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Samuel Augustus Mitchell, “The World on an Equatorial Projection, Map of the Eastern & Western Hemispheres,” in Mitchell’s School Atlas: Comprising the Maps, etc., Designed to Illustrate Mitchell’s School and Family Geography, 3rd Edition, Thomas, Cowperthwait and Co., 1851, Map #93491, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

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.

Samuel Augustus Mitchell, “Map of Africa,” (1839) in Mitchell’s School Atlas: Comprising the Maps, etc., Designed to Illustrate Mitchell’s School and Family Geography, 3rd Edition, Thomas, Cowperthwait and Co., 1851, Map #93507, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

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.

The “Map of Africa” contains two inset maps. The bottom left is a map of the western coastal colony of Liberia, selected for its relevance to the publisher’s target American audience. Liberia came into being in 1822, as a settlement for the American Colonization Society and a place in Africa for the relocation of both freed and free-born Black Americans. The inset map shows the Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Maryland colonies. The one at the top right is a detail of Egypt and the Nile River up to its First Cataract (rocky whitewater rapids). The Nile is highlighted for its link to classical antiquity, but also because of its importance to nineteenth-century travel, commerce, and exploration.
Detail of the Gulf of Guinea showing the West African areas of the Ivory, Gold, and Slave Coasts, all of great importance to Atlantic World trade.

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.

Detail of an inscription indicating the west coast island of St. Helena as the place of exile and subsequent death of French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte.

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.

A reproduction of this map can be purchased in our online map store.

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