Metal Working and Charcoal Making,1840s-1850s

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This record was last updated on 23 May 2017

Image Reference

Drawings of Western Africa (University of Virginia Library, Special Collections, MSS 14357, no. 15).

Ink, colored pencil and watercolor. A smith and his helper/apprentice work over a forge. The smith is shaping a projectile point or knife blade, held by his helper, on a tree stump serving as an anvil. Bellows, common among traditional metal workers in West Africa, are absent from this scene; whether an oversight or intentional is impossible to say. Two men are making charcoal; one of the latter is tending the fire while the other is dousing the fire with water from what appears to be a calabash container. Two other men use axes to fell trees; the general style of the axes is typical of West Africa, including Liberia. An American missionary in Liberia in the late 1850s, describes the local “country made axe” as “about two inches wide at the bit and tapers towards the pole, until it run off to a sharp point; they then procure a good solid stick that has a knot at the end, and then they burn a hole in this end through the knot, and the axe is stuck through this hole. It is then ready for operation” (Samuel Williams, Four Years in Liberia. A Sketch of the Life of the Rev. Samuel Williams (Philadelphia, 1857), pp. 39-40. A European ship is in the background. The location is uncertain but it is probably Liberia, perhaps Equatorial Africa, where American Protestant missionaries had stations. See other image references “UVA” on this site.