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I speak of Africa

Barbot

Dutch and Danish forts at Accra, from: Jean Barbot. A description of the coasts of north and south Guinea and of Ethiopia Inferior, vulgarly Angola. [London]: printed for Henry Lintot and John Osborn, 1746 [Rare Books Collection FOL. G160.C47]Dutch and Danish forts at Accra, from: Jean Barbot. A description of the coasts of north and south Guinea and of Ethiopia Inferior, vulgarly Angola. [London]: printed for Henry Lintot and John Osborn, 1746 [Rare Books Collection FOL. G160.C47]Along the newly discovered West African coast, the Portuguese established trading posts and forts, leasing the land on which they built from local rulers. The first fort, São Jorge da Mina, was founded in 1482 and several others followed.

At first salt, cloth and other manufactured items were traded for gold, pepper and ivory. Later on the main trading product became slaves. By the 1530s the Portuguese monopoly of trade with West Africa was challenged by the French, who started trading along the coast. The English and Dutch soon followed. In the late seventeenth century the Swedes, the Danes and the Brandenburgers also established their own trading relations. Quarrels among the European nations ensued and the different forts often changed ownership abruptly.

The plate on display shows two of the three European forts built in Accra in the seventeenth century: the Dutch Fort Crèvecoeur built in 1649 and the Danish Fort Christiansborg built in 1661. The third fort, James Fort, which belonged to the English, was built in 1673.

Jean Barbot (1655-1712) was a French commercial agent on slave ships working for the Compagnie du Sénégal. Between 1678 and 1682 he made two voyages to the Guinea Coast and saw the forts himself. In his text he states that Christiansborg was re-named ‘St. Francis Xaverius’ and ‘now belonging to the Portuguese, but before to the Danes.’ This was indeed the case when Barbot was in Accra in 1682, but the Portuguese sold the fort back to the Danes in the following year.

Besides giving a detailed description of the Guinea Coast, Barbot also paints a vivid picture of the Atlantic slave trade, explaining how it was conducted and who was involved. For centuries his text was considered the standard source on the slave trade. However, recent research has shown that he did not experience all he wrote about at first hand but relied on other writers, especially Olfert Dapper (1639-89).

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