History of JamesTown British Accra

By- Nat Nuno-Amarteifio, Former Mayor of Accra , Architect and Historian

Palace of Nii Kojo Ababio
Palace of Nii Kojo Ababio

**This piece was originally posted on this blog under the title ‘the definitive story of JamesTown British Accra.  The pictures accompanying the original posting have been changed in this one***

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We must begin at the beginning. Carl Reindorf in his history of the Gold Coast and Asante popularized the idea that the Ga originated from ancient Egypt or possibly ancient Israel. Modern historians and archeologists such as Paul Ozame, Irene Odotei, James Anguandah, Adu Boahen and John Parker reject this thesis. Irene Odotei believes that the Ga originated from the lower banks of the Volta River. They travelled in family or clan groups and settled in the hills overlooking the Accra plains. The Accra plains were dotted with lagoons and rivers, rich with fish and salt. These two commodities together with agriculture became the basis of Accra’s early peasant economy. The Ga developed a trade relationship with the nations in the rich forest belt. Their neighbors the Akwamu, the Akyem and later the Asante traded with the Ga with whom they exchanged gold, slaves and forest products for salt and fish.

The next watershed in Accra’s growth towards a market center began in the second half of the 15th century when the Portuguese arrived on its shores. European goods like alcohol, textiles and guns were bought by the Africans for gold and slaves. The Portuguese wanted to establish a permanent trading post on the coast but this was rejected by the Ga. The partnership with the Portuguese ended in 1576 when they built a trading lodge on the Accra coast against the wishes of the Ga king. The lodge was attacked and destroyed on his orders and the Portuguese were expelled. Other Europeans followed the Portuguese into Accra. They were the British, Dutch and Danes. Trade in Accra became extremely busy with an endless flow of European goods exchanged for gold and increasingly slaves. As competition mounted among the European nations and between the Ga and their neighbors, the Europeans renewed the requests for fortified lodges to protect their interests. In 1649, the Ga king Mampong Okai granted permission to the Dutch West India Company to build a fort and leased land to them at Aprang, a village on the coast. The decision infuriated the king’s advisors and generals who recalled the Portuguese presence and the cost in lives to uproot their fort. The king would pay dearly for giving the Dutch permission to build their lodge in Accra. The fort was named Crevecouer but it is now called Ussher Fort. It was renamed for a British governor Herbert Taylor Ussher after the British bought it from the Dutch in 1868. In 1661, Okaikoi the son of Mampong Okai and his successor as Ga king permitted the Swedes to begin a lodge at Osu. The Swedes were superseded by the Dutch then the Danes who took over the fort in the same year and built Christiansborg castle.

1727 Engraving of Fort Crevecoeur and James Fort
1727 Engraving of Fort Crevecoeur and James Fort

The story of Jamestown began with the erection of James fort by the British in 1673 – 74. The British fort was the last European trading post to be erected in Accra. It was the smallest of the 3 forts and was built about one and half miles from the Dutch fort. It stood in a village called Soko owned by the Ajumaku and Adanse clans. The site for the fort was leased in 1672 to the Royal African Company by the Ga Mantse Okaikoi. King James I of Great Britain granted a royal charter to the company to build the fort and gave permission to name it after himself.

1880 Backview of James Fort
1880 Backview of James Fort

Jamestown’s cosmopolitan mix of peoples started literally at its birth. The British brought slaves and labourers from the Allada kingdom in Nigeria. Allada was a major regional market for slaves and the word Alata, a corruption of Allada, entered the Ga language to describe people from Allada and survived to identify Yorubas in general. Before the British created Ngleshie Alata there was already in Accra an Alata community residing in Osu. The neighborhood Osu Alata is still in existence. Ga and Fanti workers joined the work force at James fort beside the Alata as artisans and labourers.

James fort today
James fort today

A leader emerged out of this work force. His name was Wetse Kojo. He was an unusual man who rose from lowly beginning to great wealth and royal status. He was to have a huge impact on the history of his times. There is considerable controversy about his origins. According to the records of the Royal African Company he was born in Allada and worked for the company as an indentured servant. This version is challenged by historians from Ngleshie Alata who insists that he was an Adangme from Prampram where he was engaged as a foreman in James fort. His outstanding skills as a negotiator came to the notice of his employers who entrusted him with more responsibilities. He rose to become a makelaar or trading agent for the company then its chief broker. He traded both for the company and for himself and became immensely wealthy. He owned so many slaves that he became one of the most powerful merchants on the coast.

The Ga Mantse Okaikoi made political decisions between 1673 and 1677 that had profound impact on the fortunes of Jamestown. He wanted the Ga to have complete monopoly in Accra over the slave trade. At the height of the trade he tried to prevent merchants from the forest kingdoms from direct contact with the European forts on the coast. He decreed that all commerce between Europeans and the inland merchants should be conducted through Ga middlemen at a market called Abonse located several kilometers from the coast. The decisions infuriated the Akwamu who were the principal trading nation for the Ga in the 17th century. They and the Akyem, another trading nation, retaliated by mounting slave raids on Accra territories and trying to destabilize the kingdom. A series of wars began that ended in the defeat of Okaikoi’s armies in 1677. The king was captured and beheaded. The invasion succeeded with the connivance of some of Okai Koi’s generals and asafo leaders who considered him a tyrant and did not forgive him or his father Mampong Okai for allowing Europeans to establish permanent presence on the coast. They detested him as much as they had hated his mother, the Obutu princess and regent Dode Akai who was killed by her generals in a bloody coup d’etat. Another factor for the defeat was the considerable turmoil in Accra concerning the successor the ill fated royal family. This struggle for succession destroyed any unity amongst the Ga. The remnants of the Ga army led by Ofori, Okaikoi’s son, continued fighting until 1680 when the Akwamu succeeded in conquering the entire kingdom. By the end of the war Ayawaso, the capital of the Ga kingdom was in ruins, destroyed and its inhabitants chased into exile or enslaved. The royal family found refuge in Glidgi in present day Togo and in Aprang (Ussher town) under the protection of the Dutch and the other forts. The Akwamu achieved their war aims of direct access to the European forts and control of the trade routes into Accra. They did not interfere much in the city’s political or trade arrangements. They recognized and accepted the Ga as experienced negotiators with the Europeans and permitted them to trade as before.

1750 Christanborg Castle
1750 Christianborg Castle

In 1680 the Akwamu was the dominant military and mercantilist power on the slave coast. They had vanquished the Ga and were powerful enough to exact rent from the Europeans occupying the forts. They demonstrated this power in 1695 when they expelled the Danes from Christiansborg and held the castle for more than a year. The Akwamu appointed a viceroy in Accra to oversee their interests and collect tributes.  He was Otu, a nephew of the king of Akwamu, and lived in Accra as the resident Akwamu ambassador. He stayed in a village called Otublohum an enclave in the town where Akwamu and Fanti merchants had their town residences. After the Akwamu conquest of Accra, both Wetse Kojo and his British masters realized the need to consolidate their position on the volatile new political landscape. In the absence of a substantive central authority, they sought recognition from the representative of the Akwamu king, his ambassador in Otublohum. They did not need political endorsement from Otublohum but they required closer commercial links. They also wanted to learn the art of Akan statecraft. Otu helped Wetse Kojo to establish an Akan style court and today Ngleshie Alata is the only Akutso in Accra that celebrates the Akan festival of Odwira. Ngleshie Alatas position was further strengthened when it was joined by the Akutchei of Sempe and Akumayi. The three Akutchei collectively formed Jamestown. Ngleshie Alata was recognized as the dominant member of this coalition due to its wealth and the power of Wetse Kojo.

1862 Main ciurtyard of Chriatianborg Castle after earthquake
1862 Main ciurtyard of Christiansborg Castle after earthquake

The decision by Wetse Kojo and the British to establish a special trade relationship with the Akwamu would haunt the politics of Accra for the next three centuries. In the chaotic aftermath following the Akwawu conquest, the alliance was perceived in the court of the defeated Ga king as a betrayal. This conclusion was encouraged by allies of the Ga king, the Dutch who understood and anticipated the potential trade and political advantages available to the British in this new alliance. The two European nations were bitter rivals. In the 18th century alone they fought 4 major wars against each other. Their enmity easily seeped into the relationship between the two Ga Akutsei and contaminated it for centuries. In 1884, at the end of the 19th century it would lead them close to civil war in the Agbutsota. In the early colonial period and through most of the 20th century this hostility led to innumerable confrontations in courts of law over land and sovereignty.

The enduring hostility and misunderstanding between the two communities was neatly summed up in an incident that occurred in October 1892, a little over two hundred years later. The king of the Ga, King Tackie Tawiah took the newly crowned King Kojo Ababio IV, king of Jamestown and two other newly enstooled Mantsemei to Christiansborg Castle to introduce them to the Governor. According to an account of the meeting in the British records, and quoted by John Parker “The Governor expressed his pleasure at the announcement that Jamestown and Ussher Town agreed to amalgamate and to become one town under King Tackie. He congratulated Amoako Atta (Kojo Ababio) upon his election as chief of one of the quarters of Jamestown. Thereupon Amoako Atta, drawing himself up said “I am not one of King Tackie’s chiefs. I am the King of Jamestown. Jamestown is a British town and Ussher Town is a Dutch town and British people cannot serve Dutch people.”

Freeman Memorial Methodist Church1860
Freeman Memorial Methodist Church built 1860

The Akwamu ruled Accra till 1730 when they were overthrown by an expanding Akyem empire. The Akyem ruled Accra for only 12 years until they were overthrown by the even more expansionist Asante kingdom in 1742. The years of Akyem rule were difficult for Jamestown. The authority of the Ga Mantse had degraded enormously during the 50 years of Akwamu rule and the Akutsei that formed the kingdom had become used to a lot of autonomy. Years of competing against each other in support of the trade interests of their European allies had left the Ga even more divided than before. The military and political turbulence in the region created the unstable conditions that fueled banditry and the slave trade. Merchants in Accra grew rich but the settlement had its worst periods of insecurity. This had a huge influence on the shape and form of Accra’s neighbourhoods including Jamestown. Families built their houses close to one another and connected them with narrow and confusing networks of alleys. These alleys were deliberately designed to frustrate any kidnappers in search of victims. There was no provision for collecting the waste that was routinely deposited in the alleys. This resulted in very unhealthy and filthy communities and created grave consequences in the 19th century when the British used the town’s lack of sanitation to extend her grip on Accra. Pigs roamed the back streets and scavenged the accumulated filth. Fires were frequent on account of the low hanging and highly flammable grass roofs. These conditions lasted until the beginning of the 20th century when the colonial government wrote laws to plan the layout of the town and to regulate the materials used for urban constructions. They were only partially successful.

methodist cathedral jamestown1910
Methodist cathedral jamestown built 1910

The first quarter of the 19th century brought political and economic changes to Jamestown and the rest of Accra. The Danes banned the slave trade in 1803, the British in 1807 and finally the Dutch joined the ban in 1814. Slavery was however so embedded in the transatlantic economy that it persisted until the 1860’s, before it began a slow decline. The events that accompanied the transformation of the slave trade helped to shape Jamestown. Amongst these were the wars that terminated Asante rule in Accra. The Asante domination of Accra ended in 1826 when she was defeated in the Katamanso war. An army composed of troops from the coastal states including the Ga, Fanti and Adangme in alliance with Akim and Akuapim forces routed the Asante army near Dodowa. They were joined by a small detachment of 60 marines from the British and Danish forts. Several important prisoners were taken including Akoa Basoa, the favourite wife of the Asantehene Osei Yaw and two of her daughters. They were Yaa Dom and Manuh. Akoa Basoa was freed to go back to Kumasi as part of the peace negotiations but her two daughters remained in Accra and married into prominent Ga families. Manuh married Henry Richter of Osu and Yaa Dom married James Bannerman of Jamestown. She bore him ten children. Two of her children, James and Edmund would play pivotal roles in Accra’s trade and politics in the 19th century. Their influence would have a great impact on the city. As an Asante princess and the wife of one of Jamestown leading businessmen, Yaa Dom had the resources to play a leading role in the politics of the town. In 1886 when she was in her eighties she led a delegation of women to lobby the governor for greater African representation on the colony’s legislative council.

The Katamanso war provided a platform for the emergence of Euro Africans or Mulattoes as important actors in politics and business in Accra. Several of them played prominent roles in the conflict and that entitled them to major positions in Accra after the war. They were James Bannerman, John Hansen, William Nanka Bruce and Henry Richter. All of them were significant slave owners and two of them, James Bannerman and Henry Richter had extensive business interests in Asante. The two men contributed a slave militia of 600 men to the southern forces. This was a considerable force compared to the 60 soldiers provided by the British and Danish forts.

JamesBannerman and HenryRichter
JamesBannerman and HenryRichter

 

GeorgeFrankCleland
GeorgeFrankCleland – Great Grandson of Nii Akrashie

Events in the second half of the 19th century influenced modern Jamestown and took it to its apex as a commercial center. In Europe other events began to shape public opinion for the abolition of the trade in human beings. Some of these were the numerous slave revolts wherever slavery was practiced and their bloody suppression. The French revolution had spread the idea that all men were created equal and entitled to be free. The start of the industrial revolution signaled the end of forced and unpaid labour in the increasingly mechanized factory system. The replacement of sailing ships by steam powered carriers drastically reduced the time of the Atlantic crossing and changed the terms of credit financing for transatlantic trade. Those factors transformed the economic and political conditions in Britain and enabled the abolitionist movement to compel the government to end the trade.

old james town port
Old James town port

A commission headed by Dr. Robert Madden was dispatched to West Africa by the British parliament in 1842 to report on conditions of slavery. In his report he noted that the trade was deeply embedded in the region and that the ban was routinely ignored by both the African and European traders. He saw the difficulty in enforcing abolition in the existing patchwork of European jurisdictions. Between 1850 and 1872 the British overcame this difficulty by buying out both the Dutch and the Danish interests on the coast. In 1874 slaves in the settlement were emancipated. The last Danish governor of Christiansborg, Edward Carstensen had written to his superiors in 1846 complaining of business conditions in the Danish settlements. He emphasized the trade advantages enjoyed by Jamestown under the patronage of Britain and criticized the British for permitting merchants from Jamestown to encroach upon Danish sovereignty. He pointed out that the only enterprise that had not been subverted by British encroachment belonged to Henry Richter who was the brother-in-law and business partner of James Bannerman of Jamestown. His reports and observations contributed to the Danish government decision to relinquish control of the settlement after 1850.

sagrenti and pipe borne water
The Sagrenti war Memorial and the Pipeborne Water monument

In 1877 the Slave Coast settlement was annexed by the British as a colony and became the Gold Coast. The new political relationship imposed heavy and costly responsibilities on the British. New commodities and infrastructure were required to make the colony productive and financially viable to the British crown. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the development and introduction of products such as palm oil into international commerce. The oil was brought to Europe as fuel for lamps, and then it became popular for the manufacture of soap and lubricant for machines. In the Gold Coast, the Akuapim and Krobo were the main oil palm producing regions. The merchants of Jamestown and Accra, long accustomed to adapting their businesses to new circumstances quickly adjusted to the commodity. The large number of slaves in Kinka and Jamestown were employed as carriers of palm oil from the palm oil plantations to the coast. Jamestown merchants like the Bannermans and the Clelands became prominent in the oil trade and Jamestown became one of the centers for export. Palm oil was the main export commodity for about 20 years and was replaced by rubber then cocoa.

The dawning of the colonial period brought Jamestown to its apogee as the richest and most lucrative Akotso in Accra. The era began with the installation of important infrastructure in Jamestown that enormously enhanced its position as the trading center. A light-house was built near the James fort in 1871. It was rebuilt in 1892 and a breakwater was added to it at the beginning of the 20th century. They formed the first man-made harbor on the coast and confirmed Jamestown status as an important export center. Potable water was brought into the city in 1914 and is commemorated by a monument near the James fort.

light house 1871
light house 1871

The decline of Jamestown as the principal business center in the colony began in the 1920’s when the British governor Sir Gordon Guggisberg built a new harbor at Takoradi to serve the colony’s newly established extractive industries. This brand new harbor with its own a railway, and easy access to the mining and timber regions of the infant colony eclipsed Jamestown’s breakwater harbor. It drew the nation’s export business west. The loss of business had a huge impact on Jamestown harbor as well as the community of businesses that serviced it. Jamestown was finally compromised as a business center in 1962 when Tema harbor was commissioned by Kwame Nkrumah. No new industries of any importance were introduced to replace the lost facilities. A feeble artisanal fishing industry has not proved robust enough to sustain the local economy and create employment for the youth of the town. A primitive slaughterhouse sprang up near the lighthouse but it runs the danger of closure by the city for hygienic reasons. The local economy limps along as a subsistence economy based on small scale retailing and sale of street food.

Jamestown was shaped not only by conscious human agency but also by natural events like earthquakes and epidemics. In 1862, a major earthquake hit the region and practically devastated the 2 forts and Christiansborg castle. The quake stretched as far as Fetteh near Winneba. Hundreds of buildings constructed of mud and thatch collapsed and had to be rebuilt. In 1939 another earthquake struck Accra with even more devastating consequences. Jamestown and Accra had grown in population and expanded. The colonial government reacted with the same formula as in 1862. New suburbs were founded to disperse the population. In 1894, an equally serious disaster happened in Jamestown and Ga Mashie. On 31st March and 1st April fires broke out in Kinka and spread to Jamestown. They destroyed a great number of houses and caused a few fatalities. The causes of these fires have been debated among historians. Critics point out that the fires conveniently created corridors in parts of the town marked for roads by the government. The decision had faced stiff resistance by the residents. The New Colonial government took advantage of the disaster to rebuild the African town. After the fire they laid out new streets and widened the existing Otu street. 4 new roads were constructed. These were Mills road, Bruce Street, Hansen Road and Bannerman road. Burned out houses on the proposed roadways were destroyed and removed. Owners of partly burnt out houses outside the roadways were given money to rebuild their homes. The city insisted that only modern materials like cement and aluminum roofing sheets could be used in the reconstruction.

aerial view of seaview
aerial view of seaview

In 1895, the government introduced measures to ban the Ga tradition of burying people in family compounds. This practice was central to Ga cultural identity and notions of family cohesion and lineage. The law was difficult to enforce even though land had been allocated in the town for municipal cemeteries. These disasters gave the administration the excuse to decongest Jamestown and Kinka by tearing down large numbers of houses. Neither the colonial administration nor the post independence nationalist governments managed to tame Jamestown or Kinka. Today they are still densely populated and overcrowded.

Between January and August of 1908 an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through Accra. Jamestown and Kinka were badly affected and once more the colonial government took steps to reduce the dense populations and plan the communities. Homes that were affected by the plague were identified and marked for quarantine. A plague committee was appointed and mandated to recommend the destruction and removal of infected residences and propose compensation to their owners. The government requested the Ga Mantse, King Tackie Obili and the Ngleshie Alata Mantse, King Kojo Ababio to settle some of their people in quarantine camps across the Korle lagoon. This began the first planned exodus of people from Accra to newly created suburbs outside Jamestown and Kinka. King Kojo Ababio moved his people to Korlegonno. He also transferred members of the sizable Muslim community of Jamestown to an already existing Alata community at Lartebiokorshie. The new community was named Sabon Zongo. Residents from Kinka moved to Korleworko or Ripponville and Kaneshie. Initially the relocation was resisted principally by fisher folks from both communities. They objected to the distance of the new suburbs from the sea, the source of their livelihood.

seaview built 1860
Sea View Built 1880

The first decades of the 20th century saw the introduction of racially segregated neighbourhoods in Accra. The recent establishment of the Gold Coast colony and the choice of Accra as its capital brought more Europeans to the town. Improvements in medicine made it possible for many of them to survive the diseases of the tropics. Several moved into stone houses in Jamestown. Colonialism and the European imperialism that flourished at the end of the 19th century however invented toxic and repressive racial attitudes. The colonial administration made laws to remove the Europeans from the Ga communities and justified the decision on the grounds of reducing their appalling mortality rate. They built communities at the Ridge then Cantonment for the use of whites.
The Europeans were not the only group to leave Jamestown in the first 2 decades of the 20th century. Western education and new opportunities in the expanding economy increased the number of young, literate Africans. They were educated and were increasingly detached from traditional beliefs and lifestyles. Systematic western education and Christian churches were introduced into Osu and Jamestown in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The Basel Mission Society of Switzerland established the first school and vocational training center at Osu in 1845. Both institutions had tremendous influence in Accra. The education and training revolutionized the construction industry and changed the life styles and social structures of a significant portion of Accra’s population. Young artisans were taught new methods of construction and technology. They began to construct stone and wooden houses of one and two storeys. These buildings became identified with the upwardly mobile and increasingly Christianized urban population. They also joined the exodus out of Jamestown to settle in suburbs like Adabraka and Asylum Down. When British journalist Henry Stanley and explorer Mary Kingsley visited Accra at the end of the 19th century they both stayed at the Sea View Hotel. They wrote about Accra’s changing urban landscape and mixture of mud huts and stone houses.

WK QuarteyPapafio - first Ghanaian Doctor pictured in London in 1884 in London
WK QuarteyPapafio – first Ghanaian Doctor pictured in London in 1884 in London

The Wesleyan Missionary Society established a boy’s school in Jamestown in the 1840’s. It was located at Sempe and still exists as a junior secondary school. Its distinguished alumnae included the late Ga Mantse Tackie Yaoboi, Thomas Hutton-Mills, a noted lawyer and politician in the late 19th century, Arthur Quartey Papafio, a lawyer and counselor to the Ga Mantse, Francisco Ribero and Akilakpa Sawyer, renowned lawyers and politicians, Tawia Adamafio, lawyer and politician in the government of Kwame Nkrumah, General Joseph Ankrah, first Ghanaian army commander and the first military Head of State in the 1960’s. The Wesleyan Boys School was the only school in Jamestown until 1886 when a government subsidized school was built there. In 1915 the first privately funded school, the Accra Royal School was opened in Jamestown. Its alumnae includes the present king of Jamestown Kodjo Ababio V, Rear-Admiral Hansen, the first Admiral in the Ghanaian navy and Mr. Saka Addo, a former governor of the bank of Ghana.

CAnnanVanderpuyeHouse
C Anna n Vanderpuye House
adawso House built 1910
Adawso House Built by Addo Vanderpuije in 1910
Hansen House James Town
Hansen House Ja,es Town

This year 2015 marks three and half centuries since Jamestown was founded. In 2011 it was elevated to a paramountcy with jurisdiction over 90 towns and villages. These settlements are concentrated on the western portion of the greater Accra region and scattered from Ajumako and Adanse, the site of the original Ngleshie to Weija, Bortianor and Kokrobite at the northern end of the region.

Jamestown’s long and episodic history has left many monuments and architectural masterpieces. These can contribute handsomely to a tourist industry. The sad recent fate of the Sea View Hotel demonstrates how easy it will be to lose this irreplaceable collection. The revenues that will be generated from tourism will help to maintain the structures and monuments. The Sea View Hotel is just the latest piece of Jamestown lost to history. Others are the Temple House, home of one of Jamestown more renounced families, the Hutton Mills and the stunning Adawso House, home to the family of Addo-Vanderpuye.

ThuttonMills and Temple House
Lawyer Thomas Hutton-Mills aand Temple House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I  humbly propose to Nii Ngleshie to mandate his advisors to identify these heritage sites and suggest methods of preserving them for future generations. These sites remind us of our history and our past. A people without a past are a people without a future. We owe it to our children to assure them of this future.

jamestown today
Jamestown today

 

Endnote

I put together this essay on the history of Jamestown with the help of several people. I wish to acknowledge and thank all those who contributed either directly with their knowledge or who encouraged me and helped to shape this essay. I have endeavored as much as possible to tell the complex story of Jamestown in a manner that will make it accessible to a broad audience. I hope I have achieved this goal without patronizing my listeners.

I want to thank with special warmth my sister Korkor Amarteifio who shares with me a profound love of history and encouraged me to explore the subject of Jamestown.

I wish to extend a deep offer of gratitude to Ms Yemokai Laryea. I could not have written this history without her constant encouragement and intelligent scrutiny.

I wish to thank the following people who in diverse ways helped me to tell this story. Professor Irene Odotei, who many years ago convinced me that I had a responsibility to contribute to the scholarship of the history of Accra; Professor Kofi Baku of the Department of History at Legon who guided me to research this history; Professor Akosua Perbi whose seminal work on domestic slavery was invaluable to the understanding of the enduring impact of slavery on our society; Mr. John Parker, whose very contemporary book on modern history of Accra opened my mind and convinced me that the history of the Ga people is a living testament and worthy of study; Professor Osei Tutu of the Department of History at Legon has made the quotidian history of Accra his specialty. I am grateful for the illumination he has cast on the everyday activities that feed into our tribal memory; I owe a special debt of gratitude to Herman Von Hesse. I enrolled him at the beginning of this project as my research assistant. He soon proved that he was more than my assistant and now I describe him as my research partner. He recently acquired his Masters degree in history and is about to leave for the U. S. to pursue his doctorate in history. I wish him luck and look forward to the contributions he will make to our story. Finally I wish to thank Mr. S. W. Baddoo. He is a master of the oral history of Accra’s neighbourhoods and without his input, this work will be drained of the city’s personality.

SOURCES AND SUGGESTED READING LIST

Akyeampong, Emmanuel.  “Christianity, Modernity and the Weight of Tradition in the Life of “Asantehene” Agyeman Prempeh I, c. 1888-1931.” Journal of the International African Institute, 69, No. 2 (1999): 279-311.

Boahen, Adu. Ghana: Evolution and Change in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. London: Longman, 1975.

Kea, Ray. “‘But I know what I shall do’: Agency, Belief & the Social Imaginary in Eighteenth-Century Gold Coast Towns” in Africa’s Urban Past, edited by David M. Anderson and Richard Rathbone, 163-188. Oxford and Portsmouth: James Currey/ Heinemann, 2000.

Parker, John. Making the Town: Ga State and Society in Early Colonial Accra. Portsmouth/ Oxford/Cape Town: Heinemann/ James Currey/David Philip, 2000.

____________.“The Cultural Politics of Death and Burial in Early Colonial Accra,” in Africa’s Urban Past, edited by David M. Anderson and Richard Rathbone, 205-220. Portsmouth/ Oxford/Cape Town: Heinemann/ James Currey/David Philip, 2000.

___________. “Mankraloi, Merchants and Mulattos─ Carl Reindorf and the Politics of “Race” in Early Colonial Accra” in The Recovery of the West African Past: African Pastors and African History in the Nineteenth Century; C.C Reindorf and Samuel Johnson, edited by Paul Jenkins,32-47. Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2000.

Reindorf, Carl Christian. History of the Gold Coast and Asante [1895], 3rd ed. Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 2007.

Shumway, Rebecca. The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2011.

McCaskie T. C. “Asante and Ga: The History of a Relationship” in The Recovery of the West African Past: African Pastors and African History in the Nineteenth Century; C.C Reindorf and Samuel Johnson, edited by Paul Jenkins, 137-142.Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 2000.

Von Hesse, Hermann W. “Wɔ ‘ya Adabraka wɔ ya mɔ gbɛ” (‘We‘re going to Adabraka to secure a space’): Gã Architectural and Urban Authenticity and Colonial Urban Planning in Accra, c.1877-1908.” In Replenishing History: New Directions to Historical Research in the 21st Century in Ghana, ed. by Nana Yaw B. Sapong and J. Otto Pohl, Banbury: Ayebia, 2014.

 

Nat-Amartefio copy
Nat Nuno-Amarteifio

Nat Nuno-Amarteifio is an architectural historian, writer and the former Mayor of Accra, Ghana.  He has worked in the US, Canada and Ghana as an architect and consultant and lectures on urban management and contemporary Ghanaian art and culture. He can contacted at natnuno1@gmail.com.

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12 thoughts on “History of JamesTown British Accra

  1. Rev Carl Reindorf thesis still stands because he would have had a fresh and a rich oral history and architectural eveidence than the present day historians after so many events had taken place also recent modern research confirms same of Carl Reindorf’s; Sub Saharan Africans have all had migration history from the Ethiopias, Egypt through to Sudan, Congo including even the Akans, Ewes etc…The Lower Volta migration to present day Ga cannot be over emphasized yet that wasn’t the initial migration of the Ga people since there are traces on the route of migration nevertheless there where other clans who also migrated with the Akans but made further migration towards the Ga settlers and where engrafted. Others such as the Guans who where relatively the aborigines where also engrafted on route to present day Ga. Ga as a tribe/people was then limited to James Town whiles the other tribes such as La, Ningowa, Prampram etc maintained their originality in same names until present day where they are all classified as Gas…So the rule and the defeat history of the Gas actually refers to present day James Town and not the entire present day Ga people which includes La, Osu, Teshie, Ningowa, Tema, Prampram etc not to even include the Dangbes.

    1. Hmm Mr. Tutuani there’s historical, archaeological, linguistic or genetic evidence that the Ga were Jews. 19th and early century Ga Chdistians like Reindorf, Bruce Myers the legal scholar A.B Quartey Papafio etc invented the myth and convinced by that. since its publication in 1895, Reindforf’s became a popular text book and therefore “fed into the oral tradition”. And there existed a united Ga kingdom, Ayawaso or Nkrangpong ok. Reindorf doesnt deny this. We know the extent of this kingdom from contemporaneous European sources and archaeological and oral texts. Okai Koi’s signature was on the contract that permitted the Swedes and later the Danes to build Christiansborg in 1660-61. (I read Danish. I work with the documents)o was James Fort in 1673-74. Also Reindorf’s history is not a bible ok. We make historical interpretations based on emerging evidence. He had access to some oral traditions but today we have access European archives that Reindorf never had access to. And moderning historical and research that the good old Reindorf could only have dreamt about. For instance Reindorf’s chronology of 18th century Accra/Gold Coast was very chaotic. Im an urban and architectural historian and PhD student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can contact me at vonhesse@wisc.edu. Hermann von Hesse.

      1. I’d like to know exactly what you have in the European archives that Reindorf did not have access to. Are you suggesting that Europeans knew more about the indeginous Ga than scholars from among the Ga nation?
        I also want to know why the Ga people connection to ancient Kemet a myth. I will appreciate any supporting evidence to the aforementioned claim.
        Lastly, which historical work can you describe as a bible since Reindorf’s is not ?

      2. Hi Dr. Laye I guess we are misunderstanding a number of issues. 1. The European sources are primary sources in the sense that they are contemporaneous with the events they discribe. The European sources include trade records of the Danish, English and Dutch companies and also the employees of these companies which dealt in slave trade etc also kept. Since they were traders they recorded their transactions and political events which unfolded on the Gold Coast and Accra. In his journal the Dane, L.F Roemer even interviewed the La Kpa Priest Odoi Kpoti, Okang Nmashi of Teshi etc and several Ga lum3i who were his personal friends. He tells us a lot about local politics. Roemer spoke Ga and Gold Coast Portuguese in addition to his native Danish. He was in Osu/Accra for 12 years. Whenever Roemer related history he made it up or he was just naive. And now Reindorf himself quoted extensively many of these European residents accounts (I have read most of them!) and incorporated their “bad histories” into his own work. Roemer makes the claim that Accra and the Gold Coast was the Western arm of the Great Benin Empire which Reindorf accepted uncritically. Historians and archaeologists of the Benin Empire know its wrong!! There’s even no argument among africanists over this. Also Reindorf first speculated that the Ga were of Jewish origin. He never stated it was a fact but suggested that the circumcission on the 8th day of birth of baby boys and the ng)) wala ritual etc testified to that. (That is pure speculation as he himself suggested) Then later writers from the 1900s such as Bruce Myers, A.B Quartey-Papafio etc also took this up. These Ga and (also some Fante writers) were influenced by missionary education and the migration traditions of the Old Testament. If there are pseudo JudeoChristian semblances in Ga tradition could that be evidence of a Jewish origin? No. Afterall Ga (and Fante people have interacted with European Christians for 400 years. Also linguistically Ga does not belong to the Afro-Semitic group of languages to which Amharic and Geez (spoken in Ethiopia), Hebrew and Arabic etc belongs. Ga, like Akan, Ewe, Yoruba etc belongs to the Kwa which is a sub group of the Niger-Congo family of languages. Archaeological evidence (Read Anquandah Rediscoveribg Ghana’s Past and Irene Odotei, The Ga and their Neighbours (1972) and Paul Ozanne’s excavations of the Accra Plains doesnt support these assertions. Academic history is rigorous and scientific. We do the research not to validate ‘authority’ but to present fresh perspectives. Today wulom3i will swear they are Jewish and all the Afro-centric myth makers, KemetAncient Egypt etc etc will do same. Theres is even a contradiction Israel and Egypt which is which? Is there a papyrus recounting any Ga presence in Ancient Egypt? Wow. Prof Emerita Mary Dakubu (a white British) at the Institute of African Studies, Legon who is an expect on Ga-Dangme language and histoy (historical linguistics) will marvel and be excited if you guys have such an evidence. We will change our minds! That is the difference between academic history and popular history. No historian of Ga/Accra will accept this. Its a wild claim! I could only imagine the extent of African American Afrocentrism/Black heritage/pride has influenced this. Have a good day sir.

  2. Very educative and intelligent piece of history brought to light. I am very proud to be a Ga regardless of my residency. I will suggest to my fellow Ga’s to please educate the history to their children and the generations to come so they don’t lose sight of their rich heritage and ancestry. Thank you!

  3. A very insightful piece. This is an unbiased write up. A marine biologist with a passion for history, I always find it a thrill to read on our past and tour old towns; just to see old buildings and find out their history. Reindorf’s book is a treasure box.

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