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Cape Coast Castle

Sat, Dec 26, 2009

Culture, Elders, Research

In 1655 the Swedes began construction on a fort situated on one of the better landing places in West Africa, land which the Portuguese called ‘Cabo Corso’ meaning ‘short cape’. Over the next decade, Fort Carolusburg, as it was called, would change owners roughly half a dozen times, facing, among others, occupation by the Danes, Fetu and eventually Dutch. In 1664, the fort was captured from the Dutch by a joint English and Danish force. The English who remained in possession, renamed the surrounding area Cape Coast; a distortion of the original Portuguese name.

By 1674, the English had begun the building of Cape Coast Castle. It would serve as the Royal African Company’s headquarters on the Gold Coast until 1877, when the seat of the British government moved to Accra.

The Royal African Company flourished greatly in the 1680s. Significant quantities of gold were traded and were then minted in London. The notorious ‘Guineas’ as they were called, were stamped with the emblem of the Royal African Company. The coins soon became highly valued, and before long, their worth had exceeded that of the Pound Sterling. The Slave trade was also proving to be quite profitable for the Royal African Company. Due to the expansion of plantation economies in the West Indies, the slave trade grew rapidly during the second half of the seventeenth century, and soon surpassed the gold trade as the main source of revenue for the Royal African Company.

In response to this newfound prosperity, Cape Coast Castle underwent major changes in the 1680s. The northern side of the castle was significantly extended, creating a new bastion which ended in what is still known as ‘Greenhill’s Point’. This area provided protection for the strip of coast east of the castle, the sole area at which canoes could safely land Expansion also included a new building which was created on the southern end of the castle, overlooking the sea, and a rather low platform on which a number of guns could be mounted.

Beneath these new constructions, which formed a rather triangular figure, lay large, underground vaults. Catering to the prosperity of the Slave trade, the vaults were constructed as prisons and had the capacity to hold over a thousand slaves awaiting shipment. The vaults were dark and congested, with ventilation only allowed through small gratings along the sides. It was believed, however, that keeping the slaves underground would offer the garrison security against any type of insurrection.

Despite the various renovations that took place between 1673 and 1694, Cape Coast Castle retained approximately three quarters of the structure of the original Swedish fort. Between 1757 and 1780 however, the Castle underwent extensive changes and was almost entirely reconstructed.

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