Samuel Norvell Lapsley was a Presbyterian missionary in the Congo. Born in Selma, Alabama, and a graduate of McCormick Semianry in 1889, he was an ordained minister and missionary of the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern). He served in the Congo Free State from May 1890 to March 1892. Together with his African American co-worker William H. Sheppard, he founded the American Presbyterian Congo Mission (APCM). Together they explored the Kwango and Kasai river systems, selected the site of Luebo Station, pioneer station of the APCM on the Lulua River, set basic principles for the work, and established relationships with the state administration. Lapsley began the analysis and study of the Tshikete, Bushongo, and Tshiluba languages of the Kasai area of the Congo, recorded native songs and customs, initiated the translation of hymns and portions of the Bible, and launched the organization of a strong indigenous church. His untimely death from blackwater fever occurred at Matadi, Lower Congo, where he is buried at the former Swedish Mission site called “Underhill.” From the APCM emerged the Presbyterian Church of Zaire.
John R. Hendrick and Winifred K. Vass
James Lapsley, ed., Life and Letters of Samuel Norvell Lapsley (1893); William E. Phipps, The Sheppards and Lapsley: Pioneer Presbyterians in the Congo (1991); E. C. Scott, Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., 1861-1941 (1942). Additional material can be found at the Department of History, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Montreat, N.C.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.