A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

A history of the Gold Coast of West Africa online

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believed by the natives to be the habitat of one of their
local gods, and consequently sacred, and the Kommendas,
resenting what they conceived to be a sacrilege, assaulted
and beat the workmen, and carried them off as prisoners.
After some negotiations the prisoners were released; but,
as the Kommendas refused to make any reparation for the
attack on them, the Dutch brought a force of mercenaries
from Cape Coast and Elmina, at a cost of ,5,000, and
commenced hostilities. In the first general engagement
which took place the Kommendas were completely vic-
torious, and the greater number of the Dutch auxiliaries
were killed or taken prisoners ; but the Dutch succeeded by
bribes in gaining over the brother of the King of Kommenda
to their interest, and with a fresh force of auxiliaries essayed
a second attempt. This, however, fared no better than the
first, and the Dutch were driven back to their fort, which
mounted twenty guns.

In 1695 the Kommendas attempted to dislodge their
foes altogether, and made a determined onslaught upon the
fort. Says the Dutch commander : " Our enemies attacked
us by night. I had but a very sorry garrison not full
twenty men, half of which were not capable of service
and yet I forced them to retire with loss, after a fight oi
five hours. It was wonderful, and no small sign of divine
protection, that we lost but two men in this action ; for
we had no doors to most of our gun-holes, and the Negroes
poured small shot on us as thick as hail, insomuch that those
few doors that were left to some gun-holes were become
like a target which had been shot at for a mark ; and the


very staff which our flag was fastened on, though it took up
so little room, did not escape shot-free. You may imagine
what case we were in when one of them began to hack
our very doors with an axe; but this undertaker being
killed, the rest sheered off. The General, to whom I had
represented my weak condition, advised two ships to anchor
before our fort, in order to supply me with men and ammu-
nition. Peter Heriken, the captain of one of these vessels,
endeavouring to execute the General's order the day before
I was attacked, sent his boat full of men with orders to
come to me ; but they were no sooner on land than the
Negroes fell upon them so furiously, even under our cannon,
that they killed several of them, which, though I saw, I
could not prevent; for, attempting to fire upon the enemy
with our cannon, I found them all nailed ; of which piece
of treacherous villany, according to all appearance, my own
gunner was the actor, whom I therefore sent in chains to
the General (at our chief place of residence), who swore
that he would punish him exemplarily ; but, instead of that,
he soon after not only set him at liberty, but preferred him
to a gunner's place of greater importance.

" For this reason I was forced to be an idle spectator
of the miserable slaughter of our men, not being able to lend
them the least assistance ; and if the Negroes had at that
instant stormed us, we were in no posture of resistance.
But they going to eat, gave me time to prepare for the
entertainment I gave them, as I have before told you. Here
I cannot help relating a comical accident which happened :
Going to visit the posts of our fort, to see whether everybody
was at their duty, one of the soldiers, quitting his post, told
me that the Negroes, well knowing he had but one hat in the
world, had maliciously shot away the crown, which he would
revenge if I would give him a few grenadoes. I had no
sooner ordered him two than he called out to the Negroes
from the breastwork in their own language, telling them he
would present them with something to eat, and, kindling his
grenadoes, immediately threw them down amongst them.
They, observing them to burn, crowded about them, and


were at first very agreeably diverted ; but when they burst
they so galled them that they had no great stomach to such
another meal." *

The Dutch, after the failure of the attack on their fort,
reopened negotiations, and peace would probably have been
made had not the English, whose fort stood close to that of
the Dutch, and who hoped to profit by the quarrel, instigated
the King to demand satisfaction on the strength of his two
victories. The Dutch soon, however, succeeded in fomenting
discord amongst the Kommendas, and hiring more native
allies, a desultory war, characterised by great barbarities,
continued for some months, and at last died a natural death.

In 1698 the English trade to Africa, which had virtually
been open since 1688, was expressly made so by Statutes IX.
and X. of William and Mary, c. 26, which enacted " That
for the preservation of the trade, and for the advantage of
England and its colonies, it should be lawful for any of the
subjects of His Majesty's realm of England, as well as for
the Company, to trade from England and the plantations in
America, to Africa, between Cape Mount and the Cape of
Good Hope, upon paying for the aforesaid uses a duty of
ten per cent., ad valorem, for the goods exported from
England or the plantations, to be paid to the collector at the
time of entry outwards, for the use of the Company." The
duties so paid were to be applied to the maintenance of the
forts, the purchase of munitions of war, and the pay of the
soldiers. Persons paying these duties were to have the same
protection from the forts, and the same freedom for trade, as
the' Company. This law was to continue in force for
thirteen years, and both the Company and many private
traders remonstrated against it without effect. In a few
years the Company's trade declined to such an extent, that
they were unable either to support their factories, or to pay
the debts which they had already incurred. It may here
be mentioned that this Act, which expired in 1712, was
again renewed by Parliament.

* Bosnian.


In 1698 the English fort at Sekondi was taken and burned
by the Ahantas, and several of its occupants killed, amongst
them the factor, Johnson, whom Phillips had found in bed
mad. The whole place was plundered and gutted, only the
outer Avails being left standing. The English agents at Cape
Coast charged the Dutch with having assisted the Ahantas,
and sent a protest to the Director-General, John Van Seven-
huysen, who, however, denied complicity, and declared that
the Dutch vessels that had been sent to Sekondi at the time
of the occurrence had merely been in search of interlopers.
It is not probable that there was any foundation for the
charge, for, from the Paris Gazette, of November, 1694, it
seems that Fort Orange, the Dutch fort at Sekondi, was also
taken and plundered by the Ahantas in September of that
year; and a small Dutch vessel that was at anchor was
captured at the same time, and all the crew massacred.
The Dutch, therefore, were not likely to be on friendly terms
with the Ahantas.


Native States in 1701 European forts Personnel of the Dutch establish-
ments Interlopers Description of the Settlements The trade in
gold Arms of the natives.

IN 1701 was written the " Description of Guinea," by
William Bosman, Chief Factor of the Dutch West India Com-
pany at Elmina, a work which gives us a clear and succinct
account of the Gold Coast at that time. The eleven Native
States on the sea-board, already mentioned in Chapter III.,
still existed, with the exception of Accra, which was now
replaced by Akwamu ; but a few other changes are noticeable.
Fetu had so declined as only to exist under the protection
of Commani or Kommenda, and Accra was similarly under
the protection of Fanti ; while Ahanta, from being a power-
ful kingdom, had sunk to insignificance, owing to the pro-
tracted war between it and Adorn and Jabi. We now for the
first time hear of some of the inland States, and Bosman
mentions Awuin and Eguira, to the north of Axim ; Wassaw,
north of Ahanta; Inkassa, north of Adorn, and Jusser, north
of Kommenda. North of these lay the kingdom of Denkera,
then the most powerful State to the west of the Prah, and
to which Awuin, Wassaw, Inkassa, and Jusser were subject.
The last-named seems to have been the present Tshiforo, or
Tufel. To the east of the Prah were Akanna (north of Fetu)
Akim, and Akwamu. The last named extended from Aguna
to the River Volta, and comprised the present Akwapim and



Eastern Akim. Of the more remote inland tribes, Bosman
expressly states, nothing was known except by report. He
mentions Asiante (Ashanti) and Akim as the two principal,,
but neither of these peoples had as yet penetrated to the

The forts then occupied were as follows, commencing
from the west :


Prince's River
Akwidah .
Dixcove .
Sekondi .
Shamah .

Elmina ..
Cape Coast

Mori . .



Appam .




Fort St. Anthony
Fort Dorothea .
Dixcove Fort .
Fort Batenstein
Fort Orange
Fort St. Sebastian .
Fort Vrendenburgh .
Kommenda Fort
Castle of St. George \
Fort Conraadsburgh J
Cape Coast Castle
Fort Royal
Fort Nassau . .
Anamabo Fort.
Fort Amsterdam
Fort Leydfamheyd .
Winnebah Fort
James Fort
Fort Crevecceur

When built.

Dutch . . 1515.
Brandenburgh . 1682.
Brandenburgh . 1685.


. . 1691.


. circa 1640..


. circa 1640.


. circa 1640.


. 1687.


. circa 1673.


. 1482.

. 1638.


. circa 1662.
. circa 1659.


. 1624.


. circa 1673.


. circa 1650.


. . 1697.


. 1694.


. circa 1673.


. circa 1650..


. circa 1645.

The Fort Royal above mentioned as being at Cape
Coast was no other than the Danish fort of Fredericsburgh,.
at the suburb of Omanfo, which the English had purchased
in 1685, and renamed. Notwithstanding all these fortified
places, neither the English nor the Dutch were, according to
Bosman, possessed of any real power, and trade was con-
tinually stopped by the natives, and the forts blockaded.
As we have seen, the Ahantas had captured both the
Dutch and English forts at Sekondi, and utterly destroyed
the latter. He complained of the inefficient garrisons,
maintained, especially by the English.

Bosnian's description of the personnel of the Dutch


establishments is curious. He commences with the soldiers
and their commanders, as being the lowest, for in those
days trade looked down upon arms as much as arms now
affects to do upon trade. He tells us that formerly those of
the soldiers who showed any aptitude for trade were pro-
moted to be assistants, but that this had been now prohibited
for some years, so many of the men thus promoted proving
to be drunkards and utterly incapable. The assistant was
the lowest officer of the trading department, with pay and
allowances amounting to thirty-six guilders a month ($ 3^.),
and the Under-Commissary, or sub-factor, came next with
eight guilders a month more. From the oldest or best
qualified sub-factors were selected the factors for the forts,
who received sixty-six guilders a month ($ i$s.}; an d the
most experienced amongst them were appointed to Mori and
Cormantine, where they received fourteen guilders a month
more. These two places were considered so important that
the Company in Holland had retained in their 'own hands
the right of appointment to them, as well as to that of chief
factor of Elmina, who was the second person oa the Coast,
with a salary of one hundred guilders a month. The
Governor, or Director - General, received three hundred
guilders a month (26 5^.), and had beside a percentage on
the profits of the trade. The factors were held responsible
for the doings of the sub-factors, whose business it was to
receive the gold, and Bosman tells us that it was necessary
to watch them very closely. He mentions that one factor
had to make good between ^"800 and ^"900 lost or squandered
by his sub-factor, and says, that although a factor under such
circumstances had his remedy against the defaulter, yet as
the sub-factors rarely had either money or effects, this was not
of much avail, and the only satisfaction he could take was to
have the defaulter flogged. Any assistant might in course of
time, if he lived long enough, rise to become Director-General,
the only stipulation being that he should have previously
served as chief factor of Elmina for three years.

Besides these officers engaged in the trade, there was a
chief-fiscal, a bookkeeper-general, an accountant of the gar-


rison, and an under-fiscal. The chief-fiscal had a third of
all gold or merchandise seized from interlopers, and of alt
fines or forfeitures of pay inflicted. The under-fiscal, whom
Bosman stigmatises as an informer, received a tenth of all
forfeitures or fines. In the spiritual department there was a
minister with a salary of one hundred and ten guilders a
month, and a clerk, with twenty guilders. All the officials
of the Company were compelled to go to church every
day, or forfeit twenty-five stivers, except on Sundays and
Thursdays, when the fine was doubled.

The salaries paid by the Dutch Company seem ridicu-
lously small, even when the great difference between the
value of money in that day and this is taken into con-
sideration, and it is a matter for wonder that Europeans
should have been willing to exile themselves for years in
such a pestilential climate for such miserable pittances ; but,
as Bosman says, no one ever came there who could live in
Holland. The Director-General's annual salary was only
^"315, and that of a wretched assistant 37 i6s., and out
of this they had to feed and clothe themselves. The English
officials seem to have been much better paid, for, according
to Atkins (1721), the English Director - General received
^"2,000 a year, two factors, or merchants, ^300 each, and
a secretary .200. These four composed the Council for
all the affairs of the Company on the Coast.

The Dutch and Brandenburgh Companies, though cor-
dially disliking one another, were mutually agreed as to
the seizing of those interlopers who trespassed upon their
exclusive trade. These vessels, as already said, were com-
monly well armed, and did not surrender without a struggle,
and Bosman mentions a case in which a Dutch interloper,
the Great Apollo, was only taken after a determined
resistance by the cruiser Besc/temer, off Axim. However,
the interlopers seem to have found the trade sufficiently
profitable to run some risks, for Bosman says : " The negro
inhabitants are very rich, driving a great trade with the
Europeans for gold, which they chiefly vend to the English
and Zealand interlopers, notwithstanding the severe penalty


they incur thereby ; for if we catch them, their so-bought
goods are not only forfeited, but a heavy fine is laid upon
them : not deterred, I say, by this, they all hope to escape ;
to effect which, they bribe our slaves (who are set as
watches and spies over them) to let them pass by night ;
by which means we are hindered from having much above
an hundredth part of the gold of this land." The trade of
the three Companies was carried on inside their forts or
lodges, to which the natives brought their gold and slaves ;
and Bosman expressly says that no goods were sent outside
the walls for sale, and that no credit was ever given.

His description of the towns or villages in the neighbour-
hood of the forts, shows that they were in a condition almost
identical with their present one. He describes the now
entirely ruined and almost forgotten Brandenburgh fort,
Great Fredericsburg, at Prince's River, as having four
batteries, mounting in all forty-six pieces of ordnance. The
gate of the fort was the most beautiful on the whole Coast.
Sekondi, he says, was formerly one of the finest and richest
villages on the Coast, but had recently been burned in the
war between the Ahantas and Adorns. The former had
resisted all attempts made by the English to rebuild the fort
that had been destroyed in 1698. The town of Oddena,
under the guns of St. George d'Elmina, he mentions as
being built of stone, instead, as is usual, of swish. This was
the disloyal quarter of Elmina, which we destroyed in 1873.
Fifteen or twenty years before he wrote it had been very
populous, and its inhabitants were dreaded by all the sur-
rounding tribes; but it had been depopulated by smallpox
and the wars with the Kommendas.

Of Cape Coast Castle he says : " The fort is strengthened
with four very large batteries, besides a fifth, on which are
planted thirteen pieces of heavy cannon, and these being
pointed at the water passage can easily prevent any ships
of their enemies' anchoring in that road ; besides which a
great rock lies just before the fort, so that it is impossible to
shoot at it from the sea. The worst of all is that here is
generally but a very weak garrison, one part of which (I


mean the soldiers) consists of such miserable poor wretches
that the very sight of them excites pity. They look as
awkward and as wrisled as an old company of Spaniards;
the reason of which is, partly, that they greedily entertain
those who quit or desert our service, which they will never
deliver over to us out of a mistaken mercy, thereby freeing
them from their deserved punishment. And though by firm
promises and mutual agreement we have frequently and
interchangeably obliged ourselves not to countenance or
entertain any deserters from each other, but, on the contrary,
to send them home in irons, yet they have once more broken
the articles; and notwithstanding that those who have run
away from us are chiefly sottish wretches, yet they are very
welcome to them, the English never being better pleased
than when the soldier spends his money in drink, especially
in punch, a liquor made of brandy, water, lime-juice, and
sugar, which make together an unwholesome mixture. . . .
It is incredible how many are consumed by this damnable
liquor (pardon the expression), which is not only confined to
the soldiery, but some of the principal people are so bigotted
to it that I really believe for all the time I was on the coast
that at least one of their agents, and factors innumerable,
died yearly."

We might, perhaps, be disposed to regard this charge of
intemperance brought against the English as unconsciously
exaggerated by trade rivalry, but unfortunately it is only too
well confirmed by the evidence both of Barbot and Atkins.
The former of these two, however, disagrees with Bosman as
to the inefficiency of the garrison maintained at Cape Coast
Castle, for he says it consisted of one hundred white soldiers,
and as many black, with officers, " all clothed in red."

The English Governor at Cape Coast was styled " Captain
General of the English Settlements on the Gold Coast of
Guinea." He required every ship that anchored in Cape
Coast roads, no matter of what nationality, to salute the
Castle by lowering the topsails to the tops; and fired shotted
guns at all that omitted to pay this compliment. Barbot
tells us that on his voyage there in a French vessel he


saluted the Castle with seven guns, to which five were
returned ; and he was about to anchor when three shotted
guns were fired at him. Thinking that war must have
been declared between England and France, he hastened
to quit the roads, and it was only afterwards that he learned
the reason of this high-handed proceeding. According to
Bosman, the English agents were but little acquainted with
the affairs of the Coast, on account of the short stay they
made ; and they were guided in all matters concerning
trade and the natives by a mulatto named Bartu, who
lived opposite the Castle. Atkins, in his account of Cape
Coast Castle, mentions " the spacious vault under the square
or place of arms, cut out of the rock, and divided into severa
rooms, so as to contain a thousand slaves." The slave.'
were chained and confined in these dungeons now usec
as stores often for weeks at a time, till a ship came tc
carry them to the West Indies. They were all brandec
on the right breast with the letters " D. Y." (Duke of York)

Bosman also mentions the late Danish fort at the suburl
of Omanfo, which the English had purchased. It used t<
mount six guns, but the English proposed enlarging am
strengthening it. The summit of the hill was to be scarpec
and when finished it was to be the strongest position o:
the Coast. At the present day traces of the foundation
of two or three buildings are visible on this hill, and ther
are a few small pieces of ordnance lying about. After
lapse of one hundred and eighty years, the hill-top is sti.'
so steeply scarped that it can only be surmounted at on .-
point, which is defended by a deep ditch.

At Mori, the chief station of the Dutch, while th -
Portuguese held Elmina, the majority of the inhabitant >
were in Bosnian's time, as now, fishermen, and the toll of th ;
fifth fish was exacted by the factor. " This sort of toll," say >
Bosman, " we yet . reserve at three places besides, viz. < :
Axim, Shamah, and Elmina, by reason we have conquere I
those places, though I dare not affirm that of Mori. N >
other Europeans have this peculiar prerogative, nor do an -
of them exercise such a sovereign authority over their Negi >


subjects as we ; which is indeed chiefly their own fault,
and, by their means we have also lost some of our former

Of Anamabo, he says : " The English here are so horribly
plagued by the Fantynean Negroes (Fantis), that they are
sometimes even confined to their fort, not being permitted to
stir out. And if the Negroes dislike the Governor of the
fort, they usually send him in a canoa to Cabocors (Cape
Coast) ; nor are the English able to oppose or prevent it,
but are obliged to make their peace by a present. The
town of Anamabo may very well pass for the strongest on the
whole coast, affording as many armed men as the whole
kingdom of Saboe or Commany ; and yet in proportion but
a fifth part of Fantyn."

The State of Aguna was ruled by a Queen, an unusual
custom on the Gold Coast, but which had 'apparently
been in force in Aguna from time immemorial. According
to Barbot, the Queen was not allowed to marry, but could
purchase male slaves as paramours. These were liable
to be discarded and sold at any moment, and if they
intrigued with any other women they lost their heads. The
successor to the " stool " was the eldest daughter of the
Queen, who, as soon as she arrived at puberty, was similarly
entitled to purchase male slaves. Any male children of the
Queen, or heiress apparent, were sold as slaves. It is pro-
bable that Aguna was the last surviving kingdom of a people
who inhabited the Gold Coast before the tribes from the
interior descended to the coast. These latter all spoke
dialects of one language, the Tshi, but in the south of
Aguna, even at the present day, a dialect of a totally ^distinct
language still exists, although Tshi is the language of
ordinary use ; and there can be little doubt but that this
distinct language is that of an older people. In none of the
Tshi States on the littoral of the Gold Coast were women
ever advanced to positions of power, and the existence of a
Queen in Aguna seems to show that the pre-Tshi inhabitants
had different customs.

The sanitary, or rather insanitary, condition of the native



towns appears to have undergone no change since Bosnian
wrote, and to it he attributes, no doubt correctly, much of the
unhealthiness of the climate. In his day, however, the
death-rate was probably increased by the " ignorant barbers,"
who were, he tells us, the only physicians. Added to this,
medicines rapidly spoiled from the dampness of the atmo-
sphere, and nothing was to be obtained to eat " besides fish
and a dry lean hen." In the latter respect Europeans are
not much better off at the present day.

The value of the gold annually exported Bosman cal-
culates at 7,000 marks, reckoning three marks to one
thousand guilders. This would be equivalent to rather
more than ,203,000. Of this he reckons that the Dutch
West India Company obtained 1,500 marks, the English
African Company 1,200 marks, and the Danes and Branden-
burghers 1,000 marks ; the remainder, 3,300 marks, being

Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisA history of the Gold Coast of West Africa → online text (page 7 of 34)