The story of Jamestown began with the erection of James fort by the British in 1673 – 74. The British fort was the last European trading post to be erected in Accra. It was the smallest of the 3 forts and was built about one and half miles from the Dutch fort. It stood in a village called Soko owned by the Ajumaku and Adanse clans. The site for the fort was leased in 1672 to the Royal African Company by the Ga Mantse Okaikoi. King James I of Great Britain granted a royal charter to the company to build the fort and gave permission to name it after himself. Jamestown’s cosmopolitan mix of peoples started literally at its birth. The British brought slaves and labourers from the Allada kingdom in Nigeria. Allada was a major regional market for slaves and the word Alata, a corruption of Allada, entered the Ga language to describe people from Allada and survived to identify Yorubas in general. Before the British created Ngleshie Alata there was already in Accra an Alata community residing in Osu. The neighborhood Osu Alata is still in existence. Ga and Fanti workers joined the work force at James fort beside the Alata as artisans and labourers.
A leader emerged out of this work force. His name was Wetse Kojo. He was an unusual man who rose from lowly beginning to great wealth and royal status. He was to have a huge impact on the history of his times. There is considerable controversy about his origins. According to the records of the Royal African Company he was born in Allada and worked for the company as an indentured servant. This version is challenged by historians from Ngleshie Alata who insists that he was an Adangme from Prampram where he was engaged as a foreman in James fort. His outstanding skills as a negotiator came to the notice of his employers who entrusted him with more responsibilities. He rose to become a makelaar or trading agent for the company then its chief broker. He traded both for the company and for himself and became immensely wealthy. He owned so many slaves that he became one of the most powerful merchants on the coast.
The Ga Mantse Okaikoi made political decisions between 1673 and 1677 that had profound impact on the fortunes of Jamestown. He wanted the Ga to have complete monopoly in Accra over the slave trade. At the height of the trade he tried to prevent merchants from the forest kingdoms from direct contact with the European forts on the coast. He decreed that all commerce between Europeans and the inland merchants should be conducted through Ga middlemen at a market called Abonse located several kilometers from the coast. The decisions infuriated the Akwamu who were the principal trading nation for the Ga in the 17th century. They and the Akyem, another trading nation, retaliated by mounting slave raids on Accra territories and trying to destabilize the kingdom. A series of wars began that ended in the defeat of Okaikoi’s armies in 1677. The king was captured and beheaded. The invasion succeeded with the connivance of some of Okai Koi’s generals and asafo leaders who considered him a tyrant and did not forgive him or his father Mampong Okai for allowing Europeans to establish permanent presence on the coast. They detested him as much as they had hated his mother, the Obutu princess and regent Dode Akai who was killed by her generals in a bloody coup d’etat. Another factor for the defeat was the considerable turmoil in Accra concerning the successor the ill fated royal family. This struggle for succession destroyed any unity amongst the Ga. The remnants of the Ga army led by Ofori, Okaikoi’s son, continued fighting until 1680 when the Akwamu succeeded in conquering the entire kingdom. By the end of the war Ayawaso, the capital of the Ga kingdom was in ruins, destroyed and its inhabitants chased into exile or enslaved. The royal family found refuge in Glidgi in present day Togo and in Aprang (Ussher town) under the protection of the Dutch and the other forts. The Akwamu achieved their war aims of direct access to the European forts and control of the trade routes into Accra. They did not interfere much in the city’s political or trade arrangements. They recognized and accepted the Ga as experienced negotiators with the Europeans and permitted them to trade as before.
In 1680 the Akwamu was the dominant military and mercantilist power on the slave coast. They had vanquished the Ga and were powerful enough to exact rent from the Europeans occupying the forts. They demonstrated this power in 1695 when they expelled the Danes from Christiansborg and held the castle for more than a year. The Akwamu appointed a viceroy in Accra to oversee their interests and collect tributes. He was Otu, a nephew of the king of Akwamu, and lived in Accra as the resident Akwamu ambassador. He stayed in a village called Otublohum an enclave in the town where Akwamu and Fanti merchants had their town residences. After the Akwamu conquest of Accra, both Wetse Kojo and his British masters realized the need to consolidate their position on the volatile new political landscape. In the absence of a substantive central authority, they sought recognition from the representative of the Akwamu king, his ambassador in Otublohum. They did not need political endorsement from Otublohum but they required closer commercial links. They also wanted to learn the art of Akan statecraft. Otu helped Wetse Kojo to establish an Akan style court and today Ngleshie Alata is the only Akutso in Accra that celebrates the Akan festival of Odwira. Ngleshie Alatas position was further strengthened when it was joined by the Akutchei of Sempe and Akumayi. The three Akutchei collectively formed Jamestown. Ngleshie Alata was recognized as the dominant member of this coalition due to its wealth and the power of Wetse Kojo.
The decision by Wetse Kojo and the British to establish a special trade relationship with the Akwamu would haunt the politics of Accra for the next three centuries. In the chaotic aftermath following the Akwawu conquest, the alliance was perceived in the court of the defeated Ga king as a betrayal. This conclusion was encouraged by allies of the Ga king, the Dutch who understood and anticipated the potential trade and political advantages available to the British in this new alliance. The two European nations were bitter rivals. In the 18th century alone they fought 4 major wars against each other. Their enmity easily seeped into the relationship between the two Ga Akutsei and contaminated it for centuries. In 1884, at the end of the 19th century it would lead them close to civil war in the Agbutsota. In the early colonial period and through most of the 20th century this hostility led to innumerable confrontations in courts of law over land and sovereignty.
The enduring hostility and misunderstanding between the two communities was neatly summed up in an incident that occurred in October 1892, a little over two hunded years later. The king of the Ga, King Tackie Tawiah took the newly crowned King Kojo Ababio IV, king of Jamestown and two other newly enstooled Mantsemei to Christiansborg Castle to introduce them to the Governor. According to an account of the meeting in the British records, and quoted by John Parker “The Governor expressed his pleasure at the announcement that Jamestown and Ussher Town agreed to amalgamate and to become one town under King Tackie. He congratulated Amoako Atta (Kojo Ababio) upon his election as chief of one of the quarters of Jamestown. Thereupon Amoako Atta, drawing himself up said “I am not one of King Tackie’s chiefs. I am the King of Jamestown. Jamestown is a British town and Ussher Town is a Dutch town and British people cannot serve Dutch people.”
The Akwamu ruled Accra till 1730 when they were overthrown by an expanding Akyem empire. The Akyem ruled Accra for only 12 years until they were overthrown by the even more expansionist Asante kingdom in 1742. The years of Akyem rule were difficult for Jamestown. The authority of the Ga Mantse had degraded enormously during the 50 years of Akwamu rule and the Akutsei that formed the kingdom had become used to a lot of autonomy. Years of competing against each other in support of the trade interests of their European allies had left the Ga even more divided than before. The military and political turbulence in the region created the unstable conditions that fueled banditry and the slave trade. Merchants in Accra grew rich but the settlement had its worst periods of insecurity. This had a huge influence on the shape and form of Accra’s neighbourhoods including Jamestown. Families built their houses close to one another and connected them with narrow and confusing networks of alleys. These alleys were deliberately designed to frustrate any kidnappers in search of victims. There was no provision for collecting the waste that was routinely deposited in the alleys. This resulted in very unhealthy and filthy communities and created grave consequences in the 19th century when the British used the town’s lack of sanitation to extend her grip on Accra. Pigs roamed the back streets and scavenged the accumulated filth. Fires were frequent on account of the low hanging and highly flammable grass roofs. These conditions lasted until the beginning of the 20th century when the colonial government wrote laws to plan the layout of the town and to regulate the materials used for urban constructions. They were only partially successful.
The first quarter of the 19th century brought political and economic changes to Jamestown and the rest of Accra. The Danes banned the slave trade in 1803, the British in 1807 and finally the Dutch joined the ban in 1814.
Slavery was however so embedded in the transatlantic economy that it persisted until the 1860’s, before it began a slow decline. The events that accompanied the transformation of the slave trade helped to shape Jamestown. Amongst these were the wars that terminated Asante rule in Accra. The Asante domination of Accra ended in 1826 when she was defeated in the Katamanso war. An army composed of troops from the coastal states including the Ga, Fanti and Adangme in alliance with Akim and Akuapim forces routed the Asante army near Dodowa. They were joined by a small detachment of 60 marines from the British and Danish forts. Several important prisoners were taken including Akoa Basoa, the favourite wife of the Asantehene Osei Yaw and two of her daughters. They were Yaa Dom and Manuh. Akoa Basoa was freed to go back to Kumasi as part of the peace negotiations but her two daughters remained in Accra and married into prominent Ga families. Manuh married Henry Richter of Osu and Yaa Dom married James Bannerman of Jamestown. She bore him ten children. Two of her children, James and Edmund would play pivotal roles in Accra’s trade and politics in the 19th century. Their influence would have a great impact on the city. As an Asante princess and the wife of one of Jamestown leading businessmen, Yaa Dom had the resources to play a leading role in the politics of the town. In 1886 when she was in her eighties she led a delegation of women to lobby the governor for greater African representation on the colony’s legislative council.
The Katamanso war provided a platform for the emergence of Euro Africans or Mulattoes as important actors in politics and business in Accra. Several of them played prominent roles in the conflict and that entitled them to major positions in Accra after the war. They were James Bannerman, John Hansen, William Nanka Bruce and Henry Richter. All of them were significant slave owners and two of them, James Bannerman and Henry Richter had extensive business interests in Asante. The two men contributed a slave militia of 600 men to the southern forces. This was a considerable force compared to the 60 soldiers provided by the British and Danish forts.
Events in the second half of the 19th century influenced modern Jamestown and took it to its apex as a commercial center. In Europe other events began to shape public opinion for the abolition of the trade in human beings. Some of these were the numerous slave revolts wherever slavery was practiced and their bloody suppression. The French revolution had spread the idea that all men were created equal and entitled to be free. The start of the industrial revolution signaled the end of forced and unpaid labour in the increasingly mechanized factory system. The replacement of sailing ships by steam powered carriers drastically reduced the time of the Atlantic crossing and changed the terms of credit financing for transatlantic trade. Those factors transformed the economic and political conditions in Britain and enabled the abolitionist movement to compel the government to end the trade.
A commission headed by Dr. Robert Madden was dispatched to West Africa by the British parliament in 1842 to report on conditions of slavery. In his report he noted that the trade was deeply embedded in the region and that the ban was routinely ignored by both the African and European traders. He saw the difficulty in enforcing abolition in the existing patchwork of European jurisdictions. Between 1850 and 1872 the British overcame this difficulty by buying out both the Dutch and the Danish interests on the coast. In 1874 slaves in the settlement were emancipated. The last Danish governor of Christiansborg, Edward Carstensen had written to his superiors in 1846 complaining of business conditions in the Danish settlements. He emphasized the trade advantages enjoyed by Jamestown under the patronage of Britain and criticized the British for permitting merchants from Jamestown to encroach upon Danish sovereignty. He pointed out that the only enterprise that had not been subverted by British encroachment belonged to Henry Richter who was the brother-in-law and business partner of James Bannerman of Jamestown. His reports and observations contributed to the Danish government decision to relinquish control of the settlement after 1850.
In 1877 the Slave Coast settlement was annexed by the British as a colony and became the Gold Coast. The new political relationship imposed heavy and costly responsibilities on the British. New commodities and infrastructure were required to make the colony productive and financially viable to the British crown. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the development and introduction of products such as palm oil into international commerce. The oil was brought to Europe as fuel for lamps, and then it became popular for the manufacture of soap and lubricant for machines. In the Gold Coast, the Akuapim and Krobo were the main oil palm producing regions. The merchants of Jamestown and Accra, long accustomed to adapting their businesses to new circumstances quickly adjusted to the commodity. The large number of slaves in Kinka and Jamestown were employed as carriers of palm oil from the palm oil plantations to the coast. Jamestown merchants like the Bannermans and the Clelands became prominent in the oil trade and Jamestown became one of the centers for export. Palm oil was the main export commodity for about 20 years and was replaced by rubber then cocoa.
The dawning of the colonial period brought Jamestown to its apogee as the richest and most lucrative Akotso in Accra. The era began with the installation of important infrastructure in Jamestown that enormously enhanced its position as the trading center. A light-house was built near the James fort in 1871. It was rebuilt in 1892 and a breakwater was added to it at the beginning of the 20th century. They formed the first man-made harbor on the coast and confirmed Jamestown status as an important export center. Potable water was brought into the city in 1914 and is commemorated by a monument near the James fort.
The decline of Jamestown as the principal business center in the colony began in the 1920’s when the British governor Sir Gordon Guggisberg built a new harbor at Takoradi to serve the colony’s newly established extractive industries. This brand new harbor with its own a railway, and easy access to the mining and timber regions of the infant colony eclipsed Jamestown’s breakwater harbor. It drew the nation’s export business west. The loss of business had a huge impact on Jamestown harbor as well as the community of businesses that serviced it. Jamestown was finally compromised as a business center in 1962 when Tema harbor was commissioned by Kwame Nkrumah. No new industries of any importance were introduced to replace the lost facilities. A feeble artisanal fishing industry has not proved robust enough to sustain the local economy and create employment for the youth of the town. A primitive slaughterhouse sprang up near the lighthouse but it runs the danger of closure by the city for hygienic reasons. The local economy limps along as a subsistence economy based on small scale retailing and sale of street food.
Jamestown was shaped not only by conscious human agency but also by natural events like earthquakes and epidemics. In 1862, a major earthquake hit the region and practically devastated the 2 forts and Christiansborg castle. The quake stretched as far as Fetteh near Winneba. Hundreds of buildings constructed of mud and thatch collapsed and had to be rebuilt. In 1939 another earthquake struck Accra with even more devastating consequences. Jamestown and Accra had grown in population and expanded. The colonial government reacted with the same formula as in 1862. New suburbs were founded to disperse the population. In 1894, an equally serious disaster happened in Jamestown and Ga Mashie. On 31st March and 1st April fires broke out in Kinka and spread to Jamestown. They destroyed a great number of houses and caused a few fatalities. The causes of these fires have been debated among historians. Critics point out that the fires conveniently created corridors in parts of the town marked for roads by the government. The decision had faced stiff resistance by the residents. The New Colonial government took advantage of the disaster to rebuild the African town. After the fire they laid out new streets and widened the existing Otu street. 4 new roads were constructed. These were Mills road, Bruce Street, Hansen Road and Bannerman road. Burned out houses on the proposed roadways were destroyed and removed. Owners of partly burnt out houses outside the roadways were given money to rebuild their homes. The city insisted that only modern materials like cement and aluminum roofing sheets could be used in the reconstruction.
In 1895, the government introduced measures to ban the Ga tradition of burying people in family compounds. This practice was central to Ga cultural identity and notions of family cohesion and lineage. The law was difficult to enforce even though land had been allocated in the town for municipal cemeteries. These disasters gave the administration the excuse to decongest Jamestown and Kinka by tearing down large numbers of houses. Neither the colonial administration nor the post independence nationalist governments managed to tame Jamestown or Kinka. Today they are still densely populated and overcrowded.
Between January and August of 1908 an epidemic of bubonic plague swept through Accra. Jamestown and Kinka were badly affected and once more the colonial government took steps to reduce the dense populations and plan the communities. Homes that were affected by the plague were identified and marked for quarantine. A plague committee was appointed and mandated to recommend the destruction and removal of infected residences and propose compensation to their owners. The government requested the Ga Mantse, King Tackie Obili and the Ngleshie Alata Mantse, King Kojo Ababio to settle some of their people in quarantine camps across the Korle lagoon. This began the first planned exodus of people from Accra to newly created suburbs outside Jamestown and Kinka. King Kojo Ababio moved his people to Korlegonno. He also transferred members of the sizable Muslim community of Jamestown to an already existing Alata community at Lartebiokorshie. The new community was named Sabon Zongo. Residents from Kinka moved to Korleworko or Ripponville and Kaneshie. Initially the relocation was resisted principally by fisher folks from both communities. They objected to the distance of the new suburbs from the sea, the source of their livelihood.
The first decades of the 20th century saw the introduction of racially segregated neighbourhoods in Accra. The recent establishment of the Gold Coast colony and the choice of Accra as its capital brought more Europeans to the town. Improvements in medicine made it possible for many of them to survive the diseases of the tropics. Several moved into stone houses in Jamestown. Colonialism and the European imperialism that flourished at the end of the 19th century however invented toxic and repressive racial attitudes. The colonial administration made laws to remove the Europeans from the Ga communities and justified the decision on the grounds of reducing their appalling mortality rate. They built communities at the Ridge then Cantonment for the use of whites.
The Europeans were not the only group to leave Jamestown in the first 2 decades of the 20th century. Western education and new opportunities in the expanding economy increased the number of young, literate Africans. They were educated and were increasingly detached from traditional beliefs and lifestyles. Systematic western education and Christian churches were introduced into Osu and Jamestown in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The Basel Mission Society of Switzerland established the first school and vocational training center at Osu in 1845. Both institutions had tremendous influence in Accra. The education and training revolutionized the construction industry and changed the life styles and social structures of a significant portion of Accra’s population. Young artisans were taught new methods of construction and technology. They began to construct stone and wooden houses of one and two storeys. These buildings became identified with the upwardly mobile and increasingly Christianized urban population. They also joined the exodus out of Jamestown to settle in suburbs like Adabraka and Asylum Down. When British journalist Henry Stanley and explorer Mary Kingsley visited Accra at the end of the 19th century they both stayed at the Sea View Hotel. They wrote about Accra’s changing urban landscape and mixture of mud huts and stone houses.
The Wesleyan Missionary Society established a boy’s school in Jamestown in the 1840’s. It was located at Sempe and still exists as a junior secondary school. Its distinguished alumnae included the late Ga Mantse Tackie Yaoboi, Thomas Hutton-Mills, a noted lawyer and politician in the late 19th century, Arthur Quartey Papafio, a lawyer and counselor to the Ga Mantse, Francisco Ribero and Akilakpa Sawyer, renowned lawyers and politicians, Tawia Adamafio, lawyer and politician in the government of Kwame Nkrumah, General Joseph Ankrah, first Ghanaian army commander and the first military Head of State in the 1960’s. The Wesleyan Boys School was the only school in Jamestown until 1886 when a government subsidized school was built there. In 1915 the first privately funded school, the Accra Royal School was opened in Jamestown. Its alumnae includes the present king of Jamestown Kodjo Ababio V, Rear-Admiral Hansen, the first Admiral in the Ghanaian navy and Mr. Saka Addo, a former governor of the bank of Ghana.