A. B. (Alfred Burdon) Ellis.

A history of the Gold Coast of West Africa online

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carried off by the interlopers. Even at that time the falsifi-
cation of gold was largely practised by the natives, especially
by those of Dixcove and Butri ; and he mentions one
instance in which the owner of two small English vessels
received at the latter place dust which he imagined to be
gold to the value of 1,700, but which afterwards proved
to be quite valueless. In this case the goods were not
recovered from the natives, nor did the unfortunate owner
obtain any redress. The ordinary methods of fraud were
to mix filings of a mixture of silver and copper with gold-
dust, or to cast nuggets of copper or lead covered with a
shell of gold; but where the traders were novices, the
natives boldly palmed off brass filings upon them.

A large trade was done in fire-arms and gunpowder,
which, says Bosman, the Dutch were compelled to adopt,
because the English, Danes, and Brandenburghers would
insist upon supplying them. The Portuguese had, it seems,
wisely prohibited any trade in fire-arms, and probably the
importation of such weapons had not long been carried
on when Bosman wrote; or, at all events, not to any great
extent, for he mentions, amongst the weapons used by
the natives, swords, bows and arrows, spears, and shields.


All these have now disappeared from the Coast, except
in the far interior, to the north of Ashanti. The swords,
" shaped like hooks," were about " two or three hands broad
at the extremity, and about one at the handle, and about
three or four spans long at most." This shape, as well
as that of the handle described by him, is still preserved
in the state swords used by chiefs upon ceremonial occasions.
Bows and arrows were, he tells us, not much in vogue
amongst the natives of the seaboard, those of Akwamu
excepted. The Awuins used poisoned arrows, but elsewhere
this practice was not known. There were two kinds of
spears one for throwing, " about a Flemish ell in length,"
and the other for stabbing, about twice the size and weight
of the former. The shields, about four or five feet long
and three broad, were made of osiers covered with gilded
leather, leopard and other skins. Some of them had plates
of copper at the extremities and in the middle, to ward
off arrows and javelins.

Elephants, which have now entirely disappeared from
the forests of the Gold Coast, were then very commonly
met with, even in the vicinity of the forts. In December,
i/oo, one walked along the shore of the River Beyah, under
St. Jago Hill, and went into the Government Garden at
Elmina, where he broke down the cocoa-nut palms. He
was followed by a number of people, and above a hundred
shots were fired at him, "which made him bleed to that
degree, as if an ox had been killed. During all which he
did not stir, but only set up his ears, and made the men
apprehend that he would follow them. But this sport was
accompanied with a tragical event ; for a Negro, fancying
himself able to deal with him, went softly behind him, and
catched his tail in his hand, designing to cut a piece of it
off; but the elephant, being used to wear a tail, would not
permit it to be shortened in his lifetime : wherefore, after
giving the Negro a stroke with his snout, he drew him to
him, and trod upon him two or three times; and, as if that
was not sufficient, he bored in his body two holes with his
teeth, large enough for a man's double fist to enter. Then


he let him lie, without making any further attempt on him ;
and stood still also whilst two Negroes fetched away the
dead body, not offering to meddle with them in the least/'
After thus asserting himself, the elephant returned to the
river, the crowd flying before him in every direction, but at
last fell down through loss of blood, and was then hacked to

1701 1/50.

Conquest of Denkera by Ashanti The Elmina Note Affairs in Ashanti
LI.IJ to 1750 John Conny Condition of the Royal African Company
The African Company of Merchants formed The slave trade
Piracy on the Coast.

AT the close of the seventeenth century the most powerful
native state on the Gold Coast known to Europeans was
that of Denkera, which, embarking upon a career of con-
quest, had reduced most of the neighbouring tribes to the
condition of feudatories, and was now, in the words of
Bosman, accustomed "to lord it over all the neighbouring
nations." Its latest conquest had been that of Awuin,
which state, after some first reverses, when several thousand
Denkeras fell victims to the poisoned arrows of the Awuins,
it succeeded in overrunning and subjecting. It is in con-
nection with Denkera that at this time we first hear of that
nation which afterwards made such a mark in the history of
the Gold Coast the nation of Ashanti. The Ashanti King,
as far as can be ascertained, then ruled over only a small
extent of territory around Kumassi,* and a limited portion
of Kwao, and the kingdom was considered of but little
importance. Tradition, indeed, asserts that it was at this
time tributary to Denkera, which seems probable enough,
though the Ashantis now indignantly deny it, and assert
that they have always maintained their independence.
* Kumassi, " under the Kum tree."


Early in the year 1701, Bosiante, King of Denkera, whc
had made his name celebrated all over the Coast for hi<
valour, sent some of his wives, in accordance with native
custom, on a complimentary visit to Osai Tutu, King ol
Ashanti, in token of esteem and friendship. The lattei
received his distinguished guests with all honour, treated
them with due ceremony, and a month or so later returned
the compliment by sending some of his wives to visit
Bosiante. Now, it is a common artifice of native diplomacy
for a chief to send some of his wives on a complimentary
visit to another chief, after having instructed one or more
of them to entangle their host in an intrigue, so that a
reasonable pretext for a quarrel, by which conquest may be
attempted or gold extorted, may be established. If this
was Bosiante's intention in sending his wives to Osai Tutu,
his scheme failed ; but he himself fell a victim to the wiles ol
one of the wives of the Ashanti King, who, on her return tc
Kumassi, duly informed her husband of the fact. Osai
Tutu professed to be outraged (perhaps he really was.
though all the evidence now obtainable goes to show that
Bosiante was entrapped) and declared his intention oi
washing out the insult in blood. In vain Bosiante offered
gold and endeavoured in every way to pacify the injured
husband; the latter rejected all offers of a peaceful settle-
ment of the quarrel, and collected large supplies of muskets
and gunpowder, which the Denkeras, most short-sightedly.
allowed to pass through their territory.

In the midst of these warlike preparations Bosiante died,
and his successor, Intim Dakari, sent to inform the Ashanti
King of this event, and to renew proposals for peace. These
proposals Osai Tutu contemptuously rejected, thus making
it clear that he was meditating the conquest of Denkera.
and that the insult offered by Bosiante was a mere pretext :
for the quarrel between himself and the latter was entirely
a personal one, and it could not be alleged that he had any
grievance against the Denkeras as a nation. The Denkeras
do not appear to have made any great preparations for war :
Ashanti was then a small tribe, they had subjected several


which were considered of equal or greater importance, and
no doubt they imagined they would easily repulse and
revenge the meditated aggression. They were entirely
ignorant of the warlike spirit of the tribe they were about
to meet, and of the system of military discipline which even
then was characteristic of Ashanti.

Having completed his preparations, Osai Tutu suddenly
swept into Denkera with a large army. The Denkeras were
completely defeated in two great battles, and the Akims,
who, alarmed at the unprecedented successes of Ashanti, came
to the assistance of Denkera, were driven back to their own
country with an alleged loss of thirty thousand men. The
Ashantis overran and pillaged the whole of Denkera, and
finally annexed the greater portion of it to Ashanti. Seventy
thousand Denkeras are said to have fallen.

These events are commonly believed to have taken place
in 1719, but this is evidently an error. The mistake may be
traced to Dupuis, who in 1824 gave a short summary of
Ashanti history, based on statements made to him by the
Mohammedans, during his visit to Kumassi in 1822. His
informants were unable to supply him with dates, but,
believing that Bosman wrote in 1721, and knowing that he
had referred to the conquest of Denkera as having taken
place shortly before he wrote, Dupuis fixed that event in
1719, and later writers, following him, have perpetuated the
error. It is probable that Dupuis saw a second edition of
Bosnian's " Description of Guinea," for the first edition was
translated, and published in London, in 1705. However,
the last letter fn his series is dated January 2nd, 1702, and
in an earlier letter he mentions the conquest of Denkera as
having taken place " a few months back ; " so that there can
be little doubt but that it occurred in 1701. This is to a
certain extent supported by Barbot, who says that Denkera
was conquered in 1700 or 1701.

The King of Denkera had been so considerable a trader
in slaves prisoners of war taken in the subjection of
Wassaw, Inkassa, and Awuin that, on the eve of the
Ashanti invasion, the Dutch Director-General at Elmina


sent to his assistance two or three small pieces of ordnance
and a few native gunners. History is silent as to what
part, if any, these played in the two decisive engagements
between the Ashantis and the Denkeras, but the cannon
fell into the hands of the former, and were taken to Kumassi
as trophies, where they might a few years ago still be seen
in the open space known as Appriim m' (Cannon Place).
But the Ashantis made a second capture, which was destined
to bring about much more important results than the
possession of a few cannon. This was a promissory note
on the part of the Dutch, undertaking to pay a monthly
sum to the King of Denkera. The view adopted by the
Dutch authorities at Elmina in 1871 was that this monthly
sum was paid to the King of Denkera as a sort of com-
mission, to encourage him to supply slaves to the Dutch
Company ; but it really seems to have been a rent for the
ground on which the Castle of St. George, or Fort
Conraadsburgh, or both, stood. The " note " was first
made payable to the chief of Elmina, but during the wars
between the Elminas and Kommendas it passed into the
hands of the latter, and thence came into the possession,
of the King of Denkera, who claimed, and regularly received,
payment. The King of Ashanti now claimed that by virtue
of his right of conquest the ground-rent should be paid
to him, and the Dutch, caring little who received the money,
readily complied. This compliance, of course, practically
amounted to a recognition of the ownership by the King of
Ashanti of the ground on which one or both of the Dutch
forts at Elmina stood a point which in aftr years became
of some importance.

The subjection of Denkera was the first of that long
series of conquests which subsequently raised Ashanti to
the position of paramount power upon the Gold Coast,
and it will now be convenient to give some account of its
early wars and successes. The dates here given, it may
be observed, are those of Dupuis ; but as they all seem to be
based upon the original error that Denkera was conquered
in 1719, it is probable that all are eighteen years too late.


After the conquest of Denkera, Osai Tutu turned his
arms against Akim, to punish that people for the assistance
lent to the Denkeras. The Akims were soon defeated, and,
besides being compelled to pay a heavy fine, the King of
Akim was reduced to the condition of a tributary. The
chiefs of Akim, however, repudiated the terms forced upon
their King, and the war being renewed, an Ashanti army
again invaded the country. As Osai Tutu was on his way
to join this army with a small escort, he and his followers
were suddenly attacked by a strong body of the enemy,,
which, lying in ambush, fell upon them as they were crossing
the Prah. The King was wounded in the side at the first
fire ; but he threw himself out of his hammock, and was
rallying his men, when a second volley was discharged, and
he fell dead upon his face in the river. This was in the
year 1731.

Encouraged by this success, the Denkeras again took
up arms and joined the Akims, as did the Assins, a nation,
then occupying the territory to the north of the Prah,.
between that river and Ashanti. The war was now prose-
cuted with greater fury than ever ; the brother and successor
of Osai Tutu, Osai Apoko, was successful on all sides, the
Assins and Denkeras were thoroughly subdued, and the
Akims crushed. A terrible example was made of Acromanti,
the town in which the party of Akims who had slain Osai
Tutu had halted on the night previous to their attack, every
living creature found in it being put to death, and every
house razed to the ground. To commemorate the death
of their King, the oath Akromanti Memereda (Akromanti
Saturday) was established by law as one of the most sacred
oaths of Ashanti. From the Akims, Osai Apoko captured
certain notes which undertook on the part of the issuers
English, Dutch, and Danish officials to pay to certain
chiefs of Accra and Christiansborg an annual sum as rent
for the ground on which the English and Dutch forts at
Accra, and the Danish castle of Christiansborg stood. These
notes had, it is said, come into the possession of the Akims
by the conquest of the chiefs of these sea- coast towns; and


the Ashanti King now claimed payment by right of capture,
just as he claimed payment of the Dutch note that he had
captured from the Denkeras.

Osai Apoko, a few years after the conquest of Akim,
invaded Gaman a state to the north-west of Ashanti
defeated its King in a great battle, and reduced him to the
condition of a feudatory. In the latter part of his reign
he was obliged to fly from his capital before a dangerous
conspiracy, caused by his attempting to curtail the power oi
the chiefs, and change the government by an aristocracy.-
which had hitherto prevailed, into a personal despotism. In
his retirement, however, he collected together his adherents,
and after endeavouring, unsuccessfully, to arrange a con-
vention at Djuabin for the settlement of the quarrel, he
attacked the rebellious chiefs, and finally defeated them.
He died suddenly in 1742, and the chiefs, before raising his
successor, Osai Akwasi, to the stool, were careful to stipulate
that the old constitution should be restored.

The new King had not long been in power when the
chiefs of Kwao and Western Akim, encouraged by promises
of assistance from Dahomi, rebelled. Osai Akwasi unex-
pectedly fell upon them with a considerable army, com-
pletely crushed them, and then crossed the River Volta tc
call the King of Dahomi to account. Two days' journey
beyond that river he met the Dahoman army, and a mosl
sanguinary engagement ensued, which was only terminated
by nightfall. Next morning the Ashantis were preparing tc
renew the contest, but were stopped by their priests, whc
declared that the omens were unfavourable. The Dahomans
mistaking this inactivity for want of resolution, advanced tc
the attack, and Osai Akwasi, without attempting any defence
ordered a retreat to the Volta, which he hastily recrossed
losing the greater part of his army. The Moors of Kumass
who informed M. Dupuis of this event, ascribed the disaster
solely to the superstitious fears of the Ashantis, they being
persuaded that the resources of Ashanti were quite sufficien
to have crushed Dahomi. This invasion of Dahomi is gene-
rally supposed to have taken place about 1750.


To return to the affairs on the littoral of the Gold Coast.
The first event worthy of note is that the Governor of
Elmina, in 1702, sent an expedition to endeavour to dis-
lodge the French from Assini, just beyond the confines of
the Gold Coast, where they had built a palisaded fort in the
previous year ; but the expedition failed in its object, and
returned, after having lost some fifty men, who landed and
fell into an ambush.

About 1720 the Brandenburghers abandoned their fort of
Great Fredericsburgh, at Prince's River, for their trade there
had gradually been declining for years, and they were on
bad terms with the natives, who had murdered one of their
directors by breaking all his limbs, and then throwing him
into the sea. On their withdrawal, the fort was taken pos-
session of by a local chief, who was known to Europeans as
John Conny. In 1720 the Dutch determined to occupy this
fort, and accordingly sent a bomb-vessel and two or three
small craft to demand its surrender, on the grounds that
they had purchased the building from the Brandenburghers.
Suspecting that this was a mere pretext, John Conny as-
tutely asked to see the deed of sale, which the Dutch were
unable to produce, for the alleged purchase was a mere
fiction ; and, finding they could not obtain possession by
fraud, they resorted to force. After bombarding the village
and fort for some time, without producing much effect, they
landed a body of men, who were, however, so warmly re-
ceived that not one of them survived to return to the
ships, which, thereupon, retired to Elmina. To celebrate his
success, John Conny had a narrow path, leading from the
outer gate of the fort to his apartment, paved with the
skulls of the slain Dutch, reserving one of an unusual size
to be lined with silver and used as a punch-bowl ; and the
tradition of these doings, considerably exaggerated, still
lingers in the neighbourhood of Prince's River. Marchais
says that 156 men were killed, and that the Dutch Director-
General was wounded. He says that a French ship, The
Princess of Rochfort, was at Prince's River at the time, and
that, after the Dutch had sailed away, John Conny offered


to give the fort to Morel, the French captain, for the purpose
of forming a French settlement ; but that Morel declined
the offer. According to the Dutch accounts, a lieutenant
and forty men were landed, and all killed.

After this success John Conny exercised sovereign rights
in the district, and exacted one ounce of gold from each
vessel that put into the place for the privilege of watering.
In 1721 the British men-of-war, Swallow and Weymouth.
neglected to pay this impost, and Conny seized the water-
casks and carried off ten or twelve of the watering-party as
prisoners. He, however, treated them well, saying that he
knew it was not their fault, and the difficulty was finally
settled by the payment of six ounces of gold and an anker ol
brandy by the British commander, Captain Chaloner Ogle.
The native chief remained in possession of the fort until
1725, when the Dutch attacked the place with a large force,
and forced him to fly for refuge to the Fantis.

The trade of the Royal African Company, which had com-
menced to decline with the passing of the Act of 1698, that
declared the trade open, was now in a very wretched
condition ; the private traders, who had no establishments or
the Coast to keep up, being able to sell their merchandise at
a far cheaper rate than the Company could, while the pay-
ment of the ten per cent, ad valorem for the maintenance ol
the forts was generally evaded. In 1721 the Company found
it necessary to raise a large sum by subscription ; the salaries
of the officials were cut down, and Surgeon Atkins, of the
SiualloWy who visited Cape Coast in that year, tells us that
the Company's officers, with the exception of those of the
first rank, were both wretchedly paid and badly used. They
were liable to heavy fines for drunkenness, swearing, sleeping
out of the Castle, neglect, and also for not going to church,
and according to Atkins, these fines were so frequently
inflicted that many of the subordinates found their whok
pay swallowed up and themselves in debt to the Company
which in this way obtained a hold upon them, and preventec
them from resigning their appointments. While he wa.'
there the captain of the Company's garrison at Cape Coasi


Castle escaped by night to a brigantine which was leaving
the Coast ; but the escape was discovered, the brigantine was
chased and overtaken by the Weymouth, her master fined
seventy ounces and flogged, and the captain restored to
the tender mercies of the Company. A Mr. Phipps was
Director-General of the English Company at this time. He
built a circular tower on a hill about half a mile to the north
of the Castle, which it commanded ; it was named, after him,
Phipps's Tower, but in after years became known as Fort
William. In the decay of their prosperity the Company was
now compelled to give credit to the natives, in order to com-
pete with the private traders, who were unable to do this, as
they only remained a short time on the Coast. Atkins says
that, to secure the payment, the Company's officials used to
make persons asking for credit pawn themselves to the Com-
pany, with the liability of being eventually sold in default.

It was in consequence of the wretched condition of the
affairs of the Company that on March 26th, 1730, the House
of Commons resolved that the trade to Africa should be
absolutely free, but that as it was necessary to keep up the
forts on the Coast, Parliament should grant an allowance to
the Company for that purpose. The trade had really been
practically free since 1700, and all that this resolution effected
was to transfer the cost of the maintenance of the forts to the
English tax-payer, instead of making the private traders, who
enjoyed their protection, contribute to their support ; but it
had been found impossible to collect the sums due from the
latter under the old Act. In accordance with this resolu-
tion, ; 1 0,000 was voted annually till 1744, when, on account
of the war with France and Spain, the amount was doubled.
In 1745 the grant again fell to ; 10,000, but in the year 1747
nothing was granted. Relieved of the cost of keeping up
the forts, the Royal African Company contrived to prolong
its existence till 1750, when an Act, entitled "An Act for
extending and improving the trade to Africa," was passed,
and a fifth company, called the African Company of Mer-
chants, was formed.

The slave trade had now increased to such an extent that


the Gold Coast alone was said to furnish annually ten
thousand slaves for the West Indies. This impulse was
chiefly due to the success which had attended the arms of
Ashanti, and thousands of prisoners of war were sent by that
people to the great slave mart of Mansu,* for sale to the
native brokers. The Gold Coast negroes were termed
Koromantees, or Koromantyns, in the jargon of the slave-
traders, this name being a corruption of Cormantine, whence
the English had first exported slaves. They were dis-
tinguished from all other slaves by their courage, firmness,
and impatience of control ; characteristics which caused
numerous mutinies on board the slavers, and several rebellions
in the West Indies. In fact every rebellion of slaves in
Jamaica originated with, and was generally confined to, the
Koromantees; and their independence of character became
so generally recognised that at one time the Legislature of
Jamaica proposed that a bill should be brought in for laying
an additional duty upon the " Fantin, Akin, and Ashanti
negroes, and all others, commonly called Koromantees/'
that should be imported. The superior physique of the
Gold Coast negroes, however, rendered them very valuable
as labourers, and this bill met with so much opposition that
it was withdrawn; and, notwithstanding their dangerous
character, large numbers continued to be introduced to the
island. Bryan Edwards says : f " Even the children brought
from the Gold Coast manifest an evident superiority, both in
hardiness of frame and vigour of mind, over all the young
people of the same age that are imported from other parts of
Africa. The like firmness and intrepidity which are dis-
tinguishable in adults of this nation, are visible in their boys
at an age which might be thought too tender to receive any

Online LibraryA. B. (Alfred Burdon) EllisA history of the Gold Coast of West Africa → online text (page 8 of 34)