Gold Coast, a British Crown Colony on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa from 1821 to its independence, as part of the nation of Ghana in 1957, is often used to describe all of the four separate jurisdictions that were under the administration of the Governor of the Gold Coast.
These were the Gold Coast itself, Ashanti, the Northern Territories Protectorate, and the British Togoland trust territory.
The first European explorers to arrive at the coast were the Portuguese in 1471. In 1483, as the Portuguese came to the continent for increased trade, they built the Castle of Elmina, the first European settlement on the Gold Coast. From there, they acquired slaves and gold in trade for European goods, such as metal knives, beads, mirrors, rum, and guns. News of the successful trading spread quickly, and not so long after, the British, Dutch, Danish, Prussian and Swedish traders arrived as well.
The Gold Coast name was used by the Europeans because of the large gold resources found in the area. The slave trade was the principal exchange and major part of the economy for many years. In this period, European nations began to explore and colonize the Americas.
After a while, the jurisdictions of the Gold Coast started wars with the Europeans, who were present, and among themselves.
The wars were mainly due to Ashanti jurisdiction attempts to establish a stronghold over the coastal areas of present-day Ghana. Coastal peoples such as the Fante and Ga came to rely on British protection against Ashanti protests.
This article will be looking at the details of the three earliest wars amongst the Gold Coast jurisdictions, their causes, and their effects.
The Anglo-Ashanti Wars were a series of five 19th-century conflicts that took place between 1824 and 1900, between the Ashanti Empire, in the Akan interior of the Gold Coast, and Great Britain and its allies. The British lost or negotiated truces in several of these wars, with the final war resulting in the British burning of Kumasi and the official occupation of the Ashanti Empire in 1900.
The Ashanti- Fante wars
In the Ashanti-Fante War of 1806–07, the British refused to hand over two rebels pursued by the Ashanti but eventually handed one over (the other escaped).
By the 1820s, the British had decided to support the Fante against Ashanti raids.
Causes of the Ashanti- Fante Wars
Economic and social misunderstanding played their part in the causes of the outbreak of violence.
“The immediate cause of the war occurred when a group of Ashantis kidnapped and murdered an African serviceman of the Royal African Corps on 1 February 1823. A small British group was led into a trap which resulted in 10 killed, 39 wounded and a British retreat. The Ashantis tried to negotiate but the British governor, Sir Charles MacCarthy, rejected Ashanti claims to Fanti areas of the coast and resisted overtures by the Ashanti to negotiate” (“three+Ashanti+armies+marched”+McIntyre&pg=PA87&printsec=frontcover online).
According to books written in the Anglo Ashanti wars, a young man named MacCarthy led an invading force from the Cape Coast in two columns. The governor was in the first group of 500, which lost contact with the second column when they encountered the Ashanti army of around 10,000 on 22 January 1824, in the battle of Nsamankow. The British ran out of ammunition, suffered losses and were overrun. Almost all the British force were killed immediately while 20 managed to escape.
MacCarthy, along with the ensign and his secretary, were said to have attempted to fall back, because he was wounded by gunfire. However he was killed by a second shot shortly thereafter. Ensign Wetherell was killed while trying to defend MacCarthy’s body. Williams was taken prisoner for several months and on his release narrated that he was spared death when an Ashanti sub-chief recognised and spared his life due to a previous favour Williams had shown him. Williams was held prisoner for several months in a hut which also held the decapitated heads of MacCarthy and Wetherell.
MacCarthy’s skull was rimmed with gold and was supposedly used as a drinking cup by Ashanti rulers.
The new governor of the Gold Coast, John Hope Smith, started to gather a new army, mainly comprising natives, including Denkyiras, many of the traditional enemies of the Ashanti. In August 1826, the governor heard that the Ashanti were planning on attacking Accra. A defensive position was prepared on the open plain about 15 kilometres (10 mi) north of Accra and the 11,000 men waited.
On 7 August, the Ashanti army appeared and attacked the centre of the British line where the best troops were held, which included some Royal Marines, the militia and a battery of Congreve rockets. The battle dissolved into hand-to-hand fighting but the Ashanti force were not doing well on their flanks whilst they looked like winning in the centre. Then the rockets were fired. The novelty of the weapons, the explosions, rocket trails, and grievous wounds caused by flying metal shards caused the Ashanti to fall back. Soon they fled leaving thousands of casualties on the field. In 1831, the Pra River was accepted as the border in a treaty.
Stay tuned for more updates on the Anglo Ashanti wars of the then Gold Coast.
W. David McIntyre, The Imperial Frontier in the Tropics, 1865–75: A Study of British Colonial Policy in West Africa, Malaya, and the South Pacific in the Age of Gladstone and Disraeli. (1967) pp. 87–88.