Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Africa’s Shifting Regions by Vincent Szilagyi

Antique maps of Africa are an excellent choice for both novice and expert map collectors. Maps of Africa show wonderful (albeit often inaccurate) detail. The relatively late exploration of the continent by Europeans and the ever-changing colonial boundaries mean that maps only a few years apart can show vastly different pictures of the continent. Maps of Africa are also less in demand than some other areas of the world, allowing people to acquire great pieces of history and art at very reasonable prices. One of the interesting things about maps of Africa is the relatively fluid use of terms describing regions and states. A term used for one area on a 1770s map can be found referring to a wholly different region thousands of miles away on a 1780s map and so on up until quite recently. There are quite a few of these terms, many of which appear briefly and then disappear or were only used by one cartographer. However, there are four regional terms that had significant staying power through the years and through the coming and going of different cartographic minds. These terms defined Africa for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, and are still found on maps today. Many should be familiar even to those without much knowledge of African history; they are Guinea, Congo, Ethiopia and Libya.

Guinea (or Guinee, Guiney)

Map of Guinea by Herman Moll, 1727

Map of Upper and Lower Guinea by Andriveau-Goujon 1838 (Courtesy of

Guinea is a name still found on African maps today. In addition to the Republic of Guinea, the countries of Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea share the name of this ancient region. (The island of New Guinea in Oceania is also named after this region, as is Papua New Guinea, the country on its eastern half.) In general, Guinea historically referred to the West African region bordering the Gulf of Guinea. However, some maps show Guinea extending along the entire Atlantic African coast, while others have a small confined Guinea near what is now Ghana and the Ivory Coast. There wasn’t a great deal of consistency in the placement of Guinea beyond this, and it was mostly used as a catchall for West Africa. Later, Guinea was divided into Lower Guinea in the North and Upper Guinea in the South. As the colonial race went on, Guinea became less and less used as other names took precedence. As such, by the end of the 19th century, Guinea disappeared as a region and was replaced by terms like West Africa or the names of the various British and French colonies in the region.

Kongo (or Kongo)

1848 manuscript map by Marianne Hunt showing the Congo (Courtesy of

The Congo is another old name, stemming from the Kingdom of the Kongo that interacted with the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries. Starting with the Portuguese, European maps began to place the label “Congo” in a variety of places. Simply put, the Congo referred to anywhere within the Congo River drainage basin. While this explanation seems fairly straightforward, for most of Africa’s history mapmakers had no idea where the Congo River actually went. Many geographers thought it was connected to the Nile or the Niger, while others thought it connected to the Zambezi. This confusion resulted in the “Congo” being anywhere in a vast region that covered the entirety of Central Africa from the Sahara to the Zambezi and from the Atlantic to an ill-defined border in the East. Over time, as the region was mapped, the Congo began to refer specifically to the colonial holdings of King Leopold II, which occupied the modern territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire. In addition to the DRC, the Republic of the Congo is also named after this region and river.

Libya (or Libye)

Reconstruction of the World as described by Herodotus

Libya is a region inherited from Roman and Greek geographers. To most geographers, Libya was a shorthand for the entirety of desert North Africa. While certain regions like Egypt and Mauritania had their own names, they were considered part of the greater Libya region. In fact, on several maps the term Libya is used as a synonym for Africa as a whole. This was the standard for centuries, until the Age of Exploration when Portuguese and Spanish sailors determined that Africa was much, much larger than previously thought. As this European penetration of Africa moved the frontiers of geographic knowledge further and further from the coast, Libya expanded inland. Libya became the lands between the Mediterranean and Guinea. The entire Sahara was often called Libya, among other names. As the centuries progressed, Libya eventually took on a second meaning, the land of light-skinned Africans. Libya was the land of the non-black Africans: the Arabs, Copts and Berbers. Another familiar term was used for the parts of Africa inhabited by black-skinned peoples.


Ethiopia was the land of black-skinned Africans. The term comes from the Ancient Greek term Aethiopia (Burnt-Faces) which was first mentioned by Homer in the Iliad. Later Aethiopia was described by Herodotus as the farthest region of "Libya" (i.e. Africa): "Where the south declines towards the setting sun lies the country called Aethiopia, the last inhabited land in that direction. There gold is obtained in great plenty, huge elephants abound, with wild trees of all sorts, and ebony; and the men are taller, handsomer, and longer lived than anywhere else." As time went on and more of Africa became mapped, Ethiopia moved frequently. At times, Ethiopia was all of Africa below the Sahara. At other times, Ethiopia became more closely related to the modern day Ethiopian Highlands. This area was also called Abyssinia. It is not unusual to see Ethiopia and Abyssinia on the same map, often in very different places.

When looking at maps of Africa, some or all of these our terms will almost always be present. Even though they have been used for centuries and into the present day, just because a term is familiar, does not mean you will know where to find it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Battle of New Orleans

The War of 1812 officially ended on December 24, 1814, when the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent. However, the physical war had one more spasm of violence for word of the treaty did not reach North America until after one of the conflict’s biggest battles. In early 1814, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to Elba, allowing the British to focus more on their war in North America. One of their major thrusts was to be campaign to capture New Orleans, thus gaining control of the Mississippi River.

In December, 1814, a large naval and military force under Admiral Alexander Cochrane and General Edward Pakenham arrived in the Gulf of Mexico and proceeded to establish a base just south of New Orleans. On January 8, 1815, the British marched against New Orleans, but were repelled by Andrew Jackson and his motley force consisting of militiamen, slaves, Indians and pirates. This great victory, though it did not affect the final outcome of the war, did help build American morale and it catapulted Jackson to a fame which eventually led him to the White House.

The victory caused a sensation around the country, so it is not surprising that an American publisher from Philadelphia, Joseph Yeager, would issue a colorful print of the battle to take advantage of the national enthusiasm over this victory. The print was drawn by William Edward West and engraved by Yeager himself. It was issued within a short period of time after the battle, when the public was eager to get its hands of any graphic image of the famous encounter.

The print shows the battle from behind the British lines in order to highlight the death of General Pakenham, who is shown lying mortally wounded and surrounded by his staff. Among these was General Sir John Lambert who is showing crying into his handkerchief. The battle ranges in the background, with the British shown attacking the American ramparts, from which can be seen two proud American flags.

It is interesting that either because the plate was not selling that well or he felt it needed a bit more “oomph,” Yeager reworked the plate shortly after it was first issued to add extra figures, mostly British casualties.

Of even more interest is the fact that for some reason Yeager again reworked the print, this time changing the figure of Lambert so that he is no longer weeping into a handkerchief, but is instead vaguely pointing to his left. Why this was done is not clear, but it is an interesting example of the “recycling” of prints.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Osage in a Strange Land

This portrait of an Osage woman named Mohongo was issued in the McKenney & Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1837-44). It shows her holding her two year old daughter, who is playing with a Presidential medal with the profile of Andrew Jackson. One of 117 portraits of Native Americans included in this important volume, it portrays an individual whose adventures leading up to her portrait being painted are among the most interesting of any of the Indians included in the volume.

Beginning with Columbus and continuing thereafter on a regular basis, Native Americans were shipped off to Europe, often unwillingly, as objects of curiosity. Europeans, even into modern times, have been fascinated by the colorful and out-of-the-ordinary cultures and appearance of American Indians, and there have always been those who took advantage of this by bringing these “exotics” across the Atlantic for their own purposes. The Indians have been displayed, examined, interviewed, put on stage and otherwise used by others for hundreds of years.

The Osage were a tribe which had originated along the Ohio River, but had moved westward to the Great Plains by the mid-17th century. They became the dominant power in the region by the 18th century and soon developed trade and diplomatic contacts with the French, who were most impressed by their appearance, fierceness and dignity.

In 1723, Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont established Fort Orleans on the Missouri River, the first European post on that river. In 1725 he took a group of their chiefs, including one Osage, to Paris to show them the power and glory of France. The “sauvages” proved a great novelty and generated huge interest throughout France. They were feted, dined, went to the opera, and were given gold-trimmed coats and cock hats and other gaudies. Their visit was a popular success and the Indians seemed equally impressed, stories of their trip passing down over the years after their return.

The Osage maintained their relations with the French in subsequent years, doing extensive trade with René Auguste Chouteau of St. Louis. In the 1820s, the Osage became acquainted with a friend of Chouteau’s, David Delaunay. This led, in 1827, to the Osage being taken to France by Delaunay for an eventful and not so successful, two year visit. About this trip there is a fair bit of graphic illustration and documentary information, but there is much about the Osage’s visit to Europe in 1827 which remains unclear.

The main problem is that there are two conflicting sources of information. One consists of a number of pamphlets which were published in France during the Osage’s visit. The original source of the story told in these pamphlets was likely Delaunay himself and they present a generally positive report. The other source is the biography of Mohongo, one of the Osage travelers, that appeared in the McKenney & Hall History of the Indian Tribes of North America. That account takes a much dimmer view on the whole episode.

According to the French pamphlet accounts, the Osage instigated the idea of visiting France on their own, inspired by the stories they heard of the earlier visit of 1725. According to the pamphlets, initially 25 Osage planned to make the trip and spent four years raising money for it. Eventually the number dropped to 12 and then a boat full of furs, which they were planning to sell in St. Louis, overturned and they lost everything. They supposedly then met David Delaunay in St. Louis and he agreed to take a small party with him to France.

This is not the story as told by McKenney & Hall. There it was Delaunay’s idea to take the Osage to France in order to profit by exhibiting them in various venues; “decoyed from the boarders of Missouri, by an adventurer, whose intention was to exhibit them in Europe for the purpose of gain.” Supposedly they were impressed with Delaunay’s wearing an American uniform and they were further persuaded by Paul Loise, a Frenchmen who had been appointed by Meriwether Lewis in 1808 as Osage interpreter.

Whatever the case, in 1827, a small party set out for France from St. Louis. It included Delaunay, Loise, M. Tesson, another Frenchmen, and six Osage. These consisted of Little Chief, Washingsabba (or Black Spirit), Marcharthitahtoongah (or Big Soldier), Minckchatahooh, and two women. These Mohongo, also known as Sacred Sun, and Gretomih, or Hawk Women. The status of these women is unclear, for Mohongo is said to be the wife of Little Chief or possibly Black Spirit, and Hawk Woman is said to be Little Hawk’s wife or cousin.

This group arrived in France on July 27, 1827. The handsome and exotic Osage brought the romantic American West to life in France and thousands swarmed the docks to see them. They attended the theater in Havre, where they were the object of great curiosity, and the throng was so intrusive that during the intermission they left and returned to their hotel. They later moved on to Rouen, where they attended an opera performance, which seemed to go better than their first visit to a theater. It was at the Rouen opera that an artist drew their picture, an image which subsequently appeared in prints published in France and Germany, feeding the immense public fascination with the wild Indians.

The Osage continued on to Paris and continued to be a huge hit. Delaunay placed advertisements of their appearances at the theater or other events and attendance was tremendous. Supposedly the only competing attraction in Paris at the time was the arrival of a giraffe at the Jardin du Roi. Delauney organized a Fête Extraordinaire, again charging a fee, where there was a balloon assent (in which Little Chief went up) and Indian dances by the Osage. More prints were made, and vendors sold Indian dolls, work bags with pictures of the Osage embroidered on them, bronze Osage paperweights, and even Indian figures made of spiced bread. The high point of their trip—at least from the French viewpoint—was an audience with King Charles X at St. Cloud on August 21st.

Eventually, though, interest faded and soon the unhappy Osage were wandering around Europe as Delaunay tried to revive the inflow of receipts and perhaps also to avoid creditor. In the winter of 1828-29, Delaunay was jailed for debt; at that time either in jail or just on the lam, Delaunay disappeared from their lives. In January 1829, a newspaper in January reported that “The Osage abandoned at at Fribourg, Breslau, by their conductor have been brought here [Munich] by a friend of humanity; they find themselves in the greatest destitution, suffering from hunger...”

To add to their travails, Mohongo had given birth to one or two daughters about six months after arriving in France. If she had twins, it seems that she gave up one of the children for adoption to a wealthy Belgian woman, for by the winter of 1829, she had only one daughter with her.

In financial straits and left in a strange land, the Osage eventually made it back to France, where they did find help in their desire to return to their American home. They had split into two groups, one of which connected with Bishop William DuBourg, who had got to know the Osage when he resided in St. Louis from 1818 to 1823. The bishop was able to get this group back to the United States via Bordeaux.

The other group received help by money being raised for their passage by a subscription supported by none-other than the Marquis de Lafayette, who supposedly gave them medals with his likeness on them. This group sailed back from Havre to Norfolk in late 1829. It was then that Thomas McKenney heard of the return of the Osage and brought them to Washington before sending them back to St. Louis; it was during this visit that Mohongo’s portrait was painted by Charles Bird King.

Not all the Osage made it back to America, for either two or three died of small pox on the trip back. The survivors did return to their tribal lands, where the History of the Indian Tribes of North America reports that “although they suffered much from the treachery of one of our race…they were indebted to the white man for many acts of kindness and sympathy during their novel and adventurous journey.” (Vol. I, p. 22)

In 1833, Mohongo and Little Chief were seen in 1833 on the Neosho River, and also that year Little Chief was at the treaty conference at Fort Gibson. Big Soldier lived until 1844 and he would proudly show off his Lafayette medal. French tourist Victor Tixier met him in 1840, saying that he was a minor chief of great pomposity, but Big Soldier was befriended by John Mix Stanley, who painted his picture in 1843, the year before he died.