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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2013

University of York


In the seventeenth century, Europeans on the Gold Coast took gold pawns as security for debt, but from the early eighteenth century, they turned increasingly toward the use of human pawns. This shift was the result of a transformation in levels of demand for gold amongst African sellers, most notably the Asante, who began to secure control over local gold sources from c. 1700. The change in demand for gold was accompanied by a rise in slave prices on the West African coast, but it was the indigenous system of debt recovery that proved crucial to the success of European trade.

Loan Security, Gold, and Slaves
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1 Proverb cited in McCaskie, T. C., State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante (Cambridge, 1995), 78Google Scholar. I have chosen to translate sika as ‘gold’.

2 O. Sam, quoted by George Preston in his review of Shumway, R., The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Rochester, NY, 2011)Google Scholar for H-AfrArts, Jan. 2012 <>, accessed 18 July 2012.

3 This practice has been identified in Africa and parts of Latin America, as well as southern and south-eastern Asia. Falola, T. and Lovejoy, P. E., ‘Pawnship in historical perspective’, in Lovejoy, P. E. and Falola, T. (eds.), Pawnship, Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa (Trenton, NJ, 2003), 3Google Scholar. Protection for creditors, often in the form of a pledge of a productive asset, appears in some of the earliest surviving legal records. Westbrook, R., ‘Conclusions’, in Westbrook, R. and Jasnow, R. (eds.), Security for Debt in Ancient Near Eastern Law (Leiden, 2001), 328–9Google Scholar.

4 Wigmore, J. H., ‘I. The pledge-idea: a study in comparative legal ideas’, Harvard Law Review, 10:6 (1897), 326–41Google Scholar. See also Westbrook's critique of Wigmore in ‘Conclusions’, 331–2.

5 Some writers claim pawnship cannot be identified prior to the Atlantic slave trade; others suggest it was a much older institution. See the range of essays in Lovejoy and Falola (eds.), Pawnship.

6 Lovejoy, P. E. and Richardson, D., ‘Trust, pawnship, and Atlantic history: the institutional foundations of the Old Calabar slave trade’, American Historical Review, 104:2 (1999), 332–55CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Lovejoy, P. E. and Richardson, D., ‘“Pawns will live when slaves is apt to dye”: credit, risk and trust at Old Calabar in the era of the slave trade’ in Lovejoy, and Falola, (eds.), Pawnship, 7196Google Scholar; Lovejoy, P. E. and Richardson, D., ‘The business of slaving: pawnship in Western Africa, c. 1600–1810’, in Lovejoy, and Falola, (eds.), Pawnship, 2754Google Scholar.

7 Lovejoy and Richardson, ‘Trust’, 335.

8 Law, R., Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving ‘Port’, 1727–1892 (Athens, OH, 2004), 133–5Google Scholar; Lovejoy, P. E. and Richardson, D., ‘“This horrid hole”: royal authority, commerce, and credit at Bonny, 1690–1840’, The Journal of African History, 45:3 (2004), 364CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also, Bosman, W., A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea Divided into The Gold, The Slave, and The Ivory Coasts, ed. Willis, J. R. (1704; first English edn, 1705; 4th English edn., London, 1967), 352 and 363aGoogle Scholar.

9 Pieter de Marees informed readers of his travelogue ‘that a Boy had been left on the Ship as a pawn on account of a debt’. de Marees, P., Description and Historical Account of the Gold Kingdom of Guinea (1602), trans. van Dantzig, A. and Jones, A. (Oxford, 1987), 41Google Scholar.

10 Jones, A., Brandenburg Sources for West African History, 1680–1700 (Stuttgart, 1985), 6672Google Scholar; for Danish, Dutch, and English examples, see below.

11 Credit could be used to serve political as well as economic ends. See Daaku, K. Y., Trade and Politics on the Gold Coast, 1600–1720: A Study of the African Reaction to European Trade (Oxford, 1970), 42–3Google Scholar.

12 By the beginning of the eighteenth century, Europeans occupied as many as 23 forts and factories along the Gold Coast from the Dutch-held Axim in the west to Christiansborg, held by the Danish at Accra, around 300 miles away to the east. Such forts had been built to secure gold supplies from pirates and other European merchants, as well as Africans. Eltis, D., The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas (Cambridge, 2000), 174–5Google Scholar. Companies offering credit could expect better access to trade. The National Archives, Kew (TNA) C113/261, Copies of Letters to and from Commenda (Komenda), Succondee (Sekondi) & Dixcove (1716?), Sekondi, 15 Sept. 1716.

13 In 1687, Ralph Hassell was asked ‘to be trusted with four barrells of powder and one ounce in lead barrs’; the Fante offered to pay ‘out of their monthly customes, and if they are conquer[er]s in slaves’. Law, R. (ed.), The English in West Africa, 1685–1688: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company of England, 1681–1699, Part 2 (RAC 2) (Oxford, 2001), 192Google Scholar.

14 Governor Boris reported in 1738 that he had been ‘obliged to lend 520 rdl. to the Dutch Caboceer Okanie … This sum we will always guarantee, since he has come here to be with all his slaves and relatives, who exceed 200 men with guns, as well as women and children.’ O. Justesen (ed.), Danish Sources for the History of Ghana, 1657–1754, Volume 2: 1735–1754, transl. Manley, J. (Danish 2) (Copenhagen, 2005), 539Google Scholar.

15 Bosman, Description, 92.

16 Kea, R. A., Settlements, Trade, and Polities in the Seventeenth-Century Gold Coast (Baltimore, MD, 1982), 237–9Google Scholar. Agori (acori; cori) beads had been important trade goods on the Gold Coast since the arrival of the Portuguese in the fifteenth century. Daaku, Trade, 25; J. W. Blake (ed.), Europeans in West Africa, 1450–1560: Documents to Illustrate the Nature and Scope of Portuguese Enterprise in West Africa, the Abortive Attempt of Castilians to Create an Empire there, and the Early English Voyages to Barbary and Guinea, Volume I, Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 86 (London, 1942), 50Google Scholar. For the Dutch, see van Dantzig, A. (ed.), The Dutch and the Guinea Coast, 1674–1742: A Collection of Documents from the General State Archive at the Hague (Accra, 1978), 119 and 122Google Scholar.

17 Failure to redeem, however, would result in the panyarring of ‘as many of the negroes of that town where our debtor lives, as we can, or as will come to the value of the debt, which we secure aboard, and threaten to carry away with us if they be not redeem'd … but this is seldom done, we being very cautious in trusting them for any considerable value’: Phillips, T., ‘A journal of a voyage made in the Hannibal of London, Ann. 1693, 1694’, in A. and Churchill, J. (eds.), A Collection of Voyages and Travels: Some Now First Printed from Original Manuscripts, Others Now First Published in English, Volume 6 (London, 1732), 206Google Scholar. Fetish gold according to Atkins was gold cast into various decorative shapes for body ornamentation. Atkins, J., A Voyage to Guinea, Brasil, and the West-Indies; in His Majesty's Ships the Swallow and Weymouth (2nd edn, London, 1737), 183–4Google Scholar. Bosman noted two types of fetish gold: one was ‘Artificial Gold composed of several ingredients’; the other ‘unalloyed Mountain gold’ used for adornment. Bosman, Description, 73–4.

18 John Snow's letter to the Royal African Company, 31 July 1705, cited in Davies, K. G., The Royal African Company (London, 1957), 369Google Scholar.

19 The King of Fetu sold the land for Frederiksborg in 1659 to the Danish African Company, the forerunner of the Danish West India and Guinea Company. The latter, established in 1673 and surviving until 1754, transferred its headquarters to the more easterly fort of Christiansborg at Accra in 1685 as a result of a dispute with the English. Justesen, O. (ed.), Danish Sources for the History of Ghana, 1657–1754, Volume 1: 1657–1735, transl. Manley, J., (Danish 1) (Copenhagen, 2005), viii, xviii, 1, and 8–9Google Scholar; Law (ed.), RAC 2, 141 and 427–9.

20 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 25–31. Slaves were presumably acceptable as pawns to Europeans because they were considered property. For the use of slaves as pawns, Ibid. [1700] 141, [1704] 181–2, and [1722] 289. For a sword held by the RAC, see Law, R. (ed.), The English in West Africa 1681–1683: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company of England, 1681–1699, Part 1 (RAC 1) (Oxford, 1997), 176Google Scholar.


21 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 64–5.

22 Pawnship agreements did not usually have deadlines as debt was collected on the basis of need. While this gave the debtor time to pay off when convenient, it also meant the debtor could enforce the debt at any time, usually through panyarring. Ojo, O., ‘Child slaves in pre-colonial Nigeria, c. 1725–1860’, Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, 33:3 (2012), 422CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For comparable English practice, see Spicksley, J. M., ‘“Fly with a duck in thy mouth”: single women as sources of credit in seventeenth-century England’, Social History, 32:2 (2007), 193CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 64–5. In 1745, Governor Billsen had apparently ‘wanted to do what no European has yet found practicable, that is to make the Negroes pay interest when they wished to borrow something against an adequate gold pawn’. Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 645.

24 As part of his preparations to leave Christiansborg, Governor Lygaard advised the WIGC directors that he had advanced guns to the value of around 24 bendas to a number of local groups, but ‘since the Negroes are not yet in a position to pay this because of the war they have been waging with the Aqvambues, one has to give them some credit’. His successor, Frans Boye, noted in 1711 that pledges had been received for 736 rdl. of African debt, but did not reveal their nature. Justesen (ed.), Danish 1 [1710], 226 and 236.

25 Ibid. xv and 281–3.


26 Ibid. 281.


27 The debt ledger reveals that 64 rdl. was owed on ‘4 Negroes whom Tette pledges’. Three further entries may be human pawn: 8 rdl. on ‘one Aqvambuesch Negro in pawn’; 14 marks on ‘Cacun, fisherman, in pawn’; and 139 rdl. on ‘Aj, borrowed on Anombe and a woman by name Dede’. Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 291–2. However, examples where individuals are described as ‘in pawn’ may simply refer to those who have provided some form of security. This is suggested by a later entry in 1724 in which the record of a debt of 16 rdl. to ‘Qvampa in Aqvambue in pawn’ has the corresponding ledger entry ‘1724 19th June paid in cowries and redeemed his pawn’. If he were in pawn himself, the entry would surely have noted his freedom, as in a case earlier in the ledger entry. Ibid. 350 and 348.


28 Ibid. 286.


29 Ibid. 295.


30 Forty debtors can be clearly identified on both lists. Of those 19, (47.5 per cent) had increased their debt; 5 (12·5 per cent) had decreased it; and 16 (40 per cent) had the same level of debt. Ibid. 290–1 and 319–20.


31 Ibid. 319–20.


32 Ibid. 314.


33 Ibid. 338.


34 Ibid. 323 and 339.


35 Fifty-two debtors had the same debt while two had made a partial repayment. This stability continued until the end of the decade. Of the 44 debtors that can be identified in the 1726 and 1729 lists, 36 debtors owed the same amount, 7 had decreased their debts, and only 1 owed more. Ibid. 319–20, 347–51, and 384–5.


36 See, for example, 36 rdl. on ‘Adjarij and Adjiribi Remidors {Osu} Stand themselves in pawn’; 64 rdl. on ‘Annombe Remidor {Osu} Himself and his whore stood in pawn’. Ibid. 348–9. Some remidors had borrowed against the later delivery of a slave. For canoemen in pawn to the RAC with amounts, see Law (ed.), RAC 1 [1681], 175.


37 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 348 and 384.

38 Ibid. 348 and 385. Presumably, his payment history meant he could be trusted for the remaining 16 rdl. without security.


39 Ibid. 366–9 and 384–6.


40 Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 517–21 and 584–5.

41 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 339.

42 In addition to Østrup's theft, other Company officers were accused of fraud. Peter Valck, who found significant amounts of gold and gold pawn when he seized command in 1681, was accused of squandering it all, and Wæroe claimed that in 1729, ‘Governor Suhm took with him all the pawns that were in gold, as itemized in the Company's books, and exchanged them for cowries, inasmuch as Governor Suhm took them as salary’. Ibid. 69–70 and 394. William de la Palma, the Dutch director-general, may also have removed gold pawn illegally, taking it on board the Africaensche Galey in a box in 1705. Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 122.


43 Law (ed.), RAC 2, 180–1. Early complaints about difficulties in selling some pawned objects may have encouraged a preference for gold. Justesen (ed.), Danish 1 [1683], 77. For pawned objects that were not sufficient to cover the value of the debt, see Law, R. (ed.), The English in West Africa, 1691–1699: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company of England, 1681–1699, Part 3 (RAC 3) (Oxford, 2006), 331Google Scholar. This problem may have intensified as the price of gold rose on the Gold Coast (see below).

44 For disappearing pawns, see Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 822. For the problem of runaway pawns, see TNA T70/1470, Journal at Appollonia (1780) including a description Of the Castles Forts and Settlements belonging to the Royal African Company (1737), 24.

45 Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 874. In July 1746, it was claimed that it was ‘almost an impossible matter’ to send a number of pawns, one of whom was heir to a local stool, to be sold off the coast; instead they became Company slaves. Ibid. 675 and 684. See also Governor Platfues's comments in May 1748 and the further purchase of two boys as remidor slaves instead of accepting then as pawns in 1754. Ibid. 721 and 948.


46 Ibid. 803.


47 Ibid. 901. Svane was defending himself against a number of accusations made by the former Governor Hachsen, but did not hide the fact that he and Engman were not on good terms. For his testimony, see Ibid. 858–68 and 893–912.


48 Rømer, L. F., A Reliable Account of the Coast of Guinea (1760), Winsnes, S. A. (ed.) (Oxford, 2000), 164Google Scholar. For the problem of unredeemed pawns, see TNA T70/1470, Journal at Appollonia, 24. For a male slave who had been pawned for one year for ‘a fine Portuguese slave’, see Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 869.

49 Centre des archives d'outre-mer, Aix-en-Provence (CAOM), C6 13, 27 Feb. 1752, Memoire d'observations sur le traitté fait avec les Fantines, Article 14; TNA T70/32, Inward Letter Book 1773–81, 51. In Old Calabar, the costs of maintaining pawns apparently fell on the debtor. This may have been related to the strength of the British near monopsony – 85·8 per cent of slaves between 1701 and 1810 left on British ships. See Lovejoy and Richardson, ‘Trust’, 338 and 351. In medieval European practice, creditors normally maintained pledges. E. Tomlinson, ‘Comparative historical perspectives’, in Westbrook and Jasnow (eds.), Security, 27.

50 Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 691.

51 Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch [1713], 171. Given the variety of uses for pawns, their value may often have failed to correspond exactly to the debt they secured. For references to an ‘adequate’ pawn and an ‘exact pawn’, both in 1745, see Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 645 and 662.

52 John Stevenson had been entertaining Asante traders at Dixcove for six days in 1716, buying ivory, gold, and slaves. He had been obliged to sell his perpets (perpetuanas: wool fabrics), guns, and powder at high prices, and as the Asante were ‘very uneasie & ill to please I have likeways trusted the head of them 14 oz goods on five good men pawnes … on their promise of paying me in 2 Months at the Longest in good Slaves & Teeth & likeway's to engage others to come to this place to Trade’. TNA C113/261, Copies of Letters, John Stevenson, Dixcove, 11 Aug. 1716, 123v–124.

53 The Fante had offered human pawns to the Dutch in 1740 in return for gunpowder, gold dust, and lead. Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 351.

54 See, for example, ‘July 2. Mount Howard, at the mouth of Wyapoco, Guiana’, Domestic Corresp. Jac. I., Vol. VIII., No. 87, Cal. p. 127, in W. N. Salisbury (ed.), ‘America and West Indies: July 1604’, Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies, Volume 1: 1574–1660, British History Online, <>, accessed 3 Sept. 2012; ‘The voyages of William Hawkins the elder to Guinea and Brazil during the years 1530–2’, in J. W. Blake (ed.), Europeans in West Africa, 1450–1560: Documents to Illustrate the Nature and Scope of Portuguese Enterprise in West Africa, the Abortive Attempt of Castilians to Create an Empire there, and the Early English Voyages to Barbary and Guinea, Volume II, Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 87 (London, 1942), 299; 2 April; Add. MS. 32,650, f. 115. B. M. Sadler State Papers, I. 113, in J. Gairdner and R. H. Brodie (eds.) ‘Henry VIII: April 1543, 1–5’, Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 18 Part 1: January–July 1543, British History Online, <>, accessed 3 Sept. 2012; Temple, R. C. (ed.), The Travels of Peter Mundy, in Europe and Asia, 1608–1667, Volume II, Travels in Asia, 1628–1634, Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 35 (London, 1914), 264Google Scholar. See also the three essays by , Wigmore on ‘The pledge-idea’ in the Harvard Law Review, 10:6–7 and 11:1 (1897)Google Scholar.

55 Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 761.

56 The multiplicity of their uses sometimes made identifying their purpose problematic. William Cross of the RAC, concerned about the activities of a French vessel at Komenda in 1686, wrote that ‘the king has given them a pawn on board, and what for I can [not] learne’. Law (ed.), RAC 2, 79.

57 Law (ed.), RAC 1 [1681], 68; [1683], 12; [1683], 61; [1681], 302; [1681], 145; [1682], 193; Law (ed.), RAC 3 [1695], 343; Law (ed.), RAC 2 [1687], 53 and 49; [1687], 215; Law (ed.), RAC 3 [1693], 304; TNA T70/30, Inward Letter Book 1753–62, 19 Oct. 1753, 19.

58 For bodies as security for the performance of a promise in 1681, see Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 73. For the recovery of slaves in 1698, Ibid. 141. As guarantee of intention to trade in 1747, Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 703–4. For bodies as hostages for a peace treaty in 1704, van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 98. For future payment of a debt in 1717, Ibid. 195. For guarantee of safety in 1727, Ibid. 223.


59 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 422–4.

60 TNA C113/270, Letter Book, Cape Coast Castle, 1717, 9–11. For other examples of human and gold pawn, see: TNA C113/286, Accounts, invoices, bank statements etc relating to William Johnson, 1717–19, 23v, 52.

61 Law (ed.), RAC 2, 100. See also TNA C113/261, Copies of Letters, Edward Patrick, 13 July 1716, Komenda, 73v.

62 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 73–4.

63 Law (ed.), RAC 2, 139; Law (ed.), RAC 3, 309 and 334.

64 In the Dutch records, of the three examples of the use of human security as a guarantee of performance in the early eighteenth century, the first two in 1704 and 1717 are translated as ‘hostage’ and the final example in 1727 as ‘pawn’. Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 98, 195, and 223.

65 Law (ed.), RAC 1, 175 and 183. For the value of guns in slaves at Whydah – the price early in the 1700s was 12 guns for one slave, see Johnson, M., ‘The ounce in eighteenth-century West African trade’, The Journal of African History, 7:2 (1966), 206–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Law (ed.), RAC 2, 139.

67 There is no record of which of the various units of weight present on the Gold Coast were used by the Danish. If the equivalencies listed in documents under the dates of 1680 and 1698 still applied, one benda was worth 32 rdl., and one mark (gold weight) was equal to four benda. The king had offered security worth 60 benda that covered his debt of 20 benda (640 rdl.), but not the later debt of 124 benda (3974 rdl.). Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, xxi–v, 41, and 101.

68 Ibid. 282, 290, 349, and 360–2. The king asked ‘if it was the custom in our home country to forfeit pawns without informing the owner. To this the answer was that he knew well that Aqvando had first borrowed 30 bender of gold as well as goods, and since the pawn was gold, it balanced out against gold. Secondly, there was no time, when the ship that was given the gold for goods came here in the roads, to let him know, since the captain of the ship would not put off his departure for such a long time, perhaps a fortnight, until one could get a messenger back again.’ In addition, the promise from Aqvando had been to repay in 2 months' time, but the debt had been active for between eight and nine years without interest. Ibid. 361.


69 In one instance, Edward Barter of the RAC reported that the Akwamu had promised ‘either their sons or two hundred bendys’ to the King of Allampo to secure Company trading in the area. Law (ed.), RAC 3, 566.

70 For inter-African pawning in 1744, see Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 656–7; TNA T70/1463, ‘Cape Coast Memorandum book 1703–4’, 13 Jan. 13 1703–2 Jan. 1704; and van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 312. European literature was critical of the practice of African pawning by the mid-eighteenth century. For example, J. S. G., the last commandant of Commenda, wrote: ‘If a Negro wants Money – be he Old or Young – Decrepit or Robust – he can pawn himself – or his Son – his Sister or his Sister's Child – to his Neighbour, for a Sum payable at a Day certain …’: J. S. G., Detector Detected: or, State of Affairs on the Gold Coast, and Conduct of the Present Managers Considered (London, 1753), 39Google Scholar. Clarkson's essay was more sympathetic to what he saw as exploitation, noting that poorer African traders were ‘obliged to leave a pledge or security for their return. This pledge consists of their own relations. Clarkson, T., An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (2nd edn, London, 1788 [orig. pub. 1785]), 27–8Google Scholar.

71 Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 584–5. For the cost of slaves, see Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, xxxvi. Some security appears excessive, such as the fisherman who had pawned his sister for 12 rdl. in 1735, but he may have made partial repayment. Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 504.

72 See, for example, the debt of Domine in 1735 who owed one man and one woman slave, and whose daughter was in pawn, or that of the Ada Negroes in 1750 for 192 rdl. (two men slaves), who had offered one pawn from the caboceer's family. Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 503 and 791. On the Slave Coast, a ratio of two pawns to three slaves seems to have been the norm for British slave traders. Lovejoy and Richardson, ‘Trust’, 351.

73 Abū-´l-Ḥasan ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn al-Mas‘ūdī provides the first Arab description of the ‘silent’ gold trade. Levtzion, N. and Hopkins, J. F. P. (eds.), Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (Cambridge, 1981)Google Scholar, 32, 379 fn. 8, and 380 fn. 11; Spufford, P., Money and Its Use in Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1988), 163–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

74 Pereira claimed Henry had religious and political motives for his voyages of exploration believing he would find there ‘so much gold and other rich merchandise … as would maintain the King and people of these realms of Portugal in plenty and would enable them to wage war on the enemies of our holy Catholic faith’. Pereira, D. P., Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis, trans. and ed. Kimble, G. H. T., Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 79 (London, 1937), 62Google Scholar. When the Portuguese took Ceuta in 1415, it was famed for its gold doubloons, minted from gold brought across the Sahara; capture of the port allowed the royal mint to produce gold coins for the first time in fifty years. The gold bought from Saharan caravans at the trading post of Arguim, established in 1449–50, was sufficient to allow the Portuguese mint to issue its new gold cruzado in 1457. The discovery of gold on the Gold Coast from the 1470s ensured that the cruzado could maintain its exceptional level of purity for eighty years. Disney, A. R., A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire, Volume 2: The Portuguese Empire (Cambridge, 2009), 3–4, 13–14, 46, and 5660Google Scholar.

75 Fage, J. D., A History of West Africa: An Introductory Survey (4th edn, Cambridge, 1969), 97Google Scholar. For evidence that this shift was already underway by the early sixteenth century, see Pereira, Esmeraldo, 75.

76 The Fante were an amalgam of several cultural groups that included Akan, Asebu, Etsi, Fetu, Agona, and Eguafo. They did not appear as a unified group until after 1700, but by 1726 were coordinating to counter the aggression of the Asante. Shumway, R., The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Rochester, NY, 2011), 15 and 99Google Scholar. The Asante nation emerged at the end of the seventeenth century in the forest lands of the Akan peoples, with its capital at Kumase. Wilks, I., Forests of Gold: Essays on the Akan and the Kingdom of Asante (Athens, OH, 1993), 41Google Scholar. Fynn claims the Asante were a military union of various Akan-speaking peoples, ‘aiming at political and economic expansion’. By 1720, they had control of the economic resources in the western Gold Coast hinterland and were the major political players in that area. Fynn, J. K., Asante and Its Neighbours, 1700–1807 (Evanston, IL, 1971), 1 and 55Google Scholar.

77 At the Portuguese factory established in 1487 to the east at Benin, animal skins, ‘coris’ [agori] beads, cotton cloths, and slaves were bought to exchange further west for gold; the Portuguese also imported slaves into the Gold Coast from Arguim. Cited in Daaku, Trade, 24. See also Blake (ed.), Europeans in West Africa, 1, 50 and 126–7; and Disney, History 2, 62.

78 Bean, R., ‘A note on the relative importance of slaves and gold in West African exports’, The Journal of African History, 15:3 (1974), 353–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 van den Boogaart, E., ‘The trade between western Africa and the Atlantic World, 1600–90: estimates of trends in composition and value’, The Journal of African History, 33:3 (1992), 380CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

80 Eltis, D., ‘The relative importance of slaves and commodities in the Atlantic slave trade of seventeenth-century Africa’, The Journal of African History, 35:2 (1994), 249CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

81 Fynn, Asante, 15.

82 Eltis, Rise, 177.

83 Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 104.

84 Postma, J. M., The Dutch in the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1815 (Cambridge, 1990)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Appendix 24, 406. The price had been forty guilders in 1676.

85 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, xxxv–xxxvi.

86 Bean, R. N., The British Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1650–1775 (New York, 1975), 72Google Scholar.

87 See estimations of cash prices for slaves in Jamaica in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (TASTD), Emory University Digital Library, <>, accessed 24 April 2013; for prices in the British Caribbean, see Gemery, H. A. and Hogendorn, J. S., ‘Elasticity of slave labor supply and the development of slave economies in the British Caribbean: the seventeenth century experience’, in Rubin, V. D. and Tuden, A. (eds.), Comparative Perspectives on Slavery in New World Plantation Societies (New York, 1977)Google Scholar, Table 2, 73. The Portuguese had concentrated much of their slave trading activity in West Central Africa after the founding of Luanda in 1575. But political developments and a smallpox epidemic among the Bantu tribes of Angola in the period 1685–7 encouraged ‘the revival of the Portuguese slave trade in the Gulf of Guinea’, which gained additional momentum from the demand for labour in the gold mines after 1695. Boxer, C. R., The Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 1415–1825 (London, 1969), 103 and 169–70Google Scholar.

88 At Cape Coast Castle, it appeared that the relaxation of the monopoly had ‘outdone’ the trade because independent traders gave such high prices for slaves. TNA C113/273, ‘Letters from James Phipps and others at Cape Coast castle to the Court of the Royal African Company and others in London’, 1709–21, 35v. From the 1680s, the RAC proved increasingly incapable of enforcing its monopoly, and began to license a small number of private traders after 1686. However, the final withdrawal of its protected status occurred at the same time as a general bidding up of prices by a flood of European competition. Bean, British, 92.

89 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 118.

90 TASTD, <>, accessed 24 April 2013. An estimated 1,209,321 slaves were exported from the Gold Coast from 1601 to 1866. This constitutes around 10 per cent of the estimated total of 12,521,336 slaves transported during the period of the transatlantic trade (1501–1866).

91 Henry Gemery and Jan Hogendorn suggested a highly elastic supply for the later seventeenth century, and David Richardson has made similar claims for the early eighteenth. Gemery and Hogerdorn, ‘Elasticity’, 80; Richardson, D., ‘Prices of slaves in West and West-Central Africa: toward and annual series, 1698–1807’, Bulletin of Economic Research, 43:1 (1991), 46Google Scholar.

92 Eltis, Rise, 175–6.

93 Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 103–4.

94 Justensen (ed.), Danish 1, 201.

95 Thrane, for example, had suggested that he be allowed to buy stocks of slaves, but changed his mind in light of price movements for both slaves and their food, and the unpredictable arrivals of Danish ships. However, he advised the directors in 1701 that he would begin again to buy slaves when any were available. Ibid. 118 and 121–2.


96 Postma, Dutch, 85.

97 Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 156.

98 Royal African Company, A True Account of Eight Years Exports of the Royal African Company, and Eight Years Exports of the Separate Traders (London, 1711), 2Google Scholar. For the importance of large-scale imports of bullion into England in the first half of the eighteenth century, see Fisher, H. E. S., The Portugal Trade: A Study of Anglo-Portuguese Commerce, 1700–1770 (London, 1971), 92106Google Scholar; Boxer, Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 164–6; and Richardson, D. and Evans, E. W., ‘Empire and accumulation in eighteenth-century Britain’, in Brotherstone, T. and Pilling, G. (eds.), History, Economic History and the Future of Marxism: Essays in Memory of Tom Kemp (1921–93) (Ann Arbor, MI, 1996), 79102Google Scholar.

99 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 279.

100 Ibid. 354–5. Boxer notes that Brazilian gold was smuggled by Bahian slave-traders into Ouidah, despite official prohibitions on export to anywhere but Portugal. Boxer, Portuguese Seaborne Empire, 171.


101 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, 151.

102 Ibid. 435 and fn. 107. The ‘young Portuguese slaves’ were high quality slaves who could be sold for gold to Portuguese and Brazilian ships.

fn. 107

103 Law (ed.), RAC 1, 211.

104 Postma, J., ‘A monopoly relinquished: the West India Company and the Atlantic slave trade’, in Paling Funk, E. and Shattuck, M. D. (eds.), A Beautiful and Fruitful Place: Selected Rensselaerswijck Papers, Volume 2 (Albany, NY, 2011), 221Google Scholar. In 1730, the WIC slave trade monopoly had been restricted to the Gold Coast, and it was lost four years later. In 1738, the company decided to end its role as a trader in slaves. Ibid.


105 The Danish planned to build a lodge at Great Ningo as it was a good place for gold, slaves, and tusks, and in addition was ‘very convenient for engaging in trade with the Portuguese’. Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 512. In 1720, the WIC wanted to push forward with the search for gold mines, believing gold to have been ‘abundant’ in areas around the Ancober River. Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 214; Daaku, Trade [1670s, 1718], 26–7. The Dutch were still considering mining in the 1740s, despite earlier failures both by themselves and the Portuguese as a result of local hostility. Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch [1738], 337; [1740], 348; [1742], 354.

106 Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch [1740], 351.

107 Foner, P. S., ‘The international slave trade’, in Conrad, C. (ed.), African Americans in the U. S. Economy (2005), 12Google Scholar. The Company of Merchants Trading to Africa took over the role of maintaining and running the forts along the west coast from the Royal African Company in 1750. Richardson, D., ‘The British Empire and the Atlantic slave trade, 1660–1807’, in Marshall, P. J. (ed.), The Oxford History of the British Empire, Volume Two: The Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1998), 445Google Scholar.

108 Hippisley, J., Essays (London, 1764), 3940Google Scholar.

109 Ibid. 40.


110 Cited in Daaku, Trade, 30. As R. Hassell and W. Pley noted in their letter of Jan. 1682, ‘Ahenesa is now in battalia with his army marching towards the Achims [Akyems]. If hee overcomes we may expect slaves, if [he is] over com a better trade for gold then hath been many years’. Law (ed.), RAC 1, 182.

111 Bosman, Description, 70.

112 Fynn, Asante, 32. Asante males at least were on permanent military standby. Bosman noted that ‘Negroes in general are Soldiers as long as the War continues … and the War ended each Man applies himself to the Exercise of his particular Calling’. Bosman, Description, 70.

113 Arhin, K., ‘Asante military institutions’, Journal of African Studies, 7:1 (1980), 28Google Scholar. European trading companies provided gold for the payment of war taxes and the prosecution of wars. See Justesen (ed.), Danish 1 [1733], 466; Justesen (ed.), Danish 2 [1748], 706; and van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 88.

114 Cited in Fynn, Asante, 46. The Agona refused the offer, preferring the ‘bad’ gold of Fante, with whom they already had an agreement.

115 Bosman, Description, 23. Bosman also commented that kings were prepared to hire themselves out to support a neighbour at war for a sufficient sum of gold, or offer mediation services to both parties for a fee. Ibid. 191.


116 Arhin, K., ‘The financing of the Ashanti expansion (1700–1820)’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 37:3 (1967), 286CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

117 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, xxxi. Prices in Europe remained stable. The London market price for gold stood at £4.31 per fine ounce in 1718; it rose to its highest price of £4.38 in 1769 before falling back to end the century at £4.26 (in 1800). The official price stood at £4.35 in 1700; it fell back to £4.25 in 1717, where it remained in 1800. Officer, L. H. and Williamson, S. H., ‘The price of Gold, 1257–2011’, Measuring Worth, 2011Google Scholar, <>, accessed 20 May 2013. In the Netherlands too, the base price of gold remained constant at 44 fl. per ounce between 1663 and 1823. Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, xxxv, fn. 158. Interestingly, James Hippisley claimed it had been proved beyond doubt that the failure of the RAC was one of commercial incompetence: ‘they bought their gold too dear’. Hippisley, Essays, vii. By 1777, the use of gold to purchase slaves on the Gold Coast was being encouraged by a premium on the value of any gold brought to the exchange. Ledward, K. H. (ed.), ‘Minutes of enquiry into administration of the West African trade: volume 84’, Journals of the Board of Trade and Plantations, Volume 14: Jan. 1776–May 1782, folios 260–63, 279–85Google Scholar, British History Online,.<>, accessed 19 July 2012; Johnson, ‘Ounce’, 202–4.

118 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, xvii. Nevertheless, in 1738, the Danish reported selling some gold to an Englishman for ‘Vispel’ brandy. It was ‘much in demand among the Akenists and can be sold at 100 per cent profit’. This they considered better than having ‘the dead capital lying here without bearing fruit’. Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 536. For similar Dutch difficulties, see van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch [1718], 209.

119 Cited in Davies, Royal African, 369.

120 Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 108.

121 TNA C113/273, Letters from James Phipps, 12 Mar. 1714/15, 78.

122 Justesen (ed.), Danish 2, 559 and 567. The ‘gold’ goods purchased included brawls, powder, Wispel (or Vispel) brandy, knives, and ‘bajutapeaux with red stripes’. Ibid.


123 Kea, Settlements, 173. Willem Bosman discussed the two most common types of gold – dust and lump – and added a reference to ‘Kakeraas’, which he claimed was gold mixed with silver or copper and cast into small pieces worth a few farthings. Although it could not be sold in Europe for more than forty shillings an ounce, it was ‘currant all over the Coast’. Bosman, Description, 81–2; Kea, Settlements, 189–90. Hayes's early eighteenth-century manual for merchants is reminiscent of Bosman: money in Guinea consisted of gold dust and small gold pieces, along with ‘Kacorawns, which is Gold drawn out into a small Wire, and cut afterwards into very small Pieces.’ See Hayes, R., The Negociator's Magazine: Or, The Most Authentick Account Yet Published of the Monies, Weights, and Measures of the Principal Places of Trade in the World (4th edn, London, 1739), 425Google Scholar. The use of small pieces of ‘Kacraws’ gold at the market had also featured in the earlier account of Pieter de Marees, who believed it had been introduced by the Portuguese at Elmina. De Marees, Historical, 65.

124 Forty years ago, Walter Rodney argued that the judicial systems on the West African coast had been systematically corrupted for the benefit of the slave trade. Rodney, W., A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545–1800 (Oxford, 1970)Google Scholar.

125 Bosman claimed that at Axim presents of gold and brandy were vital in securing the favour of the caboceers and local councils in cases of dispute – the largest bribe won out. Bosman, Description, 165.

126 De Marees, Historical, 60.

127 Kea, Settlements, 101–2. Amongst other privileges, ennoblement conferred exemption from enslavement for nobles and their children. Ibid.


128 Bosman, Description, 118. Thomas McCaskie explains this principle of accumulation as having emerged organically from efforts to establish a sustainable – if fragile – subsistence agriculture in the forest, in the face of an ‘anarchically irruptive nature’; values such as fruitfulness, abundance, and increase then became important cultural norms. McCaskie, State and Society, 75. See also Wilks, Forests, ch. 2.

129 Bosman, Description, 188.

130 McCaskie, State and Society, 38, 44–6, and 58–61.

131 Fage, History, 108. Also see, Daaku, Trade, 162–3.

132 McCaskie gives the version offered by the Kumase Adumhene Adum Ata in 1817, in which at the beginning of the world black men, having first choice over two items – a box and a sealed piece of paper – chose the former. It contained gold, iron, and other items, while white men discovered that the letter that remained revealed everything to them. McCaskie, State and Society, 107. A similar story was related by Bosman, in which at the beginning of the world it was said that God created both black and white men and offered two sorts of gifts ‘viz. Gold, and the Knowledge or Arts of Reading and Writing, giving the Blacks the first Election, who chose Gold, and left Knowledge of Letters to the White’. Bosman, Description, 146–7. The defeat by the Borbor Fante warlord Kwegya Akwa of the Asebu in 1706 was attributed to knowledge he had gained as a boy about the secret location of their gold ornaments, precious beads, and items of regalia, which he subsequently plundered. Shumway, Fante, 97.

133 One strand of oral tradition locates the onset of war between Denkyira and Asante in the threat to stocks of gold – it is claimed that Ntim Gyakari, the Denkyiran king, sent a large brass pan to Osei Tutu at Kumase, with the order that it be returned full of gold. A rival strand suggests that sexual exploitation of one of Tutu's wives was the cause. Daaku, Trade, 163, and fn. 2.

fn. 2

134 See Rattray, R. S. (transl. and ed.), Ashanti Proverbs: The Primitive Ethics of a Savage People (Oxford, 1969 [orig. pub. 1916])Google Scholar, 152, 154, and 162–4. These are generally concerned with the importance of wealth accumulation and careful housekeeping. See also Rattray, R. S., Akan-Ashanti Folk Tales (Oxford, 1969 [orig. pub. 1930])Google Scholar, in which a reference to gold in some form appears in at least 13 of the 75 examples.

135 Wyatt, J., The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt (London, 1748), 171Google Scholar. See also van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 209. Bosman noted that funeral gifts included offerings of gold, ‘which 'tis pretended is given to be carried to the Grave with the Corps; and the larger Present of this Nature any Person makes, the more it redounds to his Honour and Reputation’. Funerals of the rich he noted became ‘very chargeable’. Bosman, Description, 230. For the presumed unlawful activities of a man at Sekondi factory who claimed to have been digging for the gold buried with a caboceer, see Law (ed.), RAC 2 [1686], 19. De Marees noted it functioned as a dowry. De Marees, Historical, 19. Bosman and Barbot noted its use in dressing the bride. Bosman, Description, 198; Hair, P. E. H., Jones, A., and Law, R. (eds.), Barbot on Guinea, Volume II: The Writings of Jean Barbot on West Africa, 1678–1712, Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, 176, (1992), 503Google Scholar.

136 Bosman, Description, 151 and 222. Rattray revealed that the Golden Stool was believed to contain the sunsum or soul/spirit of the Asante nation; as such power, health, welfare, and bravery were embodied in it. This led to offerings of gold dust being made: for access to the rock of god Tano; at the shrine on the River Tano by Asanti armies going to war; to the abusua by a son whose father wished to leave him land; to priests for a return to health; and to makers of sacred talking drums, which only chiefs could possess, before they set out to find a suitable tree from which the drums would be made. Gold dust was also used in preparing the burial quarters of royalty. Rattray, R. S., Ashanti (Oxford, 1923)Google Scholar, 134, 189, 202, 238, 258, and 289–90.

137 Bosman, Description, 182.

138 Ibid. 80. In a passage inserted in the 1732 English version of Barbot produced after his death, there is a description of the magical qualities attributed to some gold objects. Hair, Jones, and Law (eds.), Barbot II, 609. The Dutch noted the aggressive behaviour of Africans towards those surveying for gold, and their desire to keep the location of gold secret. Van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 214–5. Individuals also strove to conceal their gold supplies. Venture Smith revealed that despite the torture that eventually killed him, his father refused to inform his enemies about the location of his money. Smith, V., A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa but Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America, Related By Himself (New-London, CT, 1798), 1011Google Scholar.


139 De Marees, Historical, 20, 102.

140 The Asante state also agreed to commute capital punishment in the mid-eighteenth century, although the motivations behind this are unclear. This innovation has traditionally been attributed to the humanity of Asantehene Kusi Obodom, who reigned from 1750 to 1764; interestingly, the amount of the financial penalty was not fixed. McCaskie, State and society, 39–41.

141 Ibid. 64.


142 Ibid. 42; Wilks, Forests, 148 and 129; van Dantzig (ed.), Dutch, 311.


143 Fynn, Asante, 81; Wilks, Forests, 147–50; McCaskie, State and Society, 42–9.

144 Eltis, Rise, 178.

145 Shumway notes that the export of gold rose again after abolition. Shumway, Fante, 178, fn. 136.

fn. 136

146 Justesen (ed.), Danish 1 [1724], 324–5.

147 The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database suggests the total number of slaves transported under Danish and Baltic flags to have been 111,041, in comparison to 554,336 under the Dutch flag and 3,259,440 under that of Great Britain. See TASTD, <>, accessed 12 Mar. 2013.

148 Selection of the Danish material rested on four criteria, including ‘information on the commercial and social relationship between the Ghanaians and the Danish and other European Companies’. Justesen (ed.), Danish 1, vii. In addition, there are no sources for the period between 1690 and 1698, when the forts and their commerce were farmed out to Nicolaj Jansen Arf, a private merchant. For the selection of Dutch material, see van Dantzig, (ed.), Dutch, 1.

149 McCaskie, State and Society, 37.

150 Kopytoff, I. and Miers, S., ‘African “slavery” as an institution of marginality’, in Miers, S. and Kopytoff, I. (eds.), Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives (Madison, WI, 1977), 711Google Scholar.

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