"THE CAPE COAST RIOT OF 1803" and how the British colonialists used draconian laws and oppressive tactics to suppress, cheat, kill and captured Oguaa (Cape Coast/Fante) people to sell into slavery. It is also a story of courage and bravery which formed part of the trait of the early Fante men of the Gold Coast who showed that they were equal to white people.

"In January 1802, the elders of Cape Coast Oguaa agreed to guarantee the safety of their white partners in trade by consenting to pay forty ounces of gold if any
threatening act was perpetrated against a white man. The treaty was to certify "that the caboceers, penins and other principal people of Cape Coast town met .... in the public hail to renew their allegiance to the Company, and bury all quarrels in oblivion; at the same time passing a law that whoever henceforth should be found to break the peace shall be subject to the penalty of forty ounces of trade goods (80 sterling) to the African Company." This treaty was signed by four great Cape Coast men of affairs: chief Andoh, King Joe "Burupu" Aggrey, Rev. Philip Quaque and Joe de Graft, (the Company Linguist). 

However, owing to certain sentiments the agreement could not live long. A year after the agreement was signed, a riot broke out in Cape Coast, fueled by the disparity between what the Royal African Company saw as its rights and what the indigenous people felt was warranted to any individual living under the jurisdiction of Oguaa Omanhen. 

The incident had begun when, Kofi Badu, the Supi of Anaafo, tried to buy a length of cloth from John Swanzy (British man, Swanzy was the founder of the leading Gold coast Trading Company, F&A Swanzy, married Lady Dawson of Cape Coast to become the patriarch of all Anglo-Fante Swanzys and Swanzy family in Ghana today). 

Kofi Badu, paid Tavia, Swanzy's gold-taker, £2 worth of gold for the cloth. When the gold was examined by another gold-taker, it was discovered to have been heavily adulterated. About two-thirds of it was found to be base metal. Swanzy was so enraged that he struck his gold-taker, Tavia, who fled from the house, and went into hiding. 

On hearing this, Supi Kofi Badu offered to take the gold back, if it was proved impure. But Swanzy had decided that Kofi Badu was guilty of fraud. Governor Mould, who is described by Porter as 'weak and indolent', gave Swanzy permission to take Badu into captivity if he could not find Tavia Badu was later captured and locked in the castle, with the sanction of the Governor, as a security for the return of the gold-taker. 

Badu himself was a powerful man; as Supi of the ascendant Anafu Company, he controlled one quarter of the old town. Badu's incarceration resulted in a group of the outraged Anaafo Company invading Swanzy's house, "armed with Musquets, knives, etc , at the same time throwing stones
into the Castle, offering great insult and threatening to seize Mr Swanzy by force and carry him into the interior Country."

Realising the gravity of the situation, the Governor sent repeated messages to the Caboceers (powerful indigenous traders or personalities or abrempong) and mpanyinfo, asking them to join him in a meeting to resolve the situation, "which they peremptorily refused to comply with, and treated the Messengers with contempt. 

Meanwhile, Swanzy decided to stay to defend his house which contained a lot of valuables. Porter suggests that the Governor had expected, "the town rulers to come hurrying to the castle when summoned, while the townsmen were insisting on their own dignity and authority." Eventually, "Andoh, the Chief Caboceer, and King Aggrey did .....go to Swanzy's house to try to end the trouble; but that was a case of exercising their own authority and was not a submission to the authority of another."

After considerable thought, the Governor released Kofi Badu. The Governor's action was seen as an acknowledgement that the Europeans accepted part of the blame in the escalation of events. 

However, at a second meeting of the town's rulers, Mould asked them to deposit forty ounces of trade goods in the castle as payment for the town's violation of the earlier treaty. Kwasi Anfom (head of the Cape Coast Mpayinfo or elders) was supposed to have been bold enough to say that the British had broken the law by allowing Swanzy to imprison Badu originally. 

Claridge argued that Swanzy had acted in the only way possible, as "it would clearly have been useless to take this case before the Chiefs
court, for it involved the question of cheating the white man, and African and
European alike had been accustomed to regard the cheating of each other as their rightful prerogative." Perhaps perceiving Anfom's words to have been indicative of a deeper sentiment, the outraged Governor turned the castle guns on the town.

The Europeans in Oguaa fled into the Castle and the old and infirm of Cape Coast were sent out to the village farms. The British warned that the first shot was to be fired at the Caboceer's house. The first shots were fired through Andoh's house, killing two of his sons. 

The town was then set on fire and in three hours, "the whole town presented a scene of devastation." Much of the town was soon ablaze, but some of the houses that overlooked the castle were made of clay and these would not burn, and cannon shot either passed through the walls or sunk into the clay. 

From these houses the people of Cape Coast launched a retaliatory attack, firing into the castle and out at canoes trying to relay supplies to the isolated castle. It was said that
the Asafo companies returned the European's fire, killing Sergeant Basson and wounding several others. 

The shot that killed Basson may have been aimed at John Swanzy, who was standing by Basson at the moment of the sergeant's death. The townspeople sustained losses of between 80 and 100 people. After a month long siege,69 during which trade was brought to a standstill, the Europeans were relieved by HMS Romney.'

Although there was no decisive victor in the incident itself, the town was destroyed whilst the castle was basically left intact. This gave the Company the opportunity to force a treaty that gave the right to punish, even more harshly, those who reneged on the earlier agreement. 

It was agreed from December 1803 onward, that, "no gentleman shall be insulted or molested by the said townspeople - anyone or more so offending are to be delivered up to the Governor and, if not redeemed immediately by their families, to be sold off the coast. 

Done at Cape Coast, 20th December 1803, and a gun fired in token of the same. [Signed by Andoh (Caboceer), Aggrey (King), Kwashie Anfam (Penin) Kwamina Adu (Captain of Bentsil), Andoh
(Penin), Kofi (Captain of Lower Town), Anoma (Captain of Intsin), Kwamina Wiredu (Captain of Nkum), John Christian (Mulatto volunteer) and the Caboceer of Accra.

It must be noted that the first 1802 agreement made the British African Company liable to pay ground rent to their indigenous landlords (Fantes/Cape Coast), the treaty gave them a new confidence. When the riot broke out, the Company allowed their rent payments to slip, and by 1805, it owed £192 to the Deyof Efutu and smaller amounts
to Aggrey, Andoh and Anashan.

Credit : Kweku Darko Ankrah 

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