Map of Africa (1839) engraved to illustrate Mitchell’s School Atlas: Comprising the Maps, etc., Designed to Illustrate Mitchell’s School and Family Geography, 3rd Edition, 1851
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and the global economy as we know it today was in its infancy.
As the West encountered new lands, peoples, and resources across the globe there arose a desire to spread that new knowledge.
One of the most popular and prolific publishers of maps and atlases in the U.S. at this time was Samuel Augustus Mitchell (1792–1868) of Philadelphia. Mitchell, a former school teacher, came to printing and publishing after his disappointment with the geography materials available to teachers. Published from 1839 to 1886, Mitchell’s School Atlas provided at least 28 maps and seven geographical and statistical tables of information on the world’s known countries.
Drafted and engraved by Mitchell’s long-time collaborator J. H. Young, the Map of Africa measures 9.5 x 11.8 inches and is the 25th map in the atlas. The page shows the entire African continent and surrounding islands as well as southern Europe and western Asia. Included within the continent are the known lands, indigenous areas (with tribal names underscored), rivers and lakes explored by Europeans, major cities, and the routes of a few Western explorers. Also indicated on the map is The Great Desert (Sahara), as well as mythical mountain ranges called the Mountains of Kong and The Mountains of the Moon. Central Africa is left largely blank as it had yet to be revealed to the West at the time of the map’s publication.
Other items of note are the distances (in miles) from the continent to other locations around the globe, sites of European and American settlements, population numbers for cities and islands, desert caravan routes, and the notation of the main Atlantic World trading areas — the Ivory, Gold, and Slave Coasts. This map is one of at least nine in the Land Office Archives that feature Africa.
Galen Greaser, long-time Spanish translator at the General Land Office, donated Mitchell’s School Atlas to the GLO in 2009.