Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Our last stop in Ghana was a trip to Fort William, also known as Fort Anomabu because of the town in which it is located. We were well-seasoned slave-site sightseers by this time, having been to Fort Amsterdam, Cape Coast Castle, Fort St. Anthony, and Elmina Castle, but for some reason Anomabu was especially haunting. Again, we were the only tourists there for most of our visit, and the sheer isolation carried its own eerie feeling.

The building that sits on the shores Anomabu today was constructed by the British in 1760. It hasn't changed much, at least not in the past 140 years:
Anomabu in the 1870s. Photo from here.
I never got used to the free-roaming children who were never accompanied by adults and who used the slave forts and castles as their playgrounds. Then again, when I was a child, we often pretended to have forts and castles. The difference is that ours were full of princes and princesses, and these children's forts and castles are full of the ghosts of slaves:
The interior had the typical large center courtyard and the blooming flower beds that we had seen at other slave sites and that did little to dispel the heavy malaise that seemed to hang over the fort:
Blotches of red showing through the whitewash had their own ominous connotations:

A bas relief of good King George VI, father of the current British Queen, Elizabeth II, hung over the doorway to the "Memorial Youth Centre." We saw many references to recent community uses of these buildings, but at least while we were there, they were not being used for anything but tourist sites.
Fort William reportedly has been used for a "rest house" (whatever that is), a post office, and a prison (of the modern variety).
According the the Ghana Museums website, Fort William is "considered one of the handsomest and best built [structures] on the coast," but it is also the only structure on the Gold Coast in which an extensive slave prison was part of the original plan.
It's hard to imagine fifty bodies in one of these rooms,
 much less a hundred . . .
 . . . or more.

A macabre patchwork decorated the ceiling:
One English captain noted that between 1702 and 1708, over 30,000 slaves were taken from this location alone to Barbados, Jamaica. On top of that, additional  slaves were transported to many other places. In the second half of the 1700s, the slave trade in Anomabu grew even stronger until it was the busiest British slave port on the Gold Coast. More slaves were taken out of Anomabu than any other British site during those years.

Perhaps part of the heavy sorrow of this place is knowing that my husband's great-great-great-grandfather was part of the slave trade here in the 1790s. In fact, according to Bob's research, he came here twice, once in 1790-1792, and then again in 1793.

Prior to the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, plantation owners had no incentive to try to keep their slaves alive as they could just buy new ones when the old ones wore out. Part of William Wilberforce's motivation to abolish the slave trade (see book review at the end of this post) was to change that attitude. With no new "goods" available, slave owners would need to preserve the ones they had by treating them better.

Another room (perhaps a storage room?) was decorated with a pattern of color reminiscent of a Monet watercolor but caused by who-knows-what horrors:
Stairs leading to upper levels had been restored, but still bore us upward with a sense of dread:
From the upper levels, we could see down into the various sections of the courtyard:
Cool ocean breezes blew through these open windows of the uppermost room of the fort, a luxury the lower floors never had:
As in our other fort and castle visits, our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of this place. He and his wife actually live on the premises, in a little apartment at the far corner of the main level:
We did see evidence that activities more recent than the trade in human flesh have occurred at the fort:
The flat upper level had the feel of an observation deck or a ship's gunwale:

. . . and the view was at least as spectacular as many others we had seen from the heights of slave castles and forts:

Various views from the many crenelations in the parapet exposed assorted aspects of life in Anomabu:

Looking down the ramparts, I could see Captain Cannon's progeny strolling along the wall, a man far removed by more than just the years from his forefather:

Later, I lost track of him, and after searching for a few minutes, I finally caught sight of him wandering along the beach:

I was glad to see him resist the ancestral call of the sea and finally turn and come back to the fort:
After all, he had the keys to our car back home in the LAX parking lot.

According to his biographer Eric Metaxas, William Wilberforce was at one time as well-known and revered as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery gave me new perspective on the slave trade, a practice so entrenched in every level of society and in every country that to discontinue it was not even part of the public consciousness when Wilberforce began his twenty-six-year campaign to end it. After years of political and social crusading that took a heavy toll on his health, his efforts finally proved successful in 1807. And then, just three days before Wilberforce's death in 1833, slavery was abolished altogether in Britain and most of its colonies, due largely to his lifetime of work. He was truly a hero. 

Metaxas also writes of the religious revival that Wilberforce, a devout Methodist, helped bring about, and of his campaign for improved "manners"—not at the table, but in the way we treat the poor, including those in British colonies like India. I loved the details about Wilberforce's personal life--he had a happy marriage and a house full of children and wild animals. Metaxas's research is very thorough and his writing is delightful, laced with a wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor that kept me smiling in spite of the heavy subject matter.

Next up: Time to go home


  1. Anomabu did have a pall over it. I think part of it was that it was a little scary. I was a little fearful of my safety on one occasion as I wandered alone along the outside of the fort and encountered some particularly aggressive teenagers demanding money.

  2. I read "Amazing Grace" several years ago and really enjoyed it. I'm struck by how similar these slave-forts look alike, from the scenic views to the flowerbeds, to the crumbling white courtyards. What an experience to walk those corridors!

  3. This fort was engineered by John Apperley who also designed the the Plymouth Dock Yards. Talking to the other missionaries here in Ghana, I have yet to find others who have visited Fort William - probably because it is not even visible from the highway to Cape Coast. I am glad we persisted and found this one. It was great to have the whole fort to ourselves - like in Axim. It iwas easier for me to envision Captain Cannon visiting this fort without being distracted by other tourists. I also loved Metaxas' book Amazing Grace. Wilberforce is one of the greatest heroes England has ever known.

    1. I agree with you about Wilberforce, Russ. It's a shame that he isn't part of our world history curriculum. He is a great example of the power of one person who has a passion to do the right thing.