Charles Ball (1781? – 1840s?) was born on a tobacco plantation in Maryland, eventually purchasing his legal freedom and serving as a naval officer in the war of 1812. Ball spent much of his live laboring and being sold and resold—and captured and re-enslaved—on plantations in South Carolina and Georgia, before resigning himself to Pennsylvania to escape recapture. While in South Carolina, Charles witnessed and participated in a funerary ritual brought from Africa. Since almost all enslaved Africans took death and funerary rites seriously, dedicating funds toward and undertaking such rites as community affairs, the funerary ritual Charles observed has therefore wider significance for understanding the continuity and transformation of African cultures in the Americas.
Carl Christian Reindorf produced the first general history of the Gold Coast peoples written by an African and using a judicious selection of published and oral sources from “more than two hundred persons of both sexes.” Carl Christian Reindorf (ca. 1834 – 1917) was a Basel Mission pastor and historian. His use of oral history to write African history in the late nineteenth century was unprecedented, as well as his methodology for combining oral sources with available documentary sources.
German botanist and colonial administrator Paul Erdmann Isert (ca. 1756 – 89) arrived in November 1783 at a time when the Danish forts at Ada, Keta, and at Teshi were being built on the Gold Coast. Isert stayed on the Gold Coast for three years, leaving in October 1786 by way of a slave ship bound eventually for Copenhagen. After two days at sea, the Gold Coast captives onboard revolted.
The excerpt below chronicles his observations of the three belief systems that shaped African history, namely indigenous African spiritualities, Islam and Christianity, as they played out on Africa’s Gold Coast
While searching online at the start of the new year, I came upon a blog maintained by a PhD history student at one of the University of California schools. Interested in Atlantic history and “slave ethnicity,” this student displayed an historiographical essay, probably written for a class, in which the future historian wrote, “Even more dogmatic are such scholars as Kwasi Konadu, who has argued that Coromantees were essentially the early modern precursors to modern Ghanaians, joined together by a ‘shared genetic culture.’” Curious, I emailed the student, who responded, “I meant to quote your phrase ‘shared (genetic) language.’ I have changed the quote, and I also rewrote the sentence to reflect that my opinions are coming from Rucker’s reading of your work.” Less an apology and more a confession, I briefly contemplated this student’s essay and response, and wondered, more broadly, if this is the kind of scholarship Atlantic history—and its stepchild, black Atlantic history—inspires, and to which it aspires. Rather than accept the received wisdom of the academic grapevine, I kept gossip and book reviews at a distance while I carefully read Walter Rucker’s Gold Coast Diasporas with the seriousness it deserved, making marginal notes from the acknowledgement to the bibliography during the spring semester. This book sets out to examine “the formation of the Gold Coast diaspora from the 1680s to the 1760s,” identifying “the early decades of the eighteenth century [as] a period when Coromantee and (A)mina ethnic groups formed in the Americas” from Akan, Gã, Adangme, and Ewe speakers originating in Africa’s Gold Coast (p. 23). Using sociologist Orlando Patterson’s well-worn notion of “social death” and historian Michael Gomez’s “ethnicity to race” paradigm, Rucker argues, “Gold Coast Africans reinvented, redefined, and transformed Gold Coast cultural materials and deployed them in unprecedented ways in the Americas,” informed by a “commoner consciousness” and new notions of masculinity and womanhood (p. 9). This review assesses the validity of Rucker’s case study through an examination of the sources used and the reading practices or interpretive techniques employed, and suggests some implications for African history/studies and diasporic African history/studies.