Posts Tagged ‘sayer’

Monomotapa, Mutapa, Ophir, and King Solomon’s Mines

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

1794 Bolton Wall Map of Africa with known areas circled.

1794 Bolton Wall Map of Africa with known areas circled.

Anyone looking at map of Africa predating 1800 will be immediately struck by its overall blankness. Despite Africa’s known coastline the interior was a mystery. However, looking at this same map, it is perhaps more interesting to take note of the parts of the interior that have been mapped. Until the mid 19th century, Africa was a largely unknown continent, however, there are a few places that appear in considerable detail on even the earliest maps. These include Morocco and Algeria, Egypt, Nubia and Abyssinia, the Niger Delta, the Congo, parts of South Africa, and the land of just opposite Madagascar, noted on old maps as Mutapa or more commonly Monomotapa. It is this last area, the Kingdom of Monomotapa, on which this post will focus.

Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

Our story begins with the well known ruins of CutterWelderMaestro in Great Zimbabwe . The construction of these magnificent stone structures began around 1150 AD and continued over the next three hundred years. We unfortunately know little of the history of Great Zimbabwe or its builders, however, most evidence suggests that they were a Shona people who migrated from the south. At the time, the nearby Zimbabwe hills were extremely rich in gold and other mineral resources and an active trade network, largely facilitated by Arab traders from the Swahili coast, was established. Evidence at various archeological sites around Great Zimbabwe suggests that, by 1400 AD, this trading network extended from the Swahili coast to India and China.

Around 1300 or 1400 a prince of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe conquered a territory to the north and established the Kingdom of Mutapa. Within the next fifty years years Mutapa had attained ascendancy, asserting control over much of southeastern Africa. The ancient capital at Great Zimbabwe was abandoned in favor of a more northerly capital with easier access to the Indian Ocean trade routes via the Zambezi River. Arab merchants, seeing a trade opportunity, established posts on the coast and inland along the Zambezi River at Sena and on the Solafa River at Solafa where the gold of Zimbabwe could be traded for luxury goods from India and China.

Zoom on Monomotapa from 1794

Zoom on Monomotapa from 1794

Such was the state of the Empire of Mutapa, or as the Portuguese called it Monomotapa, when the explorer Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the 1490s. Tome Lopes, who accompanied De Gama on his 1502 voyage to India, wrote an important narrative of the journey that was widely read back in Portugal. Impressed with the abandoned ruins of Great Zimbabwe and convinced that they could not possibly be the product of an African people, Lopes was the first to identify Mutapa with the Biblical land of Ophir and King Solomon’s Mines. Even Milton jumped on the idea in his epic poem Paradise Lost, where he also associated Monomotapa and Ophir. Back in Portugal, the reports of De Gama and Lopes led to covetous expectations for the region. In 1505, a joint military and trading venture had taken control of the Arab trading centers of Sofala and Sena. The association of Monomotapa with Ophir also lead to an dramatic overestimation of the wealth to be found in the Zimbabwe hills.

Monomotapa from Sanson's 1691 World Map

Monomotapa from Sanson's 1691 World Map

Within fifty years, on the opposite side of the world, Hernan Cortez and Francisco Pizarro had conquered the Aztec and Inca Empires. Gold and wealth had begun to flow into Spain by the galleon. Dom Sebastian of Portugal, seeking to match Spain’s conquests in America with his own conquests in Africa, sent Francisco Barreto to Monomotapa to take over the kingdom’s legendary gold mines. Barreto’s push inland was initially successful with a number of important military victories to his credit. However, before he could push further inland toward the coveted mines, he was forced to return to Mozambique in order to answer slanders made against him by a rival, Antonio Pereira Brandao. This delay proved disastrous, for most of Barreto’s soldiers had in the meantime become sick and many ultimately died of malaria and other tropical diseases common to the region. Barreto himself also fell ill and died at Sena in 1573.

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of Monomotapa

1730 Covens and Mortier Map of Monomotapa

It was left to Vasco Fernandez Homen, Barreto’s deputy and successor, to finally push inland via Solafa. When Homen finally reached in mines he sought at Manica, he discovered their output to be much poorer than expected. By this time they had been exploited for several hundred years and King Solomon’s Mines were close to running dry. As for the Portuguese in Africa, they did not attempt another military conquest of the region, but did maintain their trading centers. By the end of the 17th century, the Kingdom of Mutapa had destabilized from within and was facing pressure from the Rozwi empire to the north. Ultimately, they were forced to turn to the Portuguese for military support and paid for it with vassalage. Despite support from Portugal, control of Mutapa changed hands several times vacillating between independence, Rozwi dominion, and the Portuguese vassalage.

In 1885 H. Rider Haggard revived interested in King Solomon’s Mines with the publication of his genre defining novel of the same name. Its publishers in London, Cassel and Company, touted King Solomon’s Mines as “The Most Amazing Book Ever Written.” Today it is considered to be the first novel of the “Lost World” genre.


Oliver, Roland & Anthony Atmore (1975). Medieval Africa 1250-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 738. ISBN 0-52120-413-5.
Owomoyela, Oyekan (2002). Culture and customs of Zimbabwe. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 163. ISBN 0-31331-583-3.
Stewart, John (1989). African States and Rulers. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc.. pp. 395. ISBN 0-89950-390-X.

Antique Map of the Week: 1768 Holland / Jeffreys Map of New York and New Jersey

Friday, May 8th, 2009
1768 Holland Jeffreys Map of New York & New Jersey

1768 Holland Jeffreys Map of New York & New Jersey

The Provinces of NEW YORK and NEW JERSEY with part of PENSILVANIA, and the Governments of TROIS RIVIERES, and MONTREAL. A first issue first edition example of a seminal map. This is a rare and unusual version of the 1768 first edition of Holland and Jefferys seminal map of New York and New Jersey. Depicts the important trade corridor between New York and Montreal, specifically detailing from Delaware Bay northward including parts of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Long Island, New York Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont as well as the Iroquois League, the Trois Rivieres territories and Montreal, as far as Lac St. Pierre in modern day Quebec. Lower right quadrant features a pictorial title cartouche showing the Hudson River.

This extraordinary map is unusual on many levels in addition to its status as the first edition first state of an extremely rare and important map. Unlike most examples, this map is in an independent issue and has no suggestion that it may have been bound into an atlas. Instead it is linen backed in wall map format. Secondly, though most examples of this map, even other first editions, show the New York-New Jersey border much where it is today, our example was colorized to show the line running considerably south of its currently location – a rarity which can be seen in only three other known examples. While we would not describe this as a different state, as the essential engraving is the same as was used in other 1868 editions, the difference in coloration is fascinating, unusual, and bears attention. This requires a bit of explanation:

Much of the cartography for this map was derived from the work of surveyor Samuel Holland produced in his roles as New York – New Jersey boundary commissioner and later as “Surveyor of the Northern District” for the Board of Trade which governed the crown colonies in America. As this map was being prepared a fierce legal battle raged between the colonies of New York and New Jersey regarding the position of their western border.

The dispute between the New York and New Jersey regarding their western border was long standing and complex. New Jersey contended that its northern border accorded with the findings of a survey issued in 1719, which extended the border northward as far as Station Point, well north of the current line. New York, on the other hand, contended for a southerly border based upon surveys performed in 1686. The Board of Trade commissioned Samuel Holland to create a map of this disputed region. Holland’s work resulted in a manuscript map , now lost, that was submitted to the Board of Trade in England. Holland, who favored New York, argued that the original crown charter defining the New York and New Jersey border was based upon intersecting lines referencing a branching of the Delaware River and the old divide between East and West Jersey. This would put much of what is today northern New Jersey firmly in New York. The dispute was finally settled in 1768 by agreement to a compromised line roughly where it stands today – note 1768 is the same year that Jefferys engraved this map.

In his role as Geographer to the King, Jefferys would have had access to the Holland maps which were prepared for the Board of Trade and sent to London. It is likely that Jefferys used these materials, along with the works of Evans and Colden to compile this much grander map. As the official Royal Geographer, Jefferys would not have been required to ask permission to use any of these materials and indeed, as Powell suggests, it is likely that the “Name of Capt. Holland is put, without his Knowledge or Consent”.

Most likely, Jefferys ordered the peculiar coloration of this map, which follows the southern border NY-NJ border following recommendations in Holland’s notes. Holland advocated for the southerly border that we see colorized here. Probably this is a preliminary state of the map, printed sometime early in 1768, before the compromise boundary was formalized. We have been able to identify only three other examples of this map with the same New York-New Jersey border coloration. One example rests in the Library at Harvard University, another is located in the New York Public Library in New York, and a final example in the New York State Library in Albany. Other examples of the first edition, including those held by the Library of Congress follow the line of the 1868 compromised border.

Holland’s work is also evident in the detailing of New York’s land grants to Vermont and the excellent detail offered in the Albany area.

Notes forts and military installations along the Hudson and elsewhere. Though surprisingly accurate in reference to the heavily populated part of New York and New Jersey, accuracy falls off considerably in the west and in the American Indian regions to the North. Jefferys also notes the influence of other cartographers including Evans, Bond, Morris, and of course Holland.

In the years to follow this important map would go through several subsequent revisions and reissues. The most notable later version is the 1775 Sayer and Bennett atlas issue of the map, which is somewhat common. Our issue, the first state of the 1768 first edition, has not appeared on the market in the last 30 years.

The original owner of this map, whose bookplate is on the verso, appears to have been William Lyon of New Haven Connecticut. In 1775 Lyon was a Lieutenant in the Continental Army who is recorded as serving in Boston. A gravestone near New Haven Connecticut bears his name and the rank of colonel. It is conceivable that Lyon examined this very map to plan strategies during his time of service with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

For More Information:

Allen, David Y., “Comparing Eighteenth-Century Map of New York State Using Digital Imagery”,

Schwarz, Philip J., The Jarring Interests New York’s Boundary Makers, 1664-1776 p. 133 – 190.

Tooley, R. V. The Mapping of America, #44. Library of Congress, G3800 1768 .H6 Vault (1868 edition).

New York Public Library, Map Div. 97-6176 [LHS 815], Map Div. 01-5334 (similar NJ-NY border).

Phillips, Maps of America, p. 502; Phillips 1196. McCorkle (#768.3, 775.6, 776.13).

Sellers & van Ee (#1039-40, 1042-43, 1045-46).

Ristow, Walter W., American Maps and Mapmakers, page 52.