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The Remarkable Story of William Henry Sheppard and His Mission in Congo


# Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo ## Introduction - Briefly introduce the topic of Presbyterian missionaries in Congo - Mention the main figures: William Henry Sheppard and Samuel N. Lapsley - Provide some background information on their mission and motivation - State the main purpose and scope of the article ## The Early Life and Education of William Henry Sheppard - Describe Sheppard's birth and family background in Virginia - Explain how he became interested in missionary work and education - Highlight his achievements at Hampton Institute and Tuscaloosa Theological Institute - Discuss his ordination and appointment as a missionary by the Southern Presbyterian Church ## The Journey and Arrival of Sheppard and Lapsley in Congo - Narrate their departure from New York and arrival in Liverpool - Detail their travel through Europe and Africa, facing challenges and dangers - Describe their first impressions of Congo and its people - Explain their establishment of the first Presbyterian mission station at Luebo ## The Contact and Friendship with the Kuba People - Introduce the Kuba kingdom and its culture, history, and politics - Relate how Sheppard gained access and trust from the Kuba king and chiefs - Share some of the stories and experiences that Sheppard witnessed and recorded among the Kuba - Emphasize Sheppard's respect and admiration for the Kuba people and their civilization ## The Documentation and Exposure of Congo Free State Atrocities - Provide some context on the colonial rule of King Leopold II of Belgium over Congo - Reveal some of the abuses and exploitation that the Congolese people suffered under Leopold's regime - Illustrate how Sheppard documented and reported the atrocities to the world, risking his life and reputation - Analyze the impact and significance of Sheppard's testimony on the Congo reform movement ## The Legacy and Influence of William Henry Sheppard - Summarize Sheppard's later life and career, including his return to America, marriage, family, and death - Evaluate his contributions to the Presbyterian Church, African American community, and Congolese people - Acknowledge his recognition and honors, such as his biography, memorial, and museum - Conclude with a reflection on his role as a pioneer, a witness, and a friend in Congo ## Conclusion - Restate the main points and findings of the article - Highlight the main themes and messages of Sheppard's story - Provide some implications and recommendations for further research or action - End with a catchy and memorable sentence ## FAQs - List five frequently asked questions about Presbyterian pioneers in Congo, along with brief answers Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo




If you are interested in the history of Africa, Christianity, and human rights, you may have heard of the Presbyterian pioneers in Congo. These were brave and dedicated missionaries who ventured into the heart of Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spreading the gospel, exploring new lands, and exposing the horrors of colonialism. Among them, one of the most remarkable and influential figures was William Henry Sheppard, an African American who became a friend and a witness of the Kuba people, one of the most advanced and civilized kingdoms in Congo. In this article, we will explore the life and legacy of Sheppard, his companion Samuel N. Lapsley, and their mission in Congo.




Presbyterian pioneers in Congo


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The Early Life and Education of William Henry Sheppard




William Henry Sheppard was born on March 8, 1865, in Waynesboro, Virginia, to William Henry Sheppard Sr. and Fannie Frances Sheppard (née Martin), a free "dark mulatto", a month before the end of the American Civil War. No records exist to confirm William Sr.'s status as a slave or freedman, but it has been speculated that he may have been among the slaves forced to serve the Confederacy as Union troops marched upon the South.[1] William Sr. was a barber, and the family has been described as the closest to middle class that blacks could have achieved given the time and place.[2]


At age twelve, William Jr. became a stable boy for a white family several miles away while continuing to attend school; he remembered his two-year stay fondly and maintained written correspondence with the family for many years. Sheppard next worked as a waiter to put himself through the newly created Hampton Institute, where Booker T. Washington was among his instructors in a program that allowed students to work during the day and attend classes at night.[2] At Hampton, Sheppard developed his interest in missionary work and education, inspired by stories of David Livingstone and other African explorers. He also learned carpentry, blacksmithing, printing, and other practical skills that would prove useful in his future endeavors.


After graduating from Hampton in 1883, Sheppard enrolled at Tuscaloosa Theological Institute (now Stillman College) in Alabama, where he studied theology and prepared for ordination. He was one of the first African Americans to be accepted by the Southern Presbyterian Church as a missionary candidate. He impressed his teachers and peers with his intelligence, eloquence, and piety. He also befriended Samuel N. Lapsley, a white student from Anniston, Alabama, who shared his passion for Africa. They became close friends and partners in their missionary vision.


In 1887, Sheppard was ordained as a minister by the Presbytery of Lexington in Virginia. He was appointed as a missionary to Congo by the Southern Presbyterian Church, along with Lapsley. They were among the first African American missionaries to be sent by a white denomination to Africa.[3] They were also among the first Presbyterian missionaries to enter Congo, a vast and largely unknown territory that had been claimed by King Leopold II of Belgium as his personal domain.


The Journey and Arrival of Sheppard and Lapsley in Congo




Sheppard and Lapsley departed from New York on November 12, 1887, on board the steamship Ethiopia. They arrived in Liverpool on November 24, where they met with Robert Arthington, a wealthy philanthropist who supported their mission financially. They also visited London and Paris, where they met with some of the leading figures of African exploration and missionary work, such as Henry Morton Stanley and John G. Paton.


They continued their journey through Europe and Africa by train, boat, and caravan. They faced many challenges and dangers along the way, such as storms, sicknesses, accidents, hostile tribesmen, wild animals, and bandits. They also witnessed some of the beauty and diversity of Africa's landscapes, cultures, and wildlife. They finally reached Matadi, the port city of Congo Free State (as Leopold's colony was called), on April 1st 1888.


From Matadi, they had to travel about 300 miles inland to reach their destination: Luebo (or Leopoldville), a small village on the Kasai River that had been chosen as the site for their mission station. They hired about 200 porters to carry their luggage and supplies, which included a printing press, a boat, a tent, books, tools, medicines, and food. They also hired a guide, an interpreter, and a cook. They began their trek on April 15th, following the caravan route that Stanley had opened a few years earlier.


The journey was arduous and exhausting. They had to cross swamps, rivers, hills, and forests. They had to deal with heat, rain, insects, and diseases. They had to negotiate with local chiefs and traders for permission and protection. They also had to cope with the hardships and conflicts among their porters and helpers. They lost some of their men and goods along the way. They also encountered some of the horrors of Leopold's rule, such as the brutal treatment of the native workers by the colonial agents and soldiers.


They finally arrived at Luebo on June 1st 1888, after 47 days of travel. They were warmly welcomed by the local people, who were curious and friendly. They were also greeted by a group of American Baptist missionaries who had established a station nearby. They were the first white men to settle in that region. They quickly set up their tent and began their work of building, preaching, teaching, and healing.


The Contact and Friendship with the Kuba People




One of the most remarkable achievements of Sheppard and Lapsley was their contact and friendship with the Kuba people, one of the most powerful and civilized kingdoms in Congo. The Kuba kingdom was located about 150 miles east of Luebo, in a fertile and forested region. It had a population of about 150,000 people, divided into several clans and subgroups. It had a complex political and social system, with a central king (nyim) who ruled over a council of chiefs (mishamb) and a bureaucracy of officials (bangana). It had a rich and diverse culture, with elaborate art, music, dance, literature, religion, and law. It had a sophisticated economy, with extensive trade networks, agriculture, crafts, and currency.


The Kuba kingdom was largely isolated from the outside world until Sheppard and Lapsley arrived. They were intrigued by the reports they heard from their local informants about the Kuba people and their civilization. They decided to visit them and establish friendly relations. They obtained permission from the colonial authorities and the local chiefs to enter the Kuba territory. They also hired some guides and interpreters to accompany them.


They made their first expedition to the Kuba kingdom in November 1888. They traveled for about two weeks through the forest until they reached Mushenge (or Bushongo), the capital city of the Kuba kingdom. They were amazed by what they saw: a large and well-organized city with thousands of houses made of wood and mud, surrounded by walls and ditches. They were also impressed by the people: tall and handsome men and women dressed in colorful cloths made of raffia palm fiber, decorated with beads, shells, feathers, ivory, copper, iron, and cowries.


They were cordially received by the Kuba king (nyim), Kot-a-Mbweeky III (or Lukengu), who invited them to his palace. The palace was a magnificent structure with several rooms and courtyards filled with art objects such as masks, statues, drums, stools, baskets, weapons, musical instruments, etc. The king was a dignified and intelligent man who spoke several languages fluently. He was curious about Sheppard and Lapsley's origin, purpose and beliefs. He asked them many questions about America, Christianity and civilization. He also shared some of his own knowledge and wisdom about his people's history, culture and religion.


Sheppard and Lapsley stayed for about two weeks in Mushenge, enjoying the hospitality of the king and his court. They also visited some of the nearby villages and towns where they met with other Kuba chiefs and elders who welcomed them warmly. They witnessed some of the ceremonies and festivals that celebrated the Kuba's life and identity. They learned some of the customs and laws that governed the Kuba's society and morality. They admired some of the skills and crafts that displayed the Kuba's creativity and ingenuity.


Sheppard was especially fascinated by the Kuba people and their civilization. He developed a deep respect and admiration for them. He also formed a close friendship with the king, who gave him a Kuba name: Mundelé Ndom (or White Man Ndom). He became one of the few outsiders who gained access and trust from the Kuba king and his people. who documented and reported the Kuba's culture, history, and politics to the world. He wrote articles, letters, and books about his experiences and discoveries among the Kuba. He also collected and preserved some of the Kuba's art objects, which he later donated to museums and institutions in America.[4]


Lapsley was also impressed by the Kuba people and their civilization. He shared Sheppard's vision of establishing a mission station among them. He hoped to introduce them to Christianity and education, while respecting their culture and dignity. He also wanted to protect them from the exploitation and oppression of the colonial regime. He believed that the Kuba had a great potential and a bright future.[5]


The Documentation and Exposure of Congo Free State Atrocities




While Sheppard and Lapsley were amazed by the beauty and diversity of Congo and its people, they were also appalled by the brutality and injustice of Leopold's rule over Congo. Leopold had claimed Congo as his personal property in 1885, after convincing other European powers that he was interested in promoting humanitarian and civilizing missions in Africa. However, he was actually interested in exploiting Congo's rich natural resources, especially rubber and ivory, for his own profit. He created a system of forced labor, taxation, and terror that enslaved and abused millions of Congolese people. He also hired a private army called the Force Publique, composed of European officers and African soldiers, who enforced his orders with violence and cruelty.[6]


Sheppard and Lapsley witnessed some of the atrocities committed by Leopold's agents and soldiers against the Congolese people. They saw villages burned, crops destroyed, women raped, children kidnapped, men mutilated, and people killed. They heard stories of torture, starvation, disease, and death. They felt outraged and saddened by the suffering and misery of their African brothers and sisters. They also felt responsible and compelled to do something about it.[7]


They decided to document and expose the horrors of Leopold's rule to the world. They took photographs, collected testimonies, gathered evidence, and wrote reports about the atrocities they saw and heard. They sent their materials to their church leaders, friends, journalists, politicians, activists, and anyone who would listen. They also spoke publicly about their experiences and findings in America and Europe. They joined forces with other missionaries, explorers, reformers, and humanitarians who were campaigning against Leopold's tyranny in Congo.[8]


Their efforts contributed to the Congo reform movement, a global movement that denounced and challenged Leopold's crimes and demanded justice and freedom for the Congolese people. Their efforts also influenced and inspired the African American community, a community that empathized and identified with the Congolese people and supported their cause and struggle. Their efforts also risked and endangered their lives and reputations, as they faced hostility and opposition from Leopold's supporters and defenders.[9]


The Legacy and Influence of William Henry Sheppard




Sheppard spent 20 years in Africa, primarily in and around Congo. He returned to America in 1910, due to health problems and personal issues. He married Lucy Gantt, a teacher from Atlanta, in 1911. They had four children: William Jr., Lucy Jr., Roberta, and James. He settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where he served as a pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, a black congregation, until his death in 1927.[10]


Sheppard left behind a legacy of achievements and influence in various fields and domains. He was a pioneer and a leader in the Presbyterian Church, especially among African Americans. He was one of the founders of the American Negro Academy, an organization that promoted scholarship and activism among black intellectuals. He was an explorer and a witness of Africa's lands, peoples, and cultures. He was an author and a collector of African art, history, and literature. He was a human rights activist and a whistleblower of colonial abuses and atrocities. He was a friend and a benefactor of the Kuba people, whom he loved and respected.[11]


Sheppard received recognition and honors for his work and life. His biography, Presbyterian Pioneers in Congo (1917), written by himself and his colleague Samuel H. Chester, was a bestseller and a source of inspiration for many. His memorial, erected by the Kuba people in Mushenge, was a symbol of gratitude and friendship. His museum, established by his family in Louisville, was a repository of his collections and memories.[12]


Sheppard's story is a remarkable and inspiring one. It shows us how one man can make a difference in the world, by following his passion, vision, and conscience. It also shows us how one man can bridge the gap between cultures, races, and religions, by showing respect, curiosity, and empathy. Sheppard was more than a missionary, an explorer, or a reformer. He was a friend of Congo.


Conclusion




In this article, we have explored the life and legacy of William Henry Sheppard, one of the Presbyterian pioneers in Congo. We have seen how he became a missionary, how he traveled to Congo with his companion Samuel N. Lapsley, how he befriended the Kuba people and their king, how he documented and exposed the atrocities of Leopold's rule, and how he influenced and inspired many people in America and Africa. We have also seen how he faced challenges and difficulties in his work and life, and how he overcame them with courage and faith.


Sheppard's story is a fascinating and important one. It teaches us about the history of Africa, Christianity, and human rights. It also teaches us about the values of exploration, education, and compassion. Sheppard was a man who loved Africa and its people, who respected their culture and dignity, who witnessed their suffering and injustice, who spoke for their rights and freedom, and who left a lasting impact on their lives. He was a man who deserves to be remembered and honored.


We hope that this article has sparked your interest and curiosity about Sheppard and his mission in Congo. We encourage you to learn more about him and his work by reading his biography, visiting his museum, or viewing his collections. We also encourage you to support the causes that he cared about, such as the Presbyterian Church, the African American community, the Congolese people, and the human rights movement. We believe that Sheppard's story is not only relevant for the past, but also for the present and the future.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about Presbyterian pioneers in Congo:



  • Who was Samuel N. Lapsley?



Samuel N. Lapsley was Sheppard's companion and friend in his mission to Congo. He was a white man from Anniston, Alabama, who studied theology with Sheppard at Tuscaloosa Theological Institute. He was appointed as a missionary to Congo by the Southern Presbyterian Church, along with Sheppard, in 1887. He helped Sheppard establish the first Presbyterian mission station at Luebo and visit the Kuba kingdom. He died of fever in 1892, at the age of 26.[13]


  • What is the Kuba kingdom?



The Kuba kingdom is one of the most powerful and civilized kingdoms in Congo. It is located in a fertile and forested region about 150 miles east of Luebo, on the Kasai River. It has a population of about 150,000 people, divided into several clans and subgroups. It has a complex political and social system, with a central king (nyim) who rules over a council of chiefs (mishamb) and a bureaucracy of officials (bangana). It has a rich and diverse culture, with elaborate art, music, dance, literature, religion, and law. It has a sophisticated economy, with extensive trade networks, agriculture, crafts, and currency.[14]


  • What are some of the atrocities committed by Leopold's rule in Congo?



Some of the atrocities committed by Leopold's rule in Congo include: - Forcing millions of Congolese people to work as slaves in rubber and ivory plantations, under harsh and inhumane conditions. - Imposing heavy taxes and quotas on the Congolese people, and punishing them severely if they failed to meet them. -


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