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Remembrance and Prayer

Visit to Cape Coast Castle

Recognizing the unique history of Ghana and the role it played in the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, the Global Christian Forum leadership have set aside Wednesday, April 17th to visit Cape Coast Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Cape Coast Castle is one of the fortresses built by European colonial powers which was used as a final point of departure for the men, women, and children who were sold into chattel slavery.

The participants in the Global Gathering in Accra will depart from the city early in the morning to visit the Cape Coast Castle, take a tour of the grounds, spend time in prayer and reflection, and have space to consider their own relationship to the history of slavery. After the tour, the participants will join together in a worship service of lamentation and reconciliation. The team members who are planning the Global Gathering recognize the ways that the injustices of the slave trade still impact our world today; they recognize the modern forms of slavery that continue to exist, and they acknowledge the complicity of many churches and Christian leaders during the era of slavery.

The visit to Cape Coast Castle will provide an opportunity for Christians from across the world, representing various traditions to walk together through the pain of history, to listen for the voice of God who heals all wounds, and to move forward with the peace of Christ.

Cape Coast Castle History

Cape Coast Castle is the largest of the buildings which contains the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Like most ancient fortifications in Ghana, Cape Coast Castle played a significant role in the gold and slave trades. But also, two significant contributions were made here: the arrival of Christianity, and the establishment of the first formal education system through Castle Schools.

The best history tells us that the Dutch lost control of a fortification to Swedish adventurers in 1652, who named it Fort Carolusburg. Ownership changed numerous times, both among local peoples and various European powers, until finally, in 1664, after a four-day battle, the fort was captured by the British and re-named Cape Coast Castle. The Castle served as the seat of the British administration in the then Gold Coast (Ghana) until the administration was moved to Christianborg Castle in Accra on March 19, 1877.

‘Cabo Corso,’ meaning ‘short cape’, is the name the Portuguese settled on for the local settlement within which its trade lodge was built in 1555. Its corruption to ‘Cape Coast’ is now the accepted name of the capital of the Central Region of Ghana. The Swedes, led by Krusenstjerna, however, were the initiators of the permanent structure presently known as Cape Coast Castle. They built a fort in 1653 and named it Carlousburg, after King Charles X of Sweden.

Its proximity to St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle) and its sheltered beach were all forceful ‘pull factors’ for European nations to the Cape Coast. In addition, the immense viability of the area’s trade implied that the ensuing quest for control led to the Swedes having trouble holding on to their fort. It was captured in turn by the Danes and the local Fetu chief.

Dutch occupation commenced in 1660. Finally, the British fleet, led by Captain Holmes, conquered the fort in 1665 and by 1700, had upgraded it into a castle.

Colonial rivalry between England and France peaked in 1757 during the Seven Years’ War. A French naval squadron bombarded Cape Coast Castle, leaving it badly damaged, and after 1760, the English reconstructed the castle entirely – with more durable materials and an improved sea defence system.

The English retained control of the Castle into the late 19th century. The slave trade was principal until its ban in 1807 by the British, and it ‘is estimated that around 1700, the Royal African Company was exporting some 70,000 slaves per annum to the New World’. After 1807, trade centred on precious metals, ivory, corn and pepper. In the eighteenth century, the castle’s role altered, as it became the centre of European education in Ghana.

The Cape Coast Castle has served as the West African headquarters of the president of the Committee of Merchants; the seat of the British governor; and a school.