Gold Coast, Exchanges of Forts on

Gold Coast, Exchanges of Forts on
(1850, 1868)
   A series of agreements among Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands to effectively bring the African Gold Coast under British control. Centuries of European rivalry on the Gold Coast led to the construction of a series of coastal forts built by the European powers to defend their commercial interests. Two dozen of these forts were still in use by British, Dutch, and Danish merchants in the nineteenth century. As the century progressed, Britain negotiated agreements with Denmark in 1850 and the Netherlands in 1868 and 1872 to take possession of these forts. These agreements acknowledged British ascendancy in the region and helped clear the way for the assumption of colonial rule over the Gold Coast in 1874, despite the sometimes violent responses they aroused among the indigenous population. Formally, the forts themselves were the only European possessions on the Gold Coast. Nonetheless, in practice European officials exercised considerable political, economic, and military influence over the districts surrounding their forts. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands all claimed substantial protectorates or spheres of influence, although the nature and extent of their authority varied.
   The British maintained an extensive judicial presence and were more actively engaged in the administration of their protectorate. This was especially true in the 1850s, when they attempted unsuccessfully to impose a poll tax on the protectorate to fund the extension of the judicial system, the construction of schools, and the improvement of roads. Pressure to reduce administrative costs also led to the institution of customs duties in the British forts. In contrast, the Dutch and the Danish preferred a more limited scale of administration. They avoided the imposition of taxes and had little interest in humanitarian measures, although the Danes provided a small annual grant to the Basel Mission Society. The primary interest of the Dutch on the Gold Coast was the recruitment of young men, primarily Ashanti slaves, to serve in their East Indian colonies. In any case, the existence of these limited territorial claims proved a source of conflict as the exchanges of forts were carried out.
   The first of these transactions was prompted by the Danish decision to withdraw completely from the coast. All the European powers had suffered from a prolonged commercial slump in the first decades of the century caused by an Ashanti invasion and occupation of the coastal districts between 1807 and 1826 and the abolition of the slave trade. Faced with mounting commercial losses, Danish officials began looking to sell the five forts they controlled in the mid-1840s. Alarmed by Danish negotiations with France and eager to stamp out the illicit slave trade that persisted in the area, Britain agreed to purchase the forts for £10,000 in 1850. Dif-ficulties with the transaction arose, however, when the British attempted to impose their legal jurisdiction over the local Ga polities, enforce strict rules against slave trading, and collect the poll tax. Neither Britain nor Denmark had sought their consent to the transfer of authority, and the Ga soon chafed under the transition from laissez-faire Danish rule to the more invasive British administration. The inhabitants of several former Danish towns rebelled against British rule in 1854 with “Danish flags flying.” The riots were ended by British naval bombardment of the towns of Osu, Labadi, and Teshie.
   The second set of transactions arose out of British and Dutch efforts to ease the difficulty of administering their protectorates by exchanging territory and consolidating their spheres of influence. Both faced recurrent problems related to the poorly defined boundaries of their respective protectorates. British and Dutch forts were intermingled along the entire length of the coast, and in the complete absence of reliable maps, the inland boundaries of their protectorates were even more problematic. Attempts to collect taxes and issues summons in certain areas were continually obstructed by disputes over jurisdiction. After a decade of negotiations, the exchange was carried out in early 1868. The Dutch took possession of four British forts in the western Gold Coast; the British took over five Dutch forts in the east. The new border between the reconstituted protectorates was the Sweet River, between Elmina and Cape Coast.
   The exchange effectively shifted a number of independent polities from one protectorate to the other, again without their consent. Although the British took possession of the Dutch forts without incident, several of the states transferred into the Dutch protectorate refused to acknowledge Dutch authority. The inland states of Wassaw, Denkira, and Twifu were neighbors and longstanding enemies of the Ashanti empire. As the Dutch were close allies of Ashanti, they regarded Dutch rule as tantamount to an Ashanti occupation. Dutch authorities also faced resistance when they attempted to take control of British Commenda, which had a long history of conflict with nearby Dutch Commenda. Unable to occupy the British fort, the Dutch eventually destroyed it and the town with a naval bombardment. Within months the former British dependencies had placed Elmina under siege; the Ashanti army responded by invading the belligerent states; and the Dutch were plunged into a costly and unanticipated war. The Dutch eventually abandoned their forts in 1872, selling them to the British for the nominal fee of £4000. Two years later a British proclamation placed the Gold Coast under direct colonial rule.
   See also <>; <>.
    Claridge, William Walton. A History of the Gold Coast and the Ashanti. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1964;
    Fage, J. D. Ghana, A Historical Interpretation. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983;
    Ward, W.E.F. A History of Ghana. New York: Praeger, 1963.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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