Remains Of The ‘First English Slave Fort In Africa’ Uncovered In Ghana

Published August 3, 2023
Updated August 7, 2023

Archaeologists believe that they've found Fort Kormantine, which was built in the 17th century by the English, beneath a section of Dutch-built Fort Amsterdam in Ghana.

Fort Amsterdam

Public DomainA depiction of Fort Amsterdam, the Dutch fort that was built on top of the English one.

For centuries, the location of Fort Kormantine has been something of a historical mystery. This English fort in Africa, which was used to trade gold and then human beings, disappeared from the map after the Dutch took control of the area. Now, archaeologists believe that they’ve found the original English fort buried beneath the Dutch one, Fort Amsterdam.

“It was mind-blowing, seeing first-hand the remnants, the footprints of an actual building subsumed under a new fort,” Nigerian graduate student Omokolade Omigbule, who identified a stone belonging to the older fort during excavation efforts, told the BBC.

Omigbule and the team of archaeologists, led by Syracuse University professor Christopher DeCorse, have uncovered a number of historical clues that suggest they’ve finally tracked down Fort Kormantine. As DeCorse noted, the fort is the “first English outpost established anywhere in Africa.”

According to the BBC, they originally uncovered layers of more recent plastic during their dig. But as they continued to excavate the site, they also uncovered a gunflint which appears to date from the 17th-century, tobacco bowls whose small size is indicative of a time when tobacco was more expensive, broken pottery, and the jawbone of a goat, which the archaeologists suspect is proof that the English domesticated animals.

They’ve also uncovered a 20-foot-long wall, a door post, foundations, and a red brick drainage system.

“Seeing the imprints of these external forces in Africa first-hand and being a part of such a dig takes me back a few hundred years, it feels like I was there,” said Omigbule.

Omokolade Omigbule

Omokolade OmigbuleArchaeologist Omokolade Omigbule points at a part of the old wall that may be from a lost English fort.

As Archaeology explains, the English first built Fort Kormantine in 1631 along the coast of present-day Ghana. Then, the fort was used to trade precious materials like gold and ivory. But the purpose of the fort changed in 1663.

At that point, King Charles II of England granted a charter to the Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading (Royal African Company) which gave them monopoly rights in the trade not of goods — but human beings. As the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board reports, Fort Kormantine rapidly became “the headquarters of English Gold Coast activities.”

Fort Kormantine was subsequently used as a warehouse to store goods used to purchase slaves, as well as a holding cell for kidnapped Africans before they were put on ships to the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board reports that variations of “Kormantine” became synonymous for enslaved people who were hard to subdue.

The English, however, were eventually subdued by the Dutch. In 1665, the Dutch waged a “long and bloody battle” to wrest control of the fort from the English. They promptly built their own fort, Fort Amsterdam, on the site. According to the BBC, this is why the exact location of Fort Kormantine has been something of a question mark for historians.

Fort Amsterdam On The Coast

Janky/Wikimedia CommonsFort Amsterdam, perched on Ghana’s coast.

Now that the likely location of the fort has been determined, archaeologists are prepared to expand their efforts. As the BBC reports, they will spend the next three years excavating the site, and will hopefully discover more artifacts which can paint a clearer picture of what life was like there.

Even now, with just a handful of discoveries and lots more work to do, the dig leader DeCorse is enthusiastic about the project.

“Any archaeologist who says they are not excited when they find something,” he told the BBC, “are not being entirely truthful.”

After reading about the first English slave fort discovered in Ghana, go inside the surprisingly complicated question of when slavery ended in the United States. Or, discover the horrific story of the Zong massacre, when 130 African captives were drowned at sea.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Remains Of The ‘First English Slave Fort In Africa’ Uncovered In Ghana.", August 3, 2023, Accessed June 20, 2024.