George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 6 of 57)
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enterprise have been restored and quickened. The slave-trade wrought
great havoc among this people. It is now about fifty-five years since
a few weak and fainting tribes, decimated by the slave-trade, fled to
Ogun, a stream seventy-five miles from the coast, where they took
refuge in a cavern. In the course of time they were joined by other
tribes that fled before the scourge of slave-hunters. Their common
danger gave them a commonality of interests. They were, at first,
reduced to very great want. They lived for a long time on berries,
herbs, roots, and such articles of food as nature furnished without
money and without price; but, leagued together to defend their common
rights, they grew bold, and began to spread out around their
hiding-place, and engage in agriculture. Homes and villages began to
rise, and the desert to blossom as the rose. They finally chose a
leader, - a wise and judicious man by the name of Shodeke; and one
hundred and thirty towns were united under one government. In 1853,
less than a generation, a feeble people had grown to be nearly one
hundred thousand (100,000); and Abeokuta, named for their cave,
contains at present nearly three hundred thousand souls.

In 1839 some colored men from Sierra Leone, desirous of engaging in
trade, purchased a small vessel, and called at Lagos and Badagry. They
had been slaves in this country, and had been taken to Sierra Leone,
where they had received a Christian education. Their visit, therefore,
was attended with no ordinary interest. They recognized many of their
friends and kindred, and were agreeably surprised at the wonderful
change that had taken place in so short a time. They returned to
Sierra Leone, only to inspire their neighbors with a zeal for
commercial and missionary enterprise. Within three years, five hundred
of the best colored people of Sierra Leone set out for Lagos and
Badagry on the seacoast, and then moved overland to Abeokuta, where
they intended to make their home. In this company of noble men were
merchants, mechanics, physicians, school-teachers, and clergymen.
Their people had fought for deliverance from physical bondage: these
brave missionaries had come to deliver them from intellectual and
spiritual bondage. The people of Abeokuta gave the missionaries a
hearty welcome. The colony received new blood and energy.
School-buildings and churches rose on every hand. Commerce was
revived, and even agriculture received more skilful attention. Peace
and and plenty began to abound. Every thing wore a sunny smile, and
many tribes were bound together by the golden cords of civilization,
and sang their _Te Deum_ together. Far-away England caught their songs
of peace, and sent them agricultural implements, machinery, and
Christian ministers and teachers. So, that, nowhere on the continent
of Africa is there to be found so many renewed households, so many
reclaimed tribes, such substantial results of a vigorous, Christian

The forces that quickened the inhabitants of Abeokuta were not all
objective, exoteric: there were subjective and inherent forces
at work in the hearts of the people. They were capable of
civilization, - longed for it; and the first blaze of light from
without aroused their slumbering forces, and showed them the broad and
ascending road that led to the heights of freedom and usefulness. That
they sought this road with surprising alacrity, we have the most
abundant evidence. Nor did all the leaders come from abroad. Adgai, in
the Yoruba language, but Crowther, in English, was a native of this
country. In 1822 he was sold into slavery at the port of Badagry. The
vessel that was to bear him away to the "land of chains and stocks"
was captured by a British man-of-war, and taken to Sierra Leone. Here
he came under the influence of Christian teachers. He proved to be one
of the best pupils in his school. He received a classical education,
fitted for the ministry, and then hastened back to his native country
to carry the gospel of peace. It is rather remarkable, but he found
his mother and several sisters still "in the gall of bitterness and in
the bonds of iniquity." The son and brother became their spiritual
teacher, and, ere long, had the great satisfaction of seeing them
"clothed, in their right mind, and sitting at the feet of Jesus." His
influence has been almost boundless. A man of magnificent physical
proportions, - tall, a straight body mounted by a ponderous head,
shapely, with a kind eye, benevolent face, a rich cadence in his
voice, - the "black Bishop" Crowther is a princely looking man, who
would attract the attention of cultivated people anywhere. He is a man
of eminent piety, broad scholarship, and good works. He has translated
the Bible into the Yoruba language, founded schools, and directed the
energies of his people with a matchless zeal. His beautiful and
beneficent life is an argument in favor of the possibilities of Negro
manhood so long injured by the dehumanizing influences of slavery.
Others have caught the inspiration that has made Bishop Crowther's
life "as terrible as an army with banners" to the enemies of Christ
and humanity, and are working to dissipate the darkness of that land
of night.


[59] The king of Dahomey is limited to 3,333 wives! It is hardly fair
to suppose that his majesty feels cramped under the ungenerous act
that limits the number of his wives.

[60] Savage Africa, p. 51.

[61] Western Africa, p. 207.




The kingdom of Ashantee lies between the Kong Mountains and the vast
country of the Fantis. The country occupied by the Ashantees was, at
the first, very small; but by a series of brilliant conquests they
finally secured a territory of three hundred square miles. One of
their most renowned kings, Osai Tutu, during the last century, added
to Ashantee by conquest the kingdoms of Sarem, Buntuku, Warsaw,
Denkera, and Axim. Very little is known as to the origin of the
Ashantees. They were discovered in the early part of the eighteenth
century in the great valley between the Kong Mountains and the river
Niger, from whence they were driven by the Moors and Mohammedan
Negroes. They exchanged the bow for fire-arms, and soon became a
warlike people. Osai Tutu led in a desperate engagement against the
king of Denkera, in which the latter was slain, his army was put to
rout, and large quantities of booty fell into the hands of the
victorious Ashantees. The king of Axim unwittingly united his forces
to those of the discomforted Denkera, and, drawing the Ashantees into
battle again, sustained heavy losses, and was put to flight. He was
compelled to accept the most exacting conditions of peace, to pay the
king of the Ashantees four thousand ounces of gold to defray the
expenses of the war, and have his territory made tributary to the
conqueror. In a subsequent battle Osai Tutu was surprised and killed.
His courtiers and wives were made prisoners, with much goods. This
enraged the Ashantees, and they reeked vengeance on the heads of the
inhabitants of Kromanti, who laid the disastrous ambuscade. They
failed, however, to recover the body of their slain king; but many of
his attendants were retaken, and numerous enemies, whom they
sacrificed to the manes of their dead king at Kumasi.

After the death of the noble Osai Tutu, dissensions arose among his
followers. The tribes and kingdoms he had bound to his victorious
chariot-wheels began to assert their independence. His life-work began
to crumble. Disorder ran riot; and, after a few ambitious leaders were
convinced that the throne of Ashantee demanded brains and courage,
they cheerfully made way for the coronation of Osai Opoko, brother to
the late king. He was equal to the existing state of affairs. He
proved himself a statesman, a soldier, and a wise ruler. He organized
his army, and took the field in person against the revolting tribes.
He reconquered all the lost provinces. He defeated his most valorous
foe, the king of Gaman, after driving him into the Kong Mountains.
When his jealous underlings sought his overthrow by conspiracy, he
conquered them by an appeal to arms. His rule was attended by the most
lasting and beneficent results. He died in 1742, and was succeeded by
his brother, Osai Akwasi.

The fame and military prowess of the kings of the Ashantees were borne
on every passing breeze, and told by every fleeing fugitive. The whole
country was astounded by the marvellous achievements of this people,
and not a little envy was felt among adjoining nations. The king of
Dahomey especially felt like humiliating this people in battle. This
spirit finally manifested itself in feuds, charges, complaints, and,
laterally, by actual hostilities. The king of Dahomey felt that he had
but one rival, the king of Ashantee. He felt quite sure of victory on
account of the size, spirit, and discipline of his army. It was idle
at this time, and was ordered to the Ashantee border. The first
engagement took place near the Volta. The king of Dahomey had
succeeded in securing an alliance with the armies of Kawaku and
Bourony, but the valor and skill of the Ashantees were too much for
the invading armies. If King Akwasi had simply maintained his
defensive position, his victory would have been lasting; but,
overjoyed at his success, he unwittingly pursued the enemy beyond the
Volta, and carried war into the kingdom of Dahomey. Troops fight with
great desperation in their own country. The Ashantee army was struck
on its exposed flanks, its splendid companies of Caboceers went down
before the intrepid Amazons. Back to the Volta, the boundary line
between the two empires, fled the routed Ashantees. Akwasi received a
mortal wound, from which he died in 1752, when his nephew, Osai
Kudjoh, succeeded to the throne.

Three brothers had held the sceptre over this empire, but now it
passed to another generation. The new king was worthy of his
illustrious family. After the days of mourning for his royal uncle
were ended, before he ascended the throne, several provinces revolted.
He at once took the field, subdued his recalcitrant subjects, and made
them pay a heavy tribute. He won other provinces by conquest, and awed
the neighboring tribes until an unobstructed way was open to his
invincible army across the country to Cape Palmas. His fame grew with
each military manoeuvre, and each passing year witnessed new triumphs.
Fawning followed envy in the heart of the king of Dahomey; and a large
embassy was despatched to the powerful Kudjoh, congratulating him upon
his military achievements, and seeking a friendly alliance between the
two governments. Peace was now restored; and the armies of Ashantee
very largely melted into agricultural communities, and great
prosperity came. But King Kudjoh was growing old in the service of his
people; and, as he could no longer give his personal attention to
public affairs, dissensions arose in some of the remote provinces.
With impaired vision and feeble health he, nevertheless, put an army
into the field to punish the insubordinate tribes; but before
operations began he died. His grandson, Osai Kwamina, was designated
as legal successor to the throne in 1781. He took a solemn vow that he
would not enter the palace until he secured the heads of Akombroh and
Afosee, whom he knew had excited and incited the people to rebellion
against his grandfather. His vengeance was swift and complete. The
heads of the rebel leaders were long kept at Juntas as highly prized
relics of the reign of King Kwamina. His reign was brief, however. He
was deposed for attempting to introduce the Mohammedan religion into
the kingdom. Osai Apoko was crowned as his successor in 1797. The
Gaman and Kongo armies attached themselves to the declining fortunes
of the deposed king, and gave battle for his lost crown. It was a lost
cause. The new king could wield his sword as well as wear a crown. He
died of a painful sickness, and was succeeded by his son, Osai Tutu
Kwamina, in 1800.

The new king was quite youthful, - only seventeen; but he inherited
splendid qualities from a race of excellent rulers. He re-organized
his armies, and early won a reputation for courage, sagacity, and
excellent ability, extraordinary in one so young. He inherited a
bitter feeling against the Mohammedans, and made up his mind to
chastise two of their chiefs, Ghofan and Ghobago, and make the
territory of Banna tributary to Ashantee. He invaded their country,
and burned their capital. In an engagement fought at Kaha, the entire
Moslem army was defeated and captured. The king of Ghofan was wounded
and made prisoner, and died in the camp of the Ashantee army. Two more
provinces were bound to the throne of Kwamina; and we submit that this
is an historical anomaly, in that a pagan people subdued an army that
emblazoned its banner with the faith of _the one God_!

The Ashantee empire had reached the zenith of its glory. Its flag
waved in triumph from the Volta to Bossumpea, and the Kong Mountains
had echoed the exploits of the veterans that formed the strength of
its army. The repose that even this uncivilized people longed for was
denied them by a most unfortunate incident.

Asim was a province tributary to the Ashantee empire. Two of the
chiefs of Asim became insubordinate, gave offence to the king, and
then fled into the country of the Fantis, one of the most numerous and
powerful tribes on the Gold Coast. The Fantis promised the fugitives
armed protection. There was no extradition treaty in those days. The
king despatched friendly messengers, who were instructed to set forth
the faults of the offending subjects, and to request their return. The
request was contemptuously denied, and the messengers subjected to a
painful death. The king of Ashantee invaded the country of the enemy,
and defeated the united forces of Fanti and Asim. He again made them
an offer of peace, and was led to believe it would be accepted. But
the routed army was gathering strength for another battle, although
Chibbu and Apontee had indicated to the king that the conditions of
peace were agreeable. The king sent an embassy to learn when a formal
submission would take place; and they, also, were put to death. King
Osai Tutu Kwamina took "_the great oath_," and vowed that he would
never return from the seat of war or enter his capital without the
heads of the rebellious chiefs. The Ashantee army shared the desperate
feelings of their leader; and a war was begun, which for cruelty and
carnage has no equal in the annals of the world's history. Pastoral
communities, hamlets, villages, and towns were swept by the red waves
of remorseless warfare. There was no mercy in battle: there were no
prisoners taken by day, save to be spared for a painful death at
nightfall. Their groans, mingling with the shouts of the victors, made
the darkness doubly hideous; and the blood of the vanquished army, but
a short distance removed, ran cold at the thoughts of the probable
fate that waited them on the morrow. Old men and old women, young men
and young women, the rollicking children whose light hearts knew no
touch of sorrow, as well as the innocent babes clinging to the
agitated bosoms of their mothers, - unable to distinguish between
friend or foe, - felt the cruel stroke of war. All were driven to an
inhospitable grave in the place where the fateful hand of war made
them its victims, or perished in the sullen waters of the Volta. For
nearly a hundred miles "the smoke of their torment" mounted the skies.
Nothing was left in the rear of the Ashantee army, not even cattle or
buildings. Pursued by a fleet-footed and impartial disaster, the
fainting Fantis and their terrified allies turned their faces toward
the seacoast. And why? Perhaps this fleeing army had a sort of
superstitious belief that the sea might help them. Then, again, they
knew that there were many English on the Gold Coast; that they had
forts and troops. They trusted, also, that the young king of the
Ashantees would not follow his enemy under the British flag and guns.
They were mistaken. The two revolting chiefs took refuge in the fort
at Anamabo. On came the intrepid king, thundering at the very gates of
the English fort. The village was swept with the hot breath of battle.
Thousands perished before this invincible army. The English soldiers
poured hot shot and musketry into the columns of the advancing army;
but on they marched to victory with an impurturbable air, worthy of
"_the old guard_" under Ney at Waterloo. Preparations were completed
for blowing up the walls of the fort; and it would have been but a few
hours until the king of Ashantee would have taken the governor's
chair, had not the English capitulated. During the negotiations one of
the offending chiefs made good his escape to a little village called
Cape Coast; but the other was delivered up, and, having been taken
back to Kumasi, was tortured to death. Twelve thousand persons fell in
the engagement at Anamabo, and thousands of lives were lost in other
engagements. This took place in 1807.

In 1811 the king of Ashantee sent an array to Elmina to protect his
subjects against predatory bands of Fantis. Three or four battles were
fought, and were invariably won by the Ashantee troops.

Barbarians have about as long memories as civilized races. They are a
kind-hearted people, but very dangerous and ugly when they are led to
feel that they have been injured. "_The great oath_" means a great
deal; and the king was not happy in the thought that one of the
insolent chiefs had found refuge in the town of Cape Coast, which was
in the Fanti country. So in 1817 he invaded this country, and called
at Cape Coast, and reduced the place to the condition of a siege. The
English authorities saw the Fantis dying under their eyes, and paid
the fine imposed by the King of Ashantee, rather than bury the dead
inhabitants of the beleaguered town. The Ashantees retired.

England began to notice the Ashantees. They had proven themselves to
be a most heroic, intelligent, and aggressive people. The Fantis lay
stretched between them and the seacoast. The frequent invasion of this
country, for corrective purposes as the Ashantees believed, very
seriously interrupted the trade of the coast; and England began to
feel it. The English had been defeated once in an attempt to assist
the Fantis, and now thought it wise to turn attention to a pacific
policy, looking toward the establishment of amicable relations between
the Ashantees and themselves. There had never been any unpleasant
relations between the two governments, except in the instance named.
The Ashantees rather felt very kindly toward England, and for
prudential and commercial reasons desired to treat the authorities at
the coast with great consideration. They knew that the English gave
them a market for their gold, and an opportunity to purchase
manufactured articles that they needed. But the Fantis, right under
the English flag, receiving a rent for the ground on which the English
had their fort and government buildings, grew so intolerably abusive
towards their neighbors, the Ashantees, that the British saw nothing
before them but interminable war. It was their desire to avoid it if
possible. Accordingly, they sent an embassy to the king of the
Ashantees, consisting of Gov. James, of the fort at Akra, a Mr.
Bowdich, nephew to the governor-in-chief at Cape Coast, a Mr.
Hutchinson, and the surgeon of the English settlement, Dr. Teddlie.
Mr. Bowdich headed the embassy to the royal court, where they were
kindly received. A treaty was made. The rent that the Fantis had been
receiving for ground occupied by the English - four ounces of gold per
month - was to be paid to the king of Ashantee, as his by right of
conquest. Diplomatic relations were to be established between the two
governments, and Mr. Hutchinson was to remain at Kumasi as the British
resident minister. He was charged with the carrying out of so much of
the treaty as related to his government. The treaty was at once
forwarded to the home government, and Mr. Dupuis was appointed consul
of his Majesty's government to the court of Ashantee. A policy was
outlined that meant the opening up of commerce with the distant
provinces of the Ashantee empire along the Kong Mountains. In those
days it took a long time to sail from England to the Gold Coast in
Western Africa; and before Consul Dupuis reached the coast, the king
of Ashantee was engaged in a war with the king of Gaman. The Ashantee
army was routed. The news of the disaster was hailed by the Fantis on
the coast with the most boisterous and public demonstrations. This
gave the king of Ashantee offence. The British authorities were quite
passive about the conduct of the Fantis, although by solemn treaty
they had become responsible for their deportment. The Fantis grew very
insulting and offensive towards the Ashantees. The king of the latter
called the attention of the authorities at the Cape to the conduct of
the Fantis, but no official action was taken. In the mean while Mr.
Dupuis was not allowed to proceed on his mission to the capital of the
Ashantees. Affairs began to assume a very threatening attitude; and
only after the most earnest request was he permitted to proceed to the
palace of the king of Ashantee. He received a hearty welcome at the
court, and was entertained with the most lavish kindness. After long
and painstaking consideration, a treaty was decided upon that was
mutually agreeable; but the self-conceited and swaggering insolence of
the British authorities on the coast put it into the waste-basket. The
commander of the British squadron put himself in harmony with the
local authorities, and refused to give Consul Dupuis transportation to
England for the commissioners of the Ashantee government, whom he had
brought to the coast with the intention of taking to London with him.

A war-cloud was gathering. Dupuis saw it. He sent word to the king of
Ashantee to remember his oath, and refrain from hostilities until he
could communicate with the British government. The treaty stipulated
for the recognition, by the British authorities, of the authority of
the Ashantee king over the Fantis. Only those immediately around the
fort were subject to English law, and then not to an extent to exempt
them from tax imposed by the Ashantee authorities.

In the midst of these complications, Parliament, by a special act,
abolished the charter of the African Company. This put all its forts,
arsenals, and stations under the direct control of the crown. Sir
Charles McCarthy was made governor-general of the British possessions
on the Gold Coast, and took up his head-quarters at Cape Coast in
March, 1822. Two months had passed now since Dupuis had sailed for
England; and not a syllable had reached the king's messenger, who, all
this time, had waited to hear from England. The country was in an
unsettled state. Gov, McCarthy was not equal to the situation. He fell
an easy prey to the fawning and lying Fantis. They received him as the
champion of their declining fortunes, and did every thing in their
power to give him an unfriendly opinion of the Ashantees. The king of
the Ashantees began to lose faith in the British. His faithful
messenger returned from the coast bearing no friendly tidings. The
king withdrew his troops from the seacoast, and began to put his army
upon a good war-footing. When all was in readiness a Negro sergeant in
the British service was seized, and put to a torturous death. This was
a signal for the grand opening. Of course the British were bound to
demand redress. Sir Charles McCarthy was informed by some Fantis
scouts that the king of Ashantee, at the head of his army, was
marching for Cape Coast. Sir Charles rallied his forces, and went
forth to give him battle. His object was to fight the king at a

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 6 of 57)