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‘Here is No Resisting the Country’. The Realities of Power in Afro-European Relations on the West African ‘Slave Coast’

  • Robin Law (a1)


Perceptions of the earliest stages of interaction between European nations and the indigenous peoples of Africa, from the beginnings of European maritime expansion in the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century, are easily clouded by consciousness of the subsequent imposition of European rule over almost the entire African continent. There has, arguably, been a tendency to read back into earlier periods the military and political dominance which became manifest in the European Partition of Africa at the end of the nineteenth century. The temptation is, perhaps, especially strong in relation to the history of the Atlantic slave trade, which appears so obviously damaging to the African societies involved that it is readily assumed that their participation in it must have been somehow coerced. Although strongest in popular perceptions, this tendency has been reflected in the work of some academic historians also: perhaps most emphatically in the general survey of Afro-European commercial relations by the late Walter Rodney, which remains probably the most widely read book on African history. There we are told, for example, that ‘From the beginning, Europe assumed the power to make decisions within the international trading system […] Above all, European decision-making power was exercised in selecting what Africa should export – in accordance with European needs.’ Primarily, according to Rodney, this was a question of disparity of economic power; but ‘as a last resort’ armed force could be used ‘to ensure the pursuit of favourable policies in the dependent areas’.



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1 Rodney, Walter, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London 1972) 8687, 91.

2 Thornton, John, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1680 (Cambridge 1992).

3 See Lawrence, A.W., Trade Castles and Forts of West Africa (London 1963) ; also Dantzig, Albert van & Priddy, Barbara, A Short History of the Forts and Castles of Ghana (Accra 1971).

4 See further Kea, Ray, ‘Firearms and warfare on the Gold and Slave Coasts from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries’, fournal of African History 12 (1971) 185213.

5 Bosman, William, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea (London 1705) 184.

6 Daaku, Kwame Yeboa, Trade and Politics on the Gold Coast 1600–1720 (Oxford 1970) chapter IV.

7 See Law, Robin, The Slave Coast of West Africa 1550–1750: The impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on an African society (Oxford 1991).

8 For the history of Dahomey, see also Akinjogbin, L.A., Dahomey and its Neighbours 1708–1818 (Cambridge 1967).

9 ‘Journal du Voyage du Sieur Delbēe’, in: Clodore, J. de ed., Relation de ce qui s'est passe dans Us Isles el Terre-ferme de I'Ambique (Paris 1671) ii, 451453.

10 Dantzig, Albert Van ed., The Dutch and the Guinea Coast 1674–1742: A collection ofdocuments from the General Stale Archive at The Hague (Accra 1978) no. 3: Heerman Abramsz to Assembly of Ten, 23 Nov. 1679; Jones, Adam ed., Bmntlenburg Sources for West African History 1680–1700 (Stuttgart 1985), no. 6: Otto Friedrich von Groeben's Account of his Voyage to Guinea, 1682–1683, 55.

11 Van Dantzig, , The Dutch, nos. 30, 74 : Valentyn Gros, Offra, 21 Dec. 1690; Resolutions of Council, Elmina, 31 May 1692.

12 Hair, P.E.H., Jones, Adam and Law, Robin eds., Barbol on Guinea: The writings offean Burbot on West Africa, 1678–1712 (London 1992) ii. 642.

13 Law, Robin ed., Further Correspondence of the Royal African Company ofEngland relating to the ‘Slave Coast’, 1681–1699: Selected documents from Ms. Rawlinson C. 745–747 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison 1992), nos. 6364, 66 : John Wortley, Whydah, 5 & 17 Jan. 1692; Edward Jacldin, Whydah, 17 Jan. 1692.

14 ‘Relation du voyage d'Issiny fait en 1701 par le Chevalier Damon’, in: Roussier, Paul ed., L'Etablissement d'Issiny 1687–1702: Voyages de Ducasse, Tibierge el D'Amon a la Cote de Guinee (Paris 1935) 106.

15 Phillips, Thomas, ‘Journal of a Voyage in the Hannibal of London, 1693–1694’, in: Awnsham, and Churchill, John eds., Collection of Voyages and Travels (London 1732) v, 215.

16 Snelgrave, William, A New Account of Some Parts of Guinea, and the Slave Trade (London 1734) 128.

17 Van Dantzig, , The Dutch, nos. 23, 32 : Isaac van Hoolwerff, OfFra, 10 Feb. 1688; Valentyn Gros, Offra, 7 Aug. 1691.

18 Law, , Further Correspondence, no. 63: John Wortley, Whydah, 5 01 1692.

19 Van Dantzig, , The Dutch, no. 170: Journal of Elmina Castle, 29 12 1709.

20 See further Law, Robin, ‘Warfare on the West African Slave Coast, 1650–1850’, in: Ferguson, R. Brian and Whitehead, Neil L. eds., War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding slates and indigenous warfare (Santa Fé 1992) 103126.

21 Van Dantzig, , The Dutch, no. 252: Resolutions of Council, Elmina, 8 05 1727; Francisco Pereyra Mendes, Whydah, 4 Apr. 1727, quoted in: Verger, Flux et Reflux, 145.

22 Viceroy of Brazil, 30 July 1728, quoted in: Verger, , Flux el Reflux, 146.

23 Law, Robin ed., Correspondence of Royal African Company's Chief Merchants at CaboCorso Castle with William's Fort, Whydah, and the Little Popo Factory, 1727–1728: An annotated transcription of Ms. Francklin 1055/1 in the Bedfordshire County Record Office (African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison 1991), no. 19: Thomas Wilson, Whydah, 29 Apr. 1728; Archives Nationales, Paris [AN], C6/25, unsigned letter, Whydah, 20 May 1728. These eyewitness reports must be presumed to be more accurate than the later account of Snelgrave, , New Account, 116120, which claims that the Dahomians did, in fact, occupy the French fort after its destruction.

24 AN, C6/26: Levet, Whydah, 20 Aug. 1743; Norris, Robert, Memoirs of the Reign of Bossa Ahadee, King of Dahomy (London 1789) 3033.

25 Norris, , Memoirs, 5759.

26 Adams, John, Remarks on the Country Extendingfrom Cape Palmtts to the River Congo (London 1823) 52.

27 The Portuguese fort (which remained in the possession of the Portuguese government until 1961) is the only one of the three which survives more or less intact (and is now a historical museum); the English fort (or perhaps, a building which succeeded it) still exists, but altered beyond recognition as a military edifice; the French fort was demolished n i 1908.

28 Public Record Office, London [PRO], CO1/17: Captain Stewart, Allada, 18 Sept. 1663.

29 Jones, , Brandenburg Sources, no. 6: von Groeben's Account, 55.

30 Law, , Further Correspondence, no. 7: John Thome, Offra, 4 12 1681.

31 Van Dantzig, , The Dutch, no. 15: Instruction for Willem de la Palma, 8 12 1685.

32 Secretary of State, Lisbon, 13 March 1750, quoted in: Verger, , Flux et Reflux, 189.

33 Law, , The Slave Coast, 168182.

34 Law, , Further Correspondence, no. 81: Josiah Pearson, Whydah, 8 04 1695.

35 Ibidem, no. 18a: Timothy Armitage, Whydah, 19 Oct. 1682.

36 Ibidem, no. 66: Edward Jacklin, Whydah, 10 May 1692.

37 Van Dantzig, , The Dutch, no. 206: Resolutions of Council, Elmina, 7 12 1714; AN, C6/25: Du Colombier, Whydah, 4 Feb. 1715.

38 PRO, T70/6: Mason, Welch & Branston, Whydah, 14 Sept. 1715; AN, B3/236, Du Colombier, 14 Apr. 1716.

39 Snelgrave, , New Account, 130134.

40 AN, C6/25, ‘Memoire contre le Sr Galot’, 8 Nov. 1730; Snelgrave, , New Account, 119.

41 AN, C6/25: Levet, Whydah, 20 Aug. 1743.

42 Viceroy of Brazil, 8 Oct. 1747, quoted in: Verger, , Flux el Reflux, 188.

43 See lists in Akinjogbin, , Dahomey, 216217.

44 Dalzel, Archibald, The History of Dahomy (London 1793) 227.

45 Adams, , Remarks, 54.

46 Extractsfrom the.Report ofthe Commissioners appointed for investigating the State of the Settlements and Governments on the Coast of Africa (London 1812) 12.

47 Law, , Further Correspondence, no. 7: John Thome, Offra, 4 12 1681.

48 Text in: Labat, Jean-Baptiste, Voyage de Chevalier (Us Marchais en Guinee, ides voisines, el a Otyenne (2nd ed., Paris 1731) ii, 8891.

49 PRO, CO113/276: Randle Logan to Joseph Blaney, 20 Feb. 1715.

50 Governor & Council, Cape Coast Castle, 1 Mar. 1791, quoted in: Akinjogbin, , Dahomey, 184.

51 M'Leod, John, A Voyage to Africa (London 1820) 108121.

52 Duncan, John, Travels in Western Africa (London 1847) ii, 263; Burton, Richard, A Mission to Celele, King of Dahome (London 1966) 344.

* Visiting Fellow, African Studies Centre/Centre for Non-Western Studies, State University of Leiden, September 1993 to January 1994.

‘Here is No Resisting the Country’. The Realities of Power in Afro-European Relations on the West African ‘Slave Coast’

  • Robin Law (a1)


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