa (showing the comparative size of the continent versus that of Pennsylvania – something that Americans could relate to); as well as a small inset, Part of Southern Africa and the Delta of the Nile. Immediately below is a topographical cross-section cutting across Africa from Pt. Lopez (Gabon) to Port Durnford (Burgabo, Kenya), running through Mt. Kilimanjaro.
On the bottom register is a view of The Pyramids, from the East Bank of the Nile; as well as a map of Bishop Taylor’s Missions on the Lower Congo (with their locations underlined);
an untitled map showing the Shipping Routes from the United States and Europe to Africa; and a map of part of Angola, Loanda, Coanza River, etc. From a Drawing by H.W. Mead of Bishop Taylor’s Mission (with the names of Taylor’s missions printed in capitals).
On the covers of the work are a view of missionaries and indigenous people by some rapids, while on the verso is a map of the Léopoldville (Kinshasa)-Brazzaville area, A Sketch of Stanley Pool by Compass.
George May Powell and Bishop William Taylor: American Missionary Zeal Reaches the Heart of Africa
George May Powell (1835 – 1905) was a fascinating, energetic figure, who combined capitalism and scientific curiosity with religious zeal. A native of Upstate New York, he became a statistician in the U.S. Treasury Department in the late 1850s, whereupon he was known for his unusual intellect and original thinking. A great support of Abraham Lincoln, he was active in Republican politics, and his tax plan was adopted for the party’s winning plank during the 1864 election.
During the U.S. Civil War, Powell was a prolific inventor, improving the design of army cots, prosthetic limbs, and as well as creating many fire-resistant materials. He successfully commercialized his innovations, founding the George May Powell Company, whereupon he made a vast fortune which he used to promote his true passion – Evangelical Christianity.
In 1868, he founded the Evangelical Press Association, and over the coming years led missions to North Africa and the Holy Land. He notably headed the ‘Oriental Topographical Corps’ to terrestrially and archaeologically survey Palestine to create accurate school maps of Biblical history.
Powell was one of the greatest supporters of Bishop Taylor’s missionary activities, and the present map celebrates the link between these two American missionary giants.
Bishop William Taylor (1821 – 1902) was a Methodist missionary bishop, who founded numerous missions in Africa. A native of Virginia, he first became active upon joining the Baltimore Annual Conference in 1843. In 1849, he traveled to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, where he organized the first Methodist church in the city, remaining there for some years.
From 1856 to 1883, Taylor travelled the world spreading the evangelical word, visiting Australia and South Africa (1863-6); England, the West Indies, British Guiana, and Ceylon (1866-70); India (1870-5); South America (1875-84); and Liberia, Angola, Congo, and Mozambique (1885-96). As the present map shows, he established numerous missions in Angola, Liberia and the Congo. In 1884, he was elected as the Methodist Episcopal Bishop of Africa, a post he held until his retirement in 1896. Stanley recalls that he was known to Africans as ‘The Flaming Torch’, carrying the light of the faith into heart of the continent.
A Note on Rarity
The map is very rare. It was seemingly produced in only a small print run, and while being of quite a fragile nature, it would have had a low survival rate.
We can trace only 4 institutional examples, held by the Harvard University Library; Columbia University Library; New York Public Library; and the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Moreover, we are aware of only a single other example as having appeared on the market.
References: Harvard University Library: G8630 1889. P6; Columbia University Library: G8630 1889. P6; New York Public Library: Map Div. (Africa, Central. 1889) (African news map of Central Africa); Wisconsin Historical Society: D GX70 1889 A; OCLC: 40528410; Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, vol 21 (1889), p. lvi; Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin (1890), p. 611.