Kwasi Konadu

Slaving Forts

African History 360Kwasi KonaduComment

The Company of Royal Adventurers of England trading with Africa was incorporated by a royal charter in January 1663. It was reconstituted by a new charter almost a decade later as the Royal African Company of England, which held a monopoly on trade to Atlantic Africa. The company’s headquarters in Africa was at Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). The company was principally concerned with the commerce in gold and in captive Africans for the British overseas colonies. The company lost its monopoly in 1698 and went bankrupt in the 1720s. The company’s ports and garrison-settlements in Atlantic Africa were transferred to the Company of Merchants trading to Africa around the mid-eighteenth century, eventually meeting its own demise in 1821 and its property turned over to the British Crown. 


A Description of the Castle’s Forts and Settlements Belonging to the Royal African Company of England on the Gold Coast


The Country that runs along the Shore on which this Castle stands is still called the [Ahanta] Country, and the Village under its protection is by the Blacks called Infuma, which divides itself into Two, and is distinguished by the great and little Infuma; in both which, and in the Villages dependent immediately upon them, there is Computed to be about two thousand Souls. Its Situation as to Trade was some years past reckoned very Advantageous, (the Country of [Wassa] lying not above 3 or 4 days Journey behind it,) and would still have continued so, had not formerly a Quarrel between [Opoku Ware,] King of [Asante], and Entufero [the] King of [Wassa] not only in some measure stop’t up the path, but Obliged Entufero to remove his Residence to a part of his Country more to the Leeward; which naturally carried with it all the Trade that would otherwise have flowed here. . . . The [Dixcove (aka the ‘Cove’)] has heretofore too been famous for producing Lime Stone; but it has of late years been found there in such small Quantities, as would by no means answer the Expence of Procuring and conveying it. The present Chief however has lately been so fortunate as to discover a Cove between 5 and 6 Miles to Windward, which gives him more than a probable Assurance of being able to Load a ship of 200 Ton in 12 Or 14 days; allowing that he is supplied with Slaves, Canoes and other proper Helps for Collecting and Shipping it. Fish is not found here in such abundance as might be expected from so fine a Cove, which possibly gives but little encouragement to the Natives to try for it, as you seldom see above 5 or 6 Canoes out in a Morning.


The Situation as to Trade was heretofore, and would still have been very Advantageous, had not the Dutch built a little Fort at Chama (a Village about Ten Miles from hence bearing W. by N.) upon the very Spot where all the Paths divide themselves that communicate the [Asante] Trade to this part of the Coast, which undoubtedly offers to Sale more Slaves than any other Country known to the Europeans: Gold and [elephant] Teeth: as they are the Produce of [Wassa] and [Denkyira] (Countries that lie to the Windward) have not so free a passage as to the Forts more immediately in their Way. . . .

They have had to add to the Walls of the fort That it might the better keep under or secure People grown obnoxious to their Neighbours, as well as Troublesome to the Chiefs by their Numbers: Particularly as they have by the Indolence of their Nature no other Employment to keep them from Mischief, but Fishing, which at this place abounds so plentifully, that threescore or Fourscore Canoes are generally every Morning to be seen within a small Compass of the Fort engaged wholly in it.


The Number of Inhabitants are Computed at not above 1000 Souls, but of such a turbulent and lawless Disposition as makes it very difficult for the Chiefs to keep them under any tolerable Subjection.

The Situation of this Castle as to Trade when it is not infested with Disputes between the Up-Country and See Coast Natives has always been look’t upon to be as good as any of the Leeward Forts; as the [Akyem] constantly bring down their Commodities of Gold and Slaves to a Weekly Market not above 33 Miles from hence, bearing N. by E called Mennan in the Country of Enquina from whence they are conveyed by the [Fante], the general Name the Inhabitants of this part of the Coast bear to the Forts by the Waterside, of which this of Tantumquerry is not the least Considerable.


As this is the Market from whence all the Trade is brought that comes to this Fort, it would naturally give it the Advantage, did not the continual disputes of the Natives generally put a stop to it; For these late Years the Inhabitants of Simpa (for so [Winneba] is called by the Natives) have been so embroiled with their Neighbours, that they mutually fear, and of Consequence never venture to have any Intercourse with each other.


[A]nd certain it is, that when the Natives can agree among themelves, it has always been esteemed the best upon the Coast for Gold and [elephant] Teeth, Slaves do not come here in such Quantities as to the Forts to Windward, but they are much better[.] The Fishery about here is generally very good, or at least would be so, were not the Inhabitants a too Lazy set of People even to get themselves Provision at the Expence of their own Labour. It is but very lately that they even attempted to plant Corn, in a Country, which undoubtedly promises as well or better than any under the Protection of the more windward Forts: it is true they heretofore employed themselves in making of Salt, for which there was formerly a great demand here, but as that decrease, they were very hardly brought to cultivate their Land for Corn to keep them from Starving, it is even now often so scarce there, that they gladly purchase it with gold, and that too at a Price four times its first Cost.

The little Shade there is in this open Country probably never Tempted any of the Chiefs to Pitch upon a Spot of Ground for a Garden, or at least gave them no Encouragement to keep it up: however there is about 4 of an Acre of Ground staked in, where the Chiefs attempt (tho’ I believe in vain) to raise a few greens for their Table . . . .


Source: "A Description of the Castle’s Forts and Settlements Belonging to the Royal African Company of England on the Gold Coast and Whydah," U.K. National Archives at Kew, Treasury 70/1470 [ca. 1737].