FORTS AND CASTLES IN GHANA 10/09/2019




From about the 15th to the 19th century about 80 castles & forts were built along the coast of Ghana by different European powers, the primary purpose of which was to protect their trading interests, mainly from each other. As these structures changed hands or were rebuilt, so their names in some cases also changed. Eventually, all these fortifications were acquired by the British by the time that the Gold Coast was declared a crown colony in 1874

ARCHITECTURE: NATURE, TYPES, FUNCTIONS

Forts are mostly built in a large square or straight pattern. But depending on the shape of the rock on which it was built it could be either triangular or even lopsided, with the exterior having four towers/bastions linked by very thick reinforced “curtain walls” standing at the corners.  The interior is made up of two or three-storey buildings with or without towers and accompanied by a courtyard.

According to historical architectural record, there were three types of fortified stations to be found between 1482 and 1787 when forts were built and as per their size, content or functional capacity were referred to as lodge, fort and castle. The “lodge” described as a “sort of miniature fort” and an indefensible trading post was small-sized, built often of clay or wood but sometimes of local stone. It was usually designed to be a temporary structure for small-scale trade or military purpose pending the construction of a more permanent structure

The “fort” was a permanent durable structure built in brick or stone. It contained several structures for use by commanders, officers, garrison and servants and it has up to 50 guns installed in it. The vast majority of historic fortifications belong to the class of “fort”. However, three others – St Jorge at Elmina, Carolusburg at cape coast and Christiansburg at Accra – are classified as “castles”. Each castle covered a wide area than did a fort, was larger and had a more complex network of buildings. Also, it had a capacity for a much larger population. Apart from its European staff and garrison, there could be up to 1000 slaves there at any time, as occurred in the cape coast and Elmina castles in the 18th century. Also, the castle was equipped with up to 100 guns and extensive logistics. 

These forts and castles were mostly built to keep a foot-hold on the cost, keep competitors as far away as possible and develop and expand trade relations. The structure was often depended on what the nation specialized in such as gold or slave trade. It could also be determined by their military or administrative specialization.

INSIDE THE FORT: LIFE AND ORGANIZATION

Life in the forts is similar to that of a ship; forts were sometimes described as “ships at permanent anchor”.  Flags were raised all day as a signal to passing ships, and guns were fired in salutation whenever a ship arrived in port. During the day a bell was rung to announce working hours, leisure time or to regulate commerce, industry an outdoor work, and it was used at night to keep the soldiers on their rounds at night. A director-general with the help of a council, a chief merchant, a bookkeeper, a works superintendent, a chaplain, a physician and a school teacher run the affairs of the fort. There were also merchants, nurses, cooks, tailors, masons, carpenters and garrison members. African slaves and servants some of whom were employed at the fort in domestic services, ship loading and offloading as canoe men, interpreters and artisans lived in houses located just outside the fort and reported for duty in the daytime. Other Africans visited the fort regularly to buy and sell. The less than exciting social life in the fort led to alcoholism. Also since there were not a lot of white women in the forts relations between the European male and the African woman was common and led to a sprinkling of half-breeds known as “mulattoes”, who attended special schools.

Food and water was a challenge for fort administrators especially when there was a war and food had to be imported from Europe and shared among the staff. Fortunately, some forts were able to contract with local merchants and “brokers” such as Chief Ando Wassa of Amanfro to provide regular supplies of yam, corn, fowl, firewood and water. Life expectancy in the forts was not very long (4 to 5 years) especially in those that did not have medical officers. They were dying from malaria, yellow fever, sleeping sickness and so. 

OUTSIDE THE FORT: AFRICAN- EUROPEAN RELATIONS AND IMPACT

There is no doubt that both the African and the European benefitted materially Fromm their contact and interaction.  For instance, between 1490 and 1560 nearly 1000kilogams of gold were exported from Mina to enrich the Portuguese crown.  It is estimated that by the early 16th century, Portuguese Gold Coast trade provided 10% of the world’s known gold supplies. Certainly, history was made in the international monetary economy when the English royal African company’s significant gold exports led to the minting of gold currency that bore the designation of Guinea. Even by the early 18th century, when the focus had shifted to slave trading, total European gold exports from the gold coast were around £200000 sterling. The international trade involved the exchange of a great range of imports and exports. Around 1700, the exports included slaves, gold, ivory, pepper, mahogany, salts, mats, buffalo hides and hippo tusks.  The European imports included over 40 kinds of textiles, brass vessels and bracelets, iron bars, daggers, knives, swords, pikes, javelins, matchlock and fire-lock muskets, ammunition, tobacco pipes, schnapps, wine, gin, mirrors, glass beads etc. An important development that was to transform the local economy well into the colonial era was the massive importation by the Dutch of cowry shells from the MaldiveIslands in the Indian Ocean for use as currency. Up until the mid-20th century, there were even some societies in northern Ghana that insisted on cowries and cattle as bride price for the engagement of women.  The profiles of a number of local chefs, nobility and leading merchants reflect the prosperity which came to some native communities, especially along the coast, form the international trade: Jantie Snees, employed as chief broker of the Danish fort at cape coast (1650 -1675) on an annual salary of 150,000 dambas (£1250 in modern currency) engaged in long-distance commerce with Begho, Wenchi, Adrar, Benin etc. and supplied gold, slaves and cloth to the Danish fort and the English castle at Cape Coast as well as the Dutch castle at Elmina. Modern Ghana’s food and nutrition cultural tradition is a great beneficiary of the European fort presence and trade. A variety of food plants from different parts of the world that were cultivated in European gardens in and outside the first subsequently spread to other parts of the country- from the Mediterranean region came lemons, melons and oranges; from the new world came maize, cassava, sweet potato, groundnut, pineapple, pawpaw, guava and tannia cocoyam; from Asia came oriental rice, water yam, taro cocoyam, plantain, banana, tamarind, coconut and sugarcane. Language acculturation was another outcome of the European connection.

Finally, the castles and forts were the centres where the foundations were laid for western education and Christian missionary enterprise. It was at Elmina castle and cape coast castle forms the 15th to the 17th centuries that the first schools were established.

 

CHRISTIANBORG CASTLE-ACCRA

Ownership: 1661 DENMARK 1679 PORTUGAL 1850 BRITAIN

Christiansborg Castle is unique among the castles and forts as it served as government house during the various periods in the 19th and 20th centuries and continues to play that role today. In 1661, Jost Cramer, the Danish governor of the Cape Coast fort, Fort Fredericksburg, obtained the site for 3,200 gold florins, from Paramount Chief Okaikoi of the Ga ethnic group. At this site, the Danes built a stone fort in 1659, to replace the earthen lodge that had been erected by the Swedish African Company in the 17th century. They named it Christiansborg, meaning ‘Christian's Fortress’, after the King of Denmark, Christian IV, who passed away in 1648. A revolt in 1679 resulted in the assassination of the fort’s Danish commander. The new leader, a Greek named Peder Bolt, later sold the fort to the former Portuguese governor of Sao Tome. The Portuguese christened it ‘St. Francis Xavier’, added on a Roman Catholic chapel, and further fortified its bastions. The Portuguese were however unpopular in Ga-land and a lack of trade success caused the Portuguese to resell the fort to the Danes in 1683, after a four-year occupancy. Danish rule was once again challenged and deposed ten years later by the powerful trader and chief Assameni, and his men, from the inland state of Akwamu. Assameni had previously infiltrated the Danish household by working as a cook. He retained control of the fort, trading successfully with all nations, for almost a year. In 1694, he resold the fort to the Danes for the substantial sum of 50 marks of gold. He, however, did not return the keys of the castle. The castle keys have since been a part of the stool property of Akwamu. Escalating Danish trade, initially in gold, then in slaves, necessitated further expansions of the castle such that finally the castle almost quadrupled its original size. The abolition of the slave trade by Denmark in1803 resulted in a severe trade slump. The castle was sold to the British in 1850.

After 1876, British colonial governors ruled from the castle. They abandoned it from 1890 to 1901, when it was used as a constabulary mess, and later as a psychiatric asylum. In 1902, Christiansburg Castle once again became the seat of government, and today, the elegant edifice houses the offices of the President of Ghana.

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FORT GOOD HOPE, SENYA BERAKU 

Ownership: 1705 NETHERLANDS 1868 BRITAIN

Fort Good Hope is strategically sited on a cliff near a cove, looking out on a tranquil beach lined with coconut palms in the town of Senya Beraku in the Central Region. The Fort was erected in 1715 by the Dutch, who were looking to tap into the gold, ivory and slave trade in the hinterland kingdom of Akyem.

Fort Good Hope was initially a small triangular fort, shielded by three bastions and a curtain wall. An apartment building is shielded by the south curtain wall. Inter-ethnic wars between the Asante, Akyem and Akwamu ethnic groups, among others, led to such huge increases in prisoners-of-war slaves, that in 1715 the fort was expanded to include large male and female slave prisons. In an official report of 1804, Fort Good Hope was aptly described as “one of the finest and most spacious forts on the coast”.

This was the last fort built in the Gold Coast. Believed to have the potential to bring grand proceeds from gold trade, the fort was christened 'De Goede Hoop', meaning ‘Good Hope’. Ironically, the expected boom never occurred. The British gained possession of the fort during the 1868 exchange of forts.

Fort Good Hope presently serves as a rest house.

 

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FORT PATIENCE – APAM

Ownership: 1697 NETHERLANDS 1868 BRITAIN

Fort Patience, built on the apex of a cliff, overlooking a serene beach and bay, is situated on the coastline of the Gulf of Guinea at Apam, in the Central Region. The fort was constructed between 1697 and 1702 by the Dutch. Originally called Fort Lijdzaamheid (‘Patience’ being the English translation), the fort was built to secure Dutch trade lines, and to guard its protectorate against its powerful British-controlled neighbours, the Agona and the Fante ethnic groups.

For five years, the indigenous people repeatedly held up construction of the fort, from its initiation in 1697, until 1702, over the inappropriateness of its size. The Fort’s original structure was a small two-storey stone lodge, but the people, on the other hand, preferred an impressive, properly fortified building that would serve as the stronghold of their defence and hence a compelling deterrent to future attacks.

Between 1701 and 1721, the Dutch reinforced Fort Patience by erecting a demi-bastion on the northwest and the southeast.  The fort has since served as a police station and a post office. Fort Patience is currently used as a rest house.

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FORT AMSTERDAM (CORMANTIN) – ABANZE

Ownership: 1638 BRITAIN 1665 NETHERLANDS

Overlooking a coconut palm beach, the originally-British fort, Fort Amsterdam, sits on a hill in Kormantin-Abandze in the Central Region.

The leasing of the site for the fort was engineered in 1631 by Arent Groote, a disgruntled former employee of the Dutch West India Company, on behalf of the English company, ‘The Governor and Company of Adventurers of London Trading to Guynney and Binney’. Arent Groote persuaded the Ambro Braffo (Chief of the Fante state) to sign exclusive trading rights to the British, who then proceeded to construct a lodge to coagulate their claim to the area.

In 1640, the lodge was destroyed by fire. Believing the Dutch to be the arsons, a charge fervently denied, the British built a heavily fortified fort. The new fort had four bastions linked by thick walls and a three-storey apartment. In 1661, the Royal African Company obtained ownership of the fort, and it became the headquarters of English Gold Coast activities. 

Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaensz De Ruyter captured the fort in 1665 after a ‘long and bloody battle’. He reconstructed the fort and named it Fort Amsterdam.  In 1811, the people of Anomabo, who were English allies, attacked and destroyed the fort. It is believed that the first slave prison on the Gold Coast was in its hollow southeast bastion. The name Kormantin was synonymous on the Caribbean Islands for hard to subdue slaves, especially those originating from the Gold Coast.

Never reoccupied, Fort Amsterdam remained as a ruin until its 1951 restoration by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board. It is presently open to the public.

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FORT WILLIAM – ANOMABO

Ownership: 1753 -70 BRITAIN

In 1753, the British Parliament voted enormous sums for the construction of a new trading fort in Anomabo, now part of the Central Region of Ghana.  Completed by 1757, it was erected on ‘an eroded shelf of hard rock close to a sandy beach indentation with a sheltered anchorage’. 

Earlier, in 1674, the English had built a small fort, named Fort Charles, after the reigning monarch King Charles II. The English demolished Fort Charles in 1731, to prevent its capture and use by another European company - notably their archrival in overseas colonisation, the French.  The French, however, rebuilt a fort where Fort Charles once stood. Regretting the loss of their Anomabo fort, the English hastened to then build a new one - Fort William.

The fort was probably christened Fort William by 19th-century commander Brodie Cruickshank in honour of King William IV, upon the completion of another one storey apartment.

Constructed almost entirely with local materials, Fort William is considered ‘one of the most handsome and best built of the Coast’. However, ‘nowhere else does the original structure of a fort includes a large prison specifically built to hold slaves awaiting transport overseas’. Speaking about Anomabo slave exports, an English captain said in 1717, “[From] January 1702 to August 1708 they took to Barbados, Jamaica a total of not less than 30,141 slaves”.

Fort William had a superior stock of cannons, yet it was attacked by the French in 1794 and ‘besieged by the Asantes on 15th June 1806 a day after which it capitulated ’.

Once a rest house and a post office, then a state prison (till 2001), Fort William now serves Anomabo as a community library.

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CAPE COAST CASTLE- CAPE COAST

Ownership: 1653 SWEDEN 1665 BRITAIN

‘Cabo Corso,’ meaning ‘short cape’, is the name the Portuguese settled on for the local settlement within which its trade lodge was built in 1555. Its corruption to ‘Cape Coast’ is now the accepted name of the capital of the Central Region of Ghana. The Swedes, led by Krusenstjerna, however, were the initiators of the permanent structure presently known as Cape Coast Castle. They built a fort in 1653 and named it Carolusburg, after King Charles X of Sweden.

Its proximity to St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle) and its sheltered beach were all forceful ‘pull factors’ for European nations to the Cape Coast. Also, the immense viability of the area’s trade implied that the ensuing quest for control led to the Swedes having trouble holding on to their fort. It was captured in turn by the Danes and the local Fetu chief.

Dutch occupation commenced in 1660. Finally, the British fleet, led by Captain Holmes, conquered the fort in 1665 and by 1700, had upgraded it into a castle.

The colonial rivalry between England and France peaked in 1757 during the Seven Years’ War. A French naval squadron bombarded Cape Coast Castle, leaving it badly damaged, and after 1760, the English reconstructed the castle entirely - with more durable materials and an improved sea defence system. 

The English retained control of the Castle into the late 19th century. The slave trade was principal until its ban in 1807 by the British, and it ‘is estimated that around 1700, the Royal African Company was exporting some 70,000 slaves per annum to the New World’. After 1807, trade centred on precious metals, ivory, corn and pepper. In the eighteenth century, the castle’s role altered, as it became the centre of European education in Ghana.

The Cape Coast Castle has served as the West African headquarters of the president of the Committee of Merchants; the seat of the British governor; and a school.

Open to the public, it is currently a historical museum with a Ghanaian arts and crafts gift shop, and it is the regional headquarters of Ghana Museums and Monuments Board.

 

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ELMINA CASTLE – ELMINA 

Ownership: 1482 PORTUGAL 1637 NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

 Elmina Castle was built by the Portuguese in 1482 as São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) Castle, also known simply as Mina or Feitoria da Mina) in present-day Elmina, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast). It was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea, so is the oldest European building in existence below the Sahara. First established as a trade settlement, the castle later became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637 and took over all the Portuguese Gold Coast in 1642. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814; in 1872 the Dutch Gold Coast, including the fort, became a possession of the British Empire.

Britain granted the Gold Coast its independence in 1957, and control of the castle was transferred to the nation formed out of the colony, present-day Ghana. Today Elmina Castle is a popular historical site and was a major filming location for Werner Herzog's 1987 drama film Cobra Verde. The castle is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

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FORT ST JAGO (COENRAADSBURG) – ELMINA

Ownership: 1660’S NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

A small Portuguese chapel dedicated to Saint Jago, had previously stood where c (also known as Fort Coenraadsburg) now sits on a high hill opposite St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle), in the Central Region of Ghana. This fort is a good illustration of a people learning from their history.  In 1637, the Dutch installed heavy guns on the hill from where they had barraged the weakest side of Portuguese-controlled St. George’s Castle, forcing its surrender.

 To protect St. George’s Castle from attack via similar tactics, the Dutch, by the 1660s, had constructed a permanent fort, which was considered ‘the oldest and purely military architecture of the Gold Coast’.  Built for purely military reasons, that is, the defence and protection of St. George’s Castle, the fort had only military quarters and no commercial warehouses. Its strongest bastions are trained inland, from where an attack would have most likely emanated.

The fort was always well-garrisoned and was often employed by the Dutch as a prison for European convicts and as a disciplinary institution for their disobedient officers.  After 1872, it's English owners added some alterations such as a second floor to the main building, which allowed the fort to be put to some civilian uses.

The fort has been, in recent history, used as a prison, hospital and rest house.  Currently, in fairly good condition, it has been earmarked as an inn and a restaurant.

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FORT ST SEBASTIAN – SHAMA

Ownership: 1520’S PORTUGUESE 1638 NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

In an area known as Shama, on the coast of Ghana’s Western Region, lies Ghana’s third oldest fortification. Fort San Sebastian is a historical architectural delight, reflecting the distinctive styles and preferences of both its Portuguese and Dutch sculpturing. Fort San Sebastian was built by the Portuguese from 1520 to 1526. Its original purpose was to serve as a deterrent to English sailors interfering in Shama trade. 

Fort San Sebastian has been described as a small-scale copy of St. George’s Castle, and the fort received a mention in Di Castaldi's Venetian map of 1564. However, when the Dutch took over the fort in 1638, San Sebastian was a ruin.

Major Dutch renovation works in between 1640 and 1643 substantially expanded the initial structural form. Later Dutch West Indian records reveal some trade in gold and slaves at the fort, but by 1705, the Dutch West India Company’s official opinion was that although the fort served as a source of fuelwood and water, there was no trading activity. Fort San Sebastian was ceded to the British in 1872.

Rehabilitated in 1957, the fort is presently used as a post office and magistrate’s court. It also serves as offices for the Electoral Commission.

 

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FORT ORANGE – SEKONDI

Ownership: 1670’S NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

Originally a Dutch fortress, Fort Orange is located a few metres off Sekondi’s harbour, in the Western Region. Though it served as a trading post for some time, Fort Orange was originally intended to be as a lodge, and it served that purpose during the 1670s. 

The 1670s were also years of intense European competition for the wealth of the Gold Coast, and to weaken the Dutch stronghold on the coast, the English built a succession of forts and lodges within gunning range of Dutch fortresses. After this lodge was attacked by the indigenous people - for instance, when it was attacked by the Ahantas in September 1694 - it was reconstructed into a much more fortified fort by 1704. Unsurprisingly, the fort’s cannons were mainly directed at the nearby British trading lodge.

Since its cessation to the British in 1872, ‘Fort Orange’, as it was called by the Dutch, has been used as a lighthouse. Fort Orange is now a naval base for the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.

 

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FORT BATENSTEIN – BUTRE

Ownership: 1656 NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

Situated on the high hill behind Butre village in the Western Region of Ghana, the view of the Atlantic coastline from the bastions of Fort Batenstein is quite sensational. However, it was the promise of gold in the hinterland, and not simply the beauty of this ecological paradise, that prompted the Dutch to construct this small trading fort in 1656.

The sheer steepness of the hill was the fort’s greatest defence against imminent attack, but its constitution was so weak that the building shook on the occasions when its guns were fired in welcoming salutes. William Bosman described it as ‘a tiny, ill-designed fort’. However, amidst the verdant vegetation, clean air and the waters of the beach, life at Fort Batenstein must have been and still is, idyllic.

Although it's trading prospects never materialized, Fort Batenstein provided useful services. Ships underwent repair works in the still waters of its bay, using timber acquired from the forest of Ahantaland. Cotton, sugar and coffee plantations were also set up on the rich soils behind the fort, along River Butre. The British acquired the fort on 6th April 1872 and implemented a few basic structural adjustments.

The Fort Batenstein was consolidated between 2010 and 2011 with co-funding from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The fort is currently preserved as a ruin. Butre has a Town Tourism Development Committee, which offers guided tours to Fort Batenstein and the local area.

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FORT METAL CROSS – DIXCOVE

Ownership: 1692 BRITAIN 1868 NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

The British colonial fortification, Fort Metal Cross (originally Dixcove Fort) is located on a promontory near the fishing village of Infuma, in Dixcove (Dick’s Cove) in the Western Region of Ghana. The cove’s quiet waters are suitable for small boats and canoes; large ships anchor approximately 2 kilometres offshore.

For the British, the motive for commencing construction of Dixcove Fort in 1692 was identical to that of the Dutch in building Fort Batenstein - to tap into the promise of gold in the hinterland; and also to win back the many English captains trading at the Brandenburgers’ (Germans’) Fort Gross Fredericksburg in nearby Princetown. However, the people of Infuma, loyal to two chiefs whose allegiances swayed between the British and Dutch, besieged the fort several times, on behalf of the Dutch, stalling its completion. By 1750, the fort was equipped to carry up to 25 canons.

The promise of gold never materialized, as the gold that was mined was largely impure gold. Hence, the fort earned the title of ‘the fake mint of the Gold Coast’ by author Bosman. Like Fort Batenstein, Fort Metal Cross became a service-station for the repair of ships and the supply of timber from the surrounding forest; and during the slave trade, it became a slave prison.

The 1867 fort exchange agreement between the British and Dutch resulted in Dutch ownership of the fort in 1868. The Dutch had to call for military reinforcement to restore calm in their new areas of control, as the local populace was infuriated by the swap, especially since they had not been consulted. The name of the fort was altered to ‘Metalen Kruis’ (Metal Cross), after one of the Dutch gun-boats which brought the reinforcement.

However, the immense cost of control persuaded the Dutch to sell their forts to the British. Hence, in 1872 the fort reverted to the British, who renamed it Fort Metal Cross.

The fort has served both the Police and the Postal Services. It has currently been leased to a private organization.

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GROSS – FRIEDRICHSBURG – PRINCETOWN

Ownership: 1683 BRANDENBURG 1717-24 AHANTA 1725 NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

The history of the Brandenburg fort, Fort Gross Fredericksburg, still reverberates in the Caribbean, via the John Canoe festivals. On Manfro Hill, in Princetown, in the Western Region of Ghana, the Brandenburg Africa Company, led by Benjamin Raule, under the patronage of the Frederick William of Brandenburg, built the luxurious Fort Gross Fredericksburg as their headquarters, between 1683 and 1684, desiring also ‘a place in the sun’ and the riches of the Gold Coast. It is the only fort in Ghana with Germanic authors.

A farmyard lookalike, the fort had 32 cannons upon completion; and only a strong defence would have been a sufficient deterrent to assaults from the Dutch and British, who resented the further foreign intrusion into the area. This was especially so because as few Brandenburg ships arrived on the coast, the fort traded with merchants from all nations, becoming the hub for smugglers along the coast.

Jonn Conny, Chief of the Ahanta ethnic group, often referred to as ‘the King of Prinze Terre’, as the Prussian’s African broker, was a most effective ally, succeeding in directing such trade to the fort that revenues dwindled at the Dutch forts at Axim, Butre and Sekondi. Over 95 ships are recorded to have traded with Fort Fredericksburg between 1711 and 1713. In 1717, with their departure from the Gold Coast, Brandenburg sold its possessions to the Dutch, without John Conny’s knowledge.

John Conny claimed and took over Fort Fredericksburg, and for seven years, he maintained trade lines with all nations, offering huge discounts on the price of gold and slaves. In spectacular victories, he successfully resisted all Dutch military attempts to reclaim the fort. This earned him a hero’s place in tales recounted by slaves in the Caribbean.  When the Dutch finally ousted John and his army from the Fort in 1724, they discovered that John had removed enough stones from the fort for the construction of a personal mansion and a dividing wall.

Renamed Fort Hollandia, it lacked its previous beauty and splendour as Fort Fredericksburg and served the Dutch as a service station.

Fort Gross Fredericksburg is currently a rest house. It can accommodate ten people at a time, at a cost of USD 3.00 per head.

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FORT ST. ANTHONY – AXIM

Ownership: 1515 PORTUGAL 1642 NETHERLANDS 1872 BRITAIN

The history of Fort St. Anthony, located in Axim in the Western Region of Ghana, partly illustrates the motive for the construction of heavily fortified forts on natural elevations - especially on a rocky one that juts out into the sea.

In 1503, the Portuguese had built a trading post in Axim, near the edge of the River Ankobra, but they had to abandon it due to insistent attacks by the local people. They then constructed, in 1515, a massive triangular fort on a small promontory closer to the River Ankobra. Named ‘Santo Antonio’, it was the second Portuguese fort built on the Gold Coast, after St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle). To enhance its defence on the landward side, a three-metre deep rock-cut trench was constructed.

The effective defensive capability of Fort St. Anthony was revealed by its ability to withstand attacks for over four years, even after the fall of Elmina to the Dutch in 1637. Having no rival in the surrounding gold-rich lands of the Ankobra and Tano River valleys enhanced the economic viability of the fort; gold traders from Adanse and Denkyira frequently visited the fort. However, between 1670 and 1720, with the construction of rival forts in the bays east of Axim, the Portuguese trade monopoly was ruined.
By the 1720s, St. Anthony had become a Dutch fort. The fort is reported to have amassed ‘more gold at Axim than anywhere else together’, especially after the dissolution of the Brandenburg Company and the death of John Conny (see Fort Gross Fredericksburg). The area was also an important source of timber and cotton for Dutch plantations. 

The fort was yielded to Britain in 1872.

The fort’s 17th-18th-century panelling is one of its archaeological fortes. In the 1950s, it was rehabilitated for use as government and local council offices. It is the proposed site for a museum and restaurant.

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FORT APOLLONIA – BEYIN

Ownership: 1768 BRITAIN 1868 NETHERLANDS

Until 1670, there was no fort west of the River Ankobra in Beyin (now in the Western Region of Ghana), except for the temporary French fort at Assini. All goods – gold and slaves – were brought to the coast, where captains of all nationalities haggled fervently for it.

To ward off Dutch colonial ambitions which had led to intermittent warfare in the Nzema country (Apollonia), and to facilitate trade, the Nzema Chief Amenihyia granted the English Committee of Merchants permission to build a fort at Beyin on an elevated platform known as Cape Apollonia. In 1766, the quest for building materials began; construction ensued two years later on the last fort in the Gold Coast to be built by the English. The name of the fort was first bestowed on the area by a Portuguese explorer who first caught sight of the place on St. Apollonia’s Day. 

The abolition of the slave trade diminished the economic importance of the fort, and hence it was abandoned in 1819. It was transferred to the Dutch in 1868 as part of the 1867 exchange of forts agreement between the British and the Dutch. The Dutch renamed it in honour of their monarch Willem III and held it until 1872 when it reverted to the British.

The fort was bombarded by a British gunboat in 1873, during a British attack on Beyin on account of its coalition with the Asante Kingdom. The fort fell to ruins. It was rehabilitated in the 1960s by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and was used as a rest house.

Fort Apollonia houses the Museum of Nzema Culture and History, which was opened in 2010.

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