Cape Coast Castle

Coordinates: 5°06′13″N 1°14′28″W / 5.10361°N 1.24111°W / 5.10361; -1.24111
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Cape Coast Castle
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Official nameCape Coast Castle
Part ofForts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions
CriteriaCultural: (vi)
Inscription1979 (3rd Session)
Coordinates5°06′13″N 1°14′28″W / 5.10361°N 1.24111°W / 5.10361; -1.24111
Cape Coast Castle is located in Ghana
Cape Coast Castle
Location of Cape Coast Castle in Ghana

Cape Coast Castle (Swedish: Carolusborg) is one of about forty "slave castles", or large commercial forts, built on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana) by European traders. It was originally a Portuguese "feitoria" or trading post, established in 1555, which was named Cabo Corso.

In 1653, a timber fort was constructed by the Swedish Africa Company. It originally was a centre for timber and gold trade, and then was later used in the Atlantic slave trade.[1] Other Ghanaian slave castles include Elmina Castle and Fort Christiansborg. They were used to harbour enslaved Africans before they were loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas, especially the Caribbean. This "gate of no return" was the last stop before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.[2] Cape Coast Castle, along with other forts and castles in Ghana, are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List because of their testimony to the Atlantic gold and slave trades.[3]

Trade history[edit]

The large quantity of gold dust found in Ghana was what primarily attracted Europe, and many natives of Cape Coast used this to their advantage. In exchange for gold, mahogany, other locally produced goods and enslaved captives, local Africans received clothing, blankets, spices, sugar, silk and many other items. The castle at Cape Coast was a market where this barter trade took place.

Inside the dungeon of Cape Coast Castle, where hundreds of enslaved people were held in cramped conditions before being transferred to boats bound for the western hemisphere
Obama and his family inside one of the dungeons during a visit to the Cape Coast Castle in 2009

At the time, enslaved Africans were a valuable commodity in the Americas and elsewhere, and enslaved people were the main trade in Cape Coast.[4] Due to this, many changes were made to the fort. One of the alterations was the addition of large, underground dungeons that could hold as many as a thousand enslaved people awaiting export. Many European nations flocked to the area in order to get a foothold in the slave trade. The business was very competitive, which led to conflict and for this reason, the forts changed hands many times during the course of its commercial history.

Living conditions[edit]

In Cape Coast Castle, the underground dungeon was a space of terror, death, and darkness. This stood as a direct juxtaposition to the European living quarters and commanding heights of the administrative quarters above, whose occupants lived relatively luxuriously. The basement of this imposing fortress was often the last experience enslaved people had of their homeland before being shipped off across the Atlantic, as this signified the beginning of their journey.[5]

Building history[edit]

The first fort established on the present site of Cape Coast Castle was built by Hendrik Caerloff for the Swedish Africa Company. Caerloff was a former employee of the Dutch West India Company who had risen to the rank of fiscal before employing himself with the latter company established by Louis de Geer. As a former high-ranking officer of the Dutch, Caerloff had the friendly relations with the local chiefs necessary to establish a trading post. In 1650, Caerloff succeeded in getting the permission of the king of Fetu to establish a fort at Cabo Corso (meaning "short cape" in Portuguese, later corrupted to English Cape Coast). [6] The first timber lodge was erected at the site in 1653 and named Carolusborg after King Charles X of Sweden.

Caerloff returned to Europe in 1655, leaving Johann Philipp von Krusenstjerna in charge of Carolusborg. Louis de Geer had, however, died in the meantime, and Caerloff got himself involved in a serious dispute with his heirs. In Amsterdam, he convinced merchants to give a financial injection to the Danish West India Company, for which he set sail to the Gold Coast in 1657, with the goal in mind to capture for Denmark the Swedish lodges and forts he had established himself.[7] With the help of the Dutch, Caerloff succeeded in driving the Swedes out, leaving the Gold Coast on the captured ship Stockholms Slott, and with Von Krusenstjerna on board as a prisoner.[7]

Caerloff had left Samuel Smit, also a former employee of the Dutch West India Company, in charge of Carolusborg.[8] The Dutch were able to convince Smit in 1659 of the rumor that Denmark had been conquered by Sweden, upon which Smit rejoined the Dutch West India Company, handing over all Danish possessions to the Dutch. The King of Fetu was displeased with this, however, and prevented the Dutch from taking possession of the fort. A year later, the King decided to sell it to the Swedes. After the King died in 1663, the Dutch were finally able to occupy the fort.[8]

The English Castle in 1682

The Danes had in the meantime established another fort, Fort Frederiksborg (1661), just a few hundred meters east from Carolusborg. Although situated perfectly to launch an attack on Carolusborg, the English capture of Carolusborg (1664) during the prelude to the Second Anglo-Dutch War, prevented the Danes from challenging them; the English had reinforced the fort, which they named Cape Coast Castle, to such an extent that even Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter deemed it impossible to conquer.[9] As the Dutch had captured the former English headquarters at Kormantsin and had rebuilt it as Fort Amsterdam, Cape Coast became the new capital of the English possessions on the Gold Coast.[10]

In 1689, the pirate Duncan Mackintosh was hanged at the Castle with a few of his crew, though he would not be the last pirate hanged at the fort.[11] In 1722, the fort was the site where 54 men of the crew of the pirate Bartholomew Roberts were condemned to death, of whom 52 were hanged and two reprieved.

Cape Coast in 1747
Map of Cape Coast Castle (1869)

In 1757, during the Seven Years' War, a French naval squadron badly damaged and nearly captured Cape Coast Castle.[12] This event was likely one of the most important reasons to entirely reconstruct the Castle, which was quite notorious for its collapsing walls and leaking roofs.[13] In 1762, an extensive spur ending in a tower was built on the western side and in 1773, a high building along the north curtain was erected, during which the last remnants of the 17th-century fort were demolished. Greenhill Point, a bastion to the east of the castle, was replaced by two new bastions, with a sea gate in the middle. To the south, two new bastions, named Grassle's Bastions, replaced an old round tower as the main defensive work. The tower, which now had no military use, was extended in the 1790s with two stories, now becoming the governors' apartments. The space below Grassle's Bastions was used as the new slave dungeons.[14]

Siege of Carolusborg (1652)[edit]

After the construction of Carolusborg in 1652, the Dutch saw it as a clear threat to their trade monopoly and began plotting a way to drive the Swedes away, a siege was organized in 1652, but it ended in failure as the Swedes refused to surrender.[15]

Notable governors[edit]

In 1824, British Governor Sir Charles MacCarthy, was defeated by the Ashanti army, committed suicide, and his skull was taken back to the Ashanti capital Kumasi where it was reportedly used as a drinking cup.[16] George Maclean was President of the Committee of Merchants at Cape Coast Castle from 1830 until 1844, a period when a President rather than a Governor ruled the British in the Gold Coast. In October 1836 he met the poet Letitia Landon at a dinner party while on a visit to the UK. They married and traveled back to Cape Coast Castle where, within two months, Landon died of heart failure. Both Maclean and Landon are buried in the castle courtyard. Maclean was charged with putting an end to slave trading and did so along 300 km (200 mi) of the West African coast. However, his reputation was muddied by his willingness to support the ownership of enslaved people within the vicinity of Cape Coast Castle. As such he was demoted to Judicial Assessor and maintained for his extensive local knowledge and commitment to trade. He also made peace with the Ashanti (Treaty of 1831), instituted a judicial system still in use in many African democracies, and encouraged successful and fair trading. [17] From 1846–1850, Governor William Winniett was also active in ending the slave trade. He died in the fortress.


President Barack Obama visiting the castle in 2009

The castle, or castle and dungeon, to give it its official name, was first restored in the 1920s by the British Public Works Department.

In 1957, when Ghana became independent, the castle came under the care of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB). In the early 1990s the building was restored by the Ghanaian Government, with funds from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with technical assistance from the Smithsonian Institution and other non-governmental organizations.

Cultural references[edit]

The 2016 novel Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi makes frequent references to the Castle. The contrast in living conditions between the Europeans living above and the enslaved people living below are highlighted in the individual stories of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, during their time at the castle. While Effia, the wife of an English slaver, lives in luxury, Esi suffers in the squalid living conditions in the dungeons below unbeknownst to her half-sister.[18]

The 1993 film Sankofa also uses the castle as a critical location in the plot, referring to its past connections to the Atlantic slave trade.

3D documentation with terrestrial laser scanning[edit]

In 2015, the Zamani Project documented Cape Coast Castle with terrestrial 3D laser scanning.[19][20] The non-profit research group specialises in 3D digital documentation of tangible cultural heritage. The data generated by the Zamani Project creates a permanent record that can be used for research, education, restoration, and conservation.[21][22][23] A 3D model and a panorama tour of Cape Coast Castle are available on An animation of the 3D model is available here.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cape Coast Castle - Castles, Palaces and Fortresses". Retrieved 2019-01-17.
  2. ^ "Ghana's Slave Castles: The Shocking Story of the Ghanaian Cape Coast".
  3. ^ "Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions". UNESCO World Heritage Convention. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Retrieved 9 Oct 2022.
  4. ^ "Cape Coast Castle (1652- ) •". 2009-12-02. Retrieved 2022-03-22.
  5. ^ Apter, Andrew. “History in the Dungeon: Atlantic Slavery and the Spirit of Capitalism in Cape Coast Castle, Ghana”. The American Historical Review, vol. 122, no. 1, 2017, pp. 23–54., doi:10.1093/ahr/122.1.23.
  6. ^ Van Dantzig 1999, pp. 23–24.
  7. ^ a b Van Dantzig 1999, p. 28.
  8. ^ a b Van Dantzig 1999, p. 29.
  9. ^ Van Dantzig 1999, pp. 31, 34.
  10. ^ Van Dantzig 1999, p. 34.
  11. ^ Hill, S. Charles (1919). Carnac, Sir Richard Temple (ed.). "EPISODES OF PIRACY IN THE EASTERN SEAS". Indian Antiquary a Journal of Oriental Research. 48. Delhi: Swati Publications: 217–219. Retrieved 4 October 2019.
  12. ^ Van Dantzig 1999, pp. 61–62.
  13. ^ Van Dantzig 1999, pp. 59, 63.
  14. ^ Van Dantzig 1999, pp. 59–60.
  15. ^ Milhist (2013-11-01). "Svenskekrig på Guineakysten -". (in Danish). Retrieved 2024-04-14.
  16. ^ Halik Kochanski Sir Garnet Wolseley: Victorian Hero 1999 - Page 61 1852851880 "The British governor, Sir James McCarthy, was defeated by the Asante army, committed suicide, and his skull was sent back to the Asante capital Kumasi where it was used as a drinking cup.1"
  17. ^ Watt 2010.
  18. ^ "A Sprawling Epic of Africa and America". The New Yorker. 2016-05-23. Retrieved 2023-03-06.
  19. ^ "Site - Cape Coast Castle". Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  20. ^ Chris Giles. "Meet the scientists immortalizing African heritage in virtual reality". CNN. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  21. ^ Rüther, Heinz. "An African heritage database, the virtual preservation of Africa's past" (PDF).
  22. ^ Rajan, Rahim S.; Rüther, Heinz (2007-05-30). "Building a Digital Library of Scholarly Resources from the Developing World: An Introduction to Aluka". African Arts. 40 (2): 1–7. doi:10.1162/afar.2007.40.2.1. ISSN 0001-9933.
  23. ^ Rüther, Heinz; Rajan, Rahim S. (December 2007). "Documenting African Sites: The Aluka Project". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 66 (4). University of California Press: 437–443. doi:10.1525/jsah.2007.66.4.437. JSTOR 10.1525/jsah.2007.66.4.437.


  • Osei-Tutu, Brepong (2004), "African American reactions to the restoration of Ghana's 'slave castles' ", in: Public Archaeology; 3/4, 2004, pp. 195–204. ISSN 1465-5187.
  • Shumway, Rebecca (2011), The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Rochester: University of Rochester Press. ISBN 9781580463911.
  • St. Clair, William (2006), The Grand Slave Emporium: Cape Coast Castle and the British slave trade. London: Profile Books ISBN 1-86197-904-5.
  • Van Dantzig, Albert (1999). Forts and Castles of Ghana. Accra: Sedco Publishing. ISBN 9964-72-010-6.
  • WorldStatesmen - Ghana
  • Watt, Julie (2010). Poisoned Lives: The Regency Poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L.) and British Gold Coast Administrator George Maclean. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-84519-420-8.

External links[edit]