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The New York Times, November 14, 1886, p.6:

ARRIVAL AT THE CONGO

BOMA, THE CAPITAL, AND DEATHS RECORDED THERE.

AN INTERESTING JOURNEY IN A STEAM LAUNCH--
FRENCH OBSTACLES TO TRADE--AMERICAN MISSIONARIES.

    [The first half of this article, which after a brief mention of the Congo describes the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, can be found at São Tomé and Príncipe News and Links.]

    ...Aug. 9.--Noon to-day found us gliding up the smooth, broad gulflike mouth of the Gaboon--over which the French tricolor has fluttered since 1843--and anchoring opposite the tiny metropolis of Libreville. The little town made a very pretty picture against the sea of waving woods in the background, which outlined most effectively the dainty cluster of snow-white walls and red-tiled roofs, such as one sees in those charming old villages of Western France which tourists and painters seem leagued to neglect.
    For a foreground we had a Hamburg cargo steamer a little way astern, a trim French gunboat on our starboard bow, and a huge two-decked French "woodenside" of the old school (now roofed over and used as a hospital) moored midway between us and the shore.

    One of the first visitors from the shore was young American missionary who, like most of those that we met in Northern India, "hailed" from the old Keystone State. He was only making a short stay in Gaboon, his own station lying further south, at a considerable distance up the Ogoweh, that mysterious and legendary river amid whose gloomy forests M. Paul du Chaillu came face to face with King Gorilla a quarter of a century ago.
    He told me--as every one else has told me whom I have questioned on the subject--that until the year before last the Gaboon settlement has been doing a very fair export business in ivory, dyewood, and ebony, (great forests of the latter being known to exist around the headwaters of the river,) but that the import trade has been greatly injured by the enormous duties--ranging in some cases as high as 60 per cent.--which the French authorities have imposed upon all merchandise but their own, as the natives evince a marked preference for British manufactured goods over those of France.

    "As for our missions," he continued, "we've been very successful on the Ogoweh and in one or two other places, but here on the Gaboon we've hardly done anything at all. For one thing, there's a much larger white population here than in most of the West African stations, and as the natives are completely under the control of the white traders, of course that tells very much against us.
    "Then of late the French authorities, like the Spaniards at Fernando Po, have begun objecting to our teaching English in the mission school, and say that if we want to teach at all we must do it in French; and as we cannot agree to that we're at a standstill for the present.
    "Yonder's the mission house on that low hill among the woods, a little below the town, and if you have time to come ashore and look at it to-morrow before you sail I shall be very glad to show you all that there is to be seen."

    Aug. 10.--The first sight that greeted me this morning was a native boatman fishing with a line attached to his great toe. But he was forced to sheer off rather hastily, for the crew of the French gunboat began to practice with their rifles at a floating target a little to his left, not wholly without success, for they hit the water every time.
    Breakfast over, we went ashore to look about us, landing at a neat little jetty laid out with rails for the passage of freight trucks, probably the first attempt at a railroad ever known in this primitive region. Another token of civilization appeared in the form of a smart American buggy, standing just outside the gate through which we pass into the so-called "town."

    Ascending a winding road flanked on one side by several solid white stone houses and on the other by an embankment of rum casks filled with earth, we reached the "City Hall Park" of the place, a small square of green turf in the middle of which stands a tall flag pole, sentineling the whitewashed figurehead of a vessel, which has been stuck up here as a statue!
    The Post Office, with its row of arches an one side of the square, kept in countenance a meek little church on the other, with its windows picked out in bright red upon its white surface and its plated belfry shining merrily in the sunlight. A little further along the slope an ingenious native, who had picked up a few words of French, had advertised his shoe store by painting up "Chausées" in mistake for "chaussures," and thereby announcing himself as a seller of "high roads," at what price by the yard was not stated.
    Beyond the church a steep curving path led down again toward the shore between which dense masses of tropical vegetation, the broad banner-like leaves of which completely shut out the breeze and stifled us with that close, damp, vapor bath heat which is so unpleasant a characteristic of all equatorial woodlands.

    But once down on the beach the air changed as if we had passed from an overheated room to a breezy hilltop, and before us lay the tropical scenery of our boyish imaginings in all its fullness. The vast curving sweep of yellow sand, with its fringe of glittering foam; the stately cocoa palms, so near the water as to drop their fruit almost into it; the wall of dark leaves behind, the thatched bamboo huts peeping through the thickets, the distant hills raising their leafy ridges against the warm, dreamy sky, were all there.

    And as appropriate figures to such a background there came toward us along the beach two native beauties, who eyed Mrs. Ker's costume with evident wonder, as well they might, their own consisting principally of a crimson skirt and a parasol, for from the waist upward their clothing was chiefly conspicuous by its absence.

    Along the beach we found a number of long, flexible, whip-like roots, which the ship's doctor pointed out to us as the sole food of the four Kroomen who escaped in an open boat a few months ago from the island of Saõ Thomé, and were picked up off the mouth of the Calabar River by Capt. Liversedge, of the British and African Company, only two of the four then being alive.

    Midway round the beach we came upon a Mpongwe village--one long, straight street of square bamboo houses, with wooden doors and shutters and projecting thatches of dried palm leaves. I peeped into one or two of them, but, like the Irish prisoner, "could see nothing clearly but darkness."
    Most of the natives doffed their hats to us with a politeness that did credit to the teaching of the Roman Catholic mission, which we found in a sheltered nook among the trees a little way back from the shore, the chapel being marked with a cross and the mission house with a rude fresco of the Virgin. The two massive stone buildings, with their white walls and red tiled roofs, contrast very effectively with the little nest-like huts of the native town beyond them; but before we could proceed to a closer examination a shrill whistle from our steamer in the offing sounded the note of recall.
DAVID KER.

The New York Times, December 24, 1860, p.2:

THE AFRICAN SLAVE-TRADE.

Letter from on Board the Niagara--The French Emigrant System--
The English "Apprentices"--The Immense Profits of the Slave-Trade--
The Slaver Erie, &c.

From Our Own Correspondent.
U. S. FRIGATE NIAGARA, AT SEA   
Saturday, Sept. 1, 1860.   
    After striding down along the Coast of Southern Africa, and, as we make our first plunge into the Indian Ocean, I desire to say a few words in reference to the Slave-trade, based upon reliable information I received while at San Paulo de Loando [Luanda, Angola], from where my last letter was dated.

    It may not have escaped the recollection of philanthropists of the Wilberforce school, even on the American side of the Atlantic, that some two years ago, the firm of MM. REGIS, of Marseilles, contracted with the French Government to enlist 30,000 black emigrants on the West Coast of Africa, and to convey them to the French possessions in Cayenne and the West Indies.

    It may likewise be remembered that when the first vessel dispatched under this contract was boarded on the Coast, with a pennant at her mast-head and a French navy officer on her quarter-deck, employed in shipping the negroes for transportation, there arose a violent outcry in the English Parliament against what Lord BROUGHAM very justly designated "the Slave-trade in disguise."
See also: Cameroon News - Equatorial Guinea News
    São Tomé and Príncipe News - Congo News

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    Only two autocratic presidents have ruled Gabon since independence from France in 1960. Gabon's current President, El Hadj Omar Bongo - one of the longest-serving heads of state in the world - has dominated Gabon's political scene for almost four decades.

    President Bongo introduced a nominal multiparty system and a new constitution in the early 1990s. However, allegations of electoral fraud during local elections in 2002-03 and the presidential elections in 2005 have exposed the weaknesses of formal political structures in Gabon.

    Gabon's political opposition remains weak, divided, and financially dependent on the current regime. Despite political conditions, a small population, abundant natural resources, and considerable foreign support have helped make Gabon one of the more prosperous and stable African countries.
    CIA World Factbook: Gabon


Area of Gabon: 267,667 sq km
slightly smaller than Colorado

Population of Gabon: 1,454,867
July 2007 estimate

Languages of Gabon:
French official,
Fang, Myene, Nzebi,
Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi


Gabon Capital: Libreville


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    ...this Imperial system of black colonization never ceased for one moment, and though MM. REGIS may not make so good a thing out of their contract, on account of the increased value of the black since the French Government entered with them into the market in competition with the regular negro traders, yet the trade still goes on, as I have the best authority for stating.

    The French have three factories or stations now in full operation on the Coast--one in the Congo River, another in the Gaboon [Gabon], and the third in Loango Bay.
    One of our officers informed me at Loando that some time in April last he visited the station in the Congo, where he was politely received by the French agent, and shown over the barracoons. The whole system of purchase, training and apprenticeship was also explained, and he saw the negroes go through the gymnastic exercises they had been taught, and who were about to be shipped away in a vessel then lying in the river.

    Now, we will assume that under this system, the French Government act in good faith, and contract with these emigrants or their chiefs to take them to Cayenne or elsewhere for a certain period--say ten years--and at the expiration of that term, to pay them down the amount of francs due for their labor, and then to bring the survivors--if any can be found--safely back to Africa. To make the matter look better, say for example, they are carried to the river Congo, or either of the stations from whence they embarked.
    Now, since these poor, ignorant, brutish wretches are brought in every instance from anywhere in the Bush, from five hundred miles to the very heart of the continent, with scores on scores of hostile tribes between them and their original homes, what would be their chances of reaching those homes? Does it not seem more probable that before they had fairly lost sight of the sea coast, they would again be captured and either sold for the "middle passage," or again disposed of to their former French masters?

    But yet John Bull, with all his sturdy liberal philanthropy, scarcely makes any difference in the mode he adopts in this same negro business. His cruisers pounce down upon a vessel with a living black freight on board, and sends them for condemnation to Sierra Leone or St. Helena, where after the captors are paid £5 sterling head money, the blacks are shipped off to British colonies as apprentices, without pay... The only difference I can perceive between the two systems is that the to the English the cost of every black rescued by their cruisers is computed by official returns to be £350, while MM. REGIS furnish their supplies--and a well selected physical article it is--at 250 francs a head.

    The price now paid by the regular Cuban trader on the Coast is from $60 to $80 per negro, which being paid for in barter reduces the cost full 100 per cent.; and I was assured by a man in the business at Loando that the blacks would sell on an average, irrespective of age or sex, for $1,000 a piece the day they were landed in Cuba. Deduct expenses of every description and there remains at least 800 per cent. clear profit, while sugar and tobacco are still going up in the market, and the demand for slave labor constantly increasing...

    With respect to the colony at Monrovia [Liberia]. From the accounts we received from our own and the English officers on the station, who can have no possible reason to misrepresent the state of affairs, the condition of the colony is by no means prosperous. All agreed in stating that persistent industry as applied to manual labor and agricultural pursuits is at a very low ebb, and what with the idleness and improvidence of the settlers, and unhealthy climate, and various other causes, Monrovia is only sustained in a half dying struggle by the aid and encouragement it receives from the Colonization Society of the United States.

    At Loando we took on board 745 tons of coals, which was all the bunkers could possibly hold after the most careful stowage, and which is nearly 200 tons less than the amount stated to have been on board by the Naval Storekeeper at New-York before sailing. This, however, at a consumption of 33 tons a day, and as many revolutions of the screw per minute, gives us in a smooth sea about 7 knots speed per hour for 23 days. It was at this date we came down the West Coast to the Cape of Good Hope, passing it on the 27th ult., in 58 days from Sandy Hook.
    Indeed, during the entire Atlantic voyage, there has been no breeze or sea in which a staunch whale-boat could not have lived in perfect safety; and so far as the elements were concerned, we enjoyed the most favorable opportunities for steaming. Occasionally I stretch myself at full length on the spiritsail netting--a sort of rope-yarn tray, spread out under the head booms to catch any loose forecastle men who may be flapped off the foot-ropes while stowing the jib--and watch the knife-like fore foot open the calm water for the broad, majestic hull which for more than 300 feet comes after...

    Since doubling the Cape we have had strong winds and heavy, confused seas; but yet the ship behaves grandly, carries her pivot battery as a bull would a fly on his horns... Altogether, she seems the most splendid model ever floated in salt water. Nevertheless, the Niagara cannot be called, in strict naval parlance, a man-of-war. To make her one, her present berth-deck, which the beams of are too high to permit the men to get in, or lash their hammocks conveniently--should be raised three feet, to give more hold space below; and since, owing to the construction of the ship, the walls of this deck could only be pierced for nine ports of a side, a full battery, of say 40 of Dahlgren's nine-inch guns, should be mounted on what is now the spar deck. Then, with another deck thrown over this, capable of sustaining three or four eleven-inch pivots, with low bulwarks, and an increased surface to the blades of the propeller, the ship would be by long odds, for fighting or running, the most formidable antagonist the naval world has ever seen.
TRUE BLUE.

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1860 was equivalent to $23.90 in 2008.
The British pound was worth about $4.85 in 1860;, and, by retail price index, £1 in 1860 was equivalent to about £65.09 in 2006.


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