Our Dutch Rivals
The Dutch at this time were practically the World's carriers, and not the least profitable part of their business was that connected with the West Coast of Africa and the ever-increasing traffic thence in slaves.
Even had there been no other inducement to take them there, the profits of the Slave Trade alone could scarcely fail to have brought other nations to the Coast of Guinea. Hence we see at various dates and for various periods,—like wasps about the Dutch sugar-barrel,—besides the English and the French, the Swedes, the Brandenburgers (or Prussians), and the Danes, establishing trading posts and building forts along the Gold Coast, often in close proximity to, and even in instances commanding, existing strongholds. The Brandenburgers, it is true, made no prolonged stay, half a century saw them come and go,—and the Swedes were never very formidable rivals; but Denmark held on to her old possessions on the Coast down even to a recent day (1872), when she sold them to Great Britain. Even now one finds trace of them in the term "Dane gun," a distinction applied to a peculiar—very peculiar, one may imagine—brand of firearm vended to the blacks.
As to the Brandenburgers, it is not unsafe to conclude that they were ever ready for a "deal." On 28th March 1708 Sir Dalby Thomas, Chief Factor at Cape Coast, writes: "By a Portuguese ship which came from Lisbon I was informed that the King of Portugal had offered the King of Prussia £40,000 for his fort at Cape Tres Pontas and the two other settlements belonging to it. I think it a great deal of money to be given for any situation on this coast, and I am apt to believe, if it is ever bought by the Portuguese, the Dutch will take it from them; for they fear no consequences can they but gain their point by all the deceitful ways possible."
Mention, also, of another Brandenburger fort is made in 1727 by William Smith, Surveyor of the Royal African Company. "Seven or eight leagues south-east of Axim," says he, "is another large and beautiful Fort, built by the Brandenburgers, but now in the hands of the Dutch, and well known by the name of Conny's Castle. For when the Prussians, who had it last in possession, quitted the coast, they left the fort to the charge of one John Conny, a black Kaboshir, with strict orders not to deliver it to any nation but the Prussians. Soon after, the King of Prussia sold all his interest in the Coast of Guinea to the Dutch West India Company, including with this another fort belonging to him near Cape Three Points. When the Dutch came to demand the Fort, John Conny refused to deliver it; on which a war ensued for some years, which cost the Dutch a great deal of blood and money. Conny, flushed with his victories, became a mortal enemy to the Dutch, having paved a little path from the outer gate to the inner apartment of his castle with the skulls of Dutchmen killed in his engagement with them. He had also a large Dutchman's skull tipt with silver, which he used as a Punch bowl. However, in the year 1724 he was beaten out of his castle, and forced to fly up into the Fantin country from the incensed Dutch."
Since 1553 the English had at no time entirely ceased to send an occasional ship trading to the Gold Coast,—there were ever plenty of bold spirits, in well-armed craft, willing to run the risk of capture by the Portuguese,—and now, encouraged by Dutch successes, they began to come in increasing numbers. The Royal African Company of 1631 had latterly, with caution, established trading posts and forts along the coast, and after the fall of the Portuguese, private adventurers of various nationalities began to put in an appearance, undeterred by the monopoly of trade claimed by the Dutch West India Company. Such a monopoly had also with as little efficacy been granted by Charles to the English Company of 1631. Occasionally, indeed, when it came to the ears of the Directors of that Company that a vessel was fitting out in England for West Africa, in order to assert its right to that monopoly, application for her detention would be made; but this merely led to greater care being taken to conceal the port of destination of craft "fitting foreign," and, in no way deterred adventurers from taking their share in West African trade.
By the Dutch, not merely the English, but interlopers of their own or any other nation, were regarded as equally undesirable. And though the Netherlanders had at the beginning treated the natives with considerable kindness and forbearance—that is, as long as they themselves were striving to obtain a footing at the expense of Portugal—they now began to attempt forcibly to prevent the negroes from trading with any but themselves. When the English came, says Barbot, the Dutch changed their former "civility towards the Blacks into severity." Having effectually broken down the Portuguese monopoly, their policy was now to establish, and hold, a monopoly of their own, as vigorous as anything the Portuguese had attempted, and to effect their purpose Barbot hints that they did not shrink from condemning to death, or from occasionally executing, Europeans caught trading on the coast, and that to natives they dealt out measure as severe as that to which they treated Europeans. Bosman himself makes no mention of the death-penalty, but he says that the negroes drove "a great Trade with the Europeans for Gold which they chiefly vend to the English and Zealand Interlopers, notwithstanding the severe penalty they incur thereby, for if we catch them their so bought goods are not only forfeited, but a heavy fine is laid upon 'em . . . The plain reason why the Natives run this Risk of Trading with the Interlopers is that their goods are sometimes better than ours, and always to be had one third part cheaper." Captain John Phillips, an Englishman, who in 1693 went trading to the Guinea Coast in command of the Hannibal, a powerful four hundred and fifty ton ship, of 36 guns, says that "the Dutch Castles have frequently by stratagem seized some of these Interlopers, and used them with the utmost. Rigour; yet it does no whit deter them, they providing themselves with nimble ships, which outsail the Company's, and go well manned and armed, and generally fight it out to the last man rather than yield." Phillips mentions that he had seen as many as four or five at a time lying off Mina Castle, trading, caring nothing for the Company's prohibition, though the men knew well that capture meant for them imprisonment in the dungeon at El Mina. Captains and the senior officers of captured ships Phillips thinks were generally condemned to death.
At Axim, the Dutch Factor of that place came aboard Phillips' ship enquiring for home news. He was invited to remain, "which he did, and proved a boon Companion, taking his glass off very smartly, and singing and dancing several Jiggs by himself." But this lively Dutchman was speedily sobered and his mirth quenched at sight of a large canoe, flying a flag, heading towards the ship from the direction of El Mina. In spite of Phillips' friendly offer to fire on this large canoe, the Dutch Agent refused to remain on board, tumbled hastily over the side farthest from the approaching canoe, and, getting into a small canoe that lay trading with the ship, "and squatting himself down flat upon his Belly, made the Men row away to the west as fast as they could; and having taken a large Compass, landed about a quarter of a mile from the Castle." The cause of this sudden stampede, as Phillips learned later, was that the Dutch Factor's uneasy conscience caused him to imagine that any large canoe flying a flag must necessarily have on board the Company's Inspector, an official of almost unlimited power, whose visits were greatly dreaded by Factors inclined to indulge in clandestine trade on their own account. If detected in any malpractice, "the gentlest Usage he meets with is to be well fined, and forced to carry a Musket in the Castle as a common Centinel, another being put into his Government." He was, in fact, only a little lower than an Interloper in the scale of crime. However, in this instance no dreaded Inspector made inopportune arrival, and the Factor, having "banished his Fear, resolved to have the other Jug with them. Accordingly, they had him aboard, where he continued till late at Night, and was carried ashore well-ballasted with Wine and Punch." They were not a very moral set of youths, those West Coast Factors, whether Dutch or English, one fears. But neither were the times very moral, and no doubt their temptations were great—books and rational recreation almost non-existent, restraints few or none. A life more enervating, more trying, it would be hard to imagine. In a climate of the worst description, the lassitude consequent on which driving them constantly to the spur of brandy, living almost necessarily without exercise either physical or mental, can one wonder that men went to the bad and died before their time? Phillips mentions that at Sukandi he found Mr. Johnson, the English Agent, in bed, raving mad, "through Resentment of an Affront put upon him by one Vanbukeline," an official of Mina Castle. The "Affront "—result of a pitiful quarrel over a not ill-looking native woman—was not very creditable to either party, and no doubt Mr Johnson flew to the bowl for consolation. His second in command, "a young Lad, and had been a Blue-coat Hospital Boy," had apparently no pleasant billet. Johnson was afterwards cut in pieces by the blacks, at the instigation of Vanbukeline.
Specially to enforce that prohibition of English trade on which they were intent, armed Dutch vessels were kept continually cruising along the coast, seizing here a weakly-armed English ship, pouncing there on natives and forfeiting their goods. With so many stubborn men of inflammable temperament on either side, in such a state of affairs it could not fail that friction should speedily become acute, and when in 1662 "The Company of Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa" received its charter and took the West Coast trade in hand (the Company of 1631 having expired, overwhelmed in the throes of Civil War), it can readily be seen how little was needed to cause a renewal of those hostilities between England and the Netherlands which had been closed so short a period before. That little was not long delayed.
The Dutch in effect claimed that the entire Guinea Coast was theirs by right of conquest over Portugal,—a claim which indeed was actually made in 1663 by Valckenburgh, their Director General of the West Coast of Africa, when protesting against the action of the English at various places. That claim, however, the English were little likely to acknowledge in face of the fact that since the early days of the Company of 1618 they had uninterruptedly held Cormantine, a fort not far removed from Mouree, where stood the earliest established Dutch armed post. Arising from this claim, and fostered by high-handed acts committed by the more turbulent spirits of both nations, the condition of affairs on the coast speedily resolved itself into a kind of chronic petty warfare. The Colonial State Papers of that period teem with complaints of Dutch aggression. The Netherlanders, we read in letters written at Cormantine and other places on the Coast in the year 1663, followed our ships "from port to port, and hindered the English coming near the shore to trade." They "give daily great presents to the King of Fulton to exclude their Honours" [the Royal Company of Adventurers] "from the trade, and to the King of Fantyn to make war on the English castle of Cormantyn, saying if they could get that place never Englishman more should have trading upon that coast. Had not Captain Stokes arrived it's much to be feared the Flemish flag had been on Cormantyn as it is now on the Castle on Cape Corso." "The Dutch told the King of Ardra that they had conquered the Portugals, the potentest nation that ever was in those countries, and turned out the Dane and Swede, and in a short time should do the same to the English." Mr. Brett, Factor at Commenda, relates how a ship of the Royal African Company "came to the place the 21st and the Dutch man of war told them they must not go ashore; in two days more the Amsterdam came from Castle de Myne and sent two men on board to see if they belonged to the Royal Company, pretending if they had been interlopers that they had power to take them. Next day the Dutch manned out three long-boats and continued firing at all canoes that would have traded with the English, and those canoes that were made fast to the English ship the Dutch cut from the ship's side, which one of the seamen endeavouring to prevent, a Dutchman cut him on the leg. So the English ship weighed anchor, the long-boats' men 'giving us such base language as was not to be endured. Probably this English vessel was very weakly armed, and no match for the Amsterdam, but one cannot help wondering how Towrson in his Minion or the Tyger would have "endured" such treatment. He certainly would have "weighed anchor," but it would have been for the purpose of laying his ship alongside the Dutchman in no friendly mood. Men with the temperament of him who with his little squadron defied the powerful Spanish fleet do not readily offer the other cheek to the smiter, or under any circumstances permit themselves to be cowed by the bluster of a bully, however formidable in appearance that bully may be. But truly, "the Dutch were very insolent on this coast, endeavouring by all methods to undermine and ruin the English commerce there."
We read further in those old records that the ship Merchant's Delight was seized and her crew imprisoned. At Cape Corso and at Commenda, where Dutch trading posts did not exist, English traders were interfered with, and at the former place the Dutch war vessel Golden Lyon fired on the boats of an English ship and drove them out to sea. Further, the Dutch surprised and took the English castle at Cape Coast, and attempted to repeat this success at Cormantine. Protests by the English Ambassador at The Hague led to no improvement, but rather, it may be, made matters worse. In 1664 a statement of their grievances and of the wrongs inflicted on them was laid before Parliament by the English merchants. Attention was drawn to the long list of ships illegally captured by the Dutch on the Gold Coast, and immediate redress was asked for a total damage which was said to amount to several hundred thousand pounds. Mr. Samuel Pepys, however, in his Diary under date 29th May 1664 throws doubt on this estimate, appears, indeed, to reduce the total to vanishing point. He states that in conversation on the subject with Sir W. Coventry the latter "seemed to argue mightily upon the little reason that there is for all this," and stated his belief that the loss incurred "did not amount to above £200 or £300." If, however, the Dutch took any vessel at all, or committed any act of aggression of whatever nature, (and it cannot be disputed that they did both), it is difficult to see how Sir W. Coventry arrived at his total, unless indeed he struck a balance between the damage done to us by the Dutch and the injury already inflicted on them by Captain Holmes. And even then one would imagine that the seizure by the Dutch of Cape Coast Castle alone would weigh heavily against the doings of Holmes and the others. The acts of Holmes were acts of war committed during time of peace—peace at least in Europe; but so undoubtedly was the seizure of Cape Coast Castle, so also was the attempted seizure of Cormantine an act of war. Possibly Sir W. Coventry was of that class of Briton which unfortunately is never absent from us, the class which delights in attempting to show that in any controversy with a foreign nation its own country must necessarily be in the wrong; or in any question as between white man and black, that its own countryman must be the bully and the aggressor. It is a strangely common form of perverted patriotism, wholly unadmirable, and only to be accounted for by the fact that its holders are persons intensely self-centred, imbued from infancy with the conviction that the narrow views held by them are the only possible or reasonable views on any and every subject; persons who, sitting at home, microscopically study a section, instead of in their view embracing a whole; or who, if by chance they travel, travel with eyes closed to all things except to those which they wish to see.
As regards acts committed in West Africa, neither England nor Holland was free from blame; if the Dutch had been aggressive and guilty of overt acts of war, so undoubtedly had been the English. When in 1663 the newly-formed English African Company began operations, they found on the Gold Coast a state of affairs which was intolerable, and to cope with which remonstrances were of no avail. Now, it chanced that the Governor of the new Company was no less a man than James Duke of York, brother of Charles II., and at that time High Admiral of England. His Majesty himself was also a shareholder. In the State Papers of June 1661 appear warrants to pay to Thomas Holder sums of £90 and £250 "for the King's additional venture in the business of Guinea." Influenced no doubt by the Duke, as well as by personal considerations, the King—probably nothing loth—consented to the making of reprisals against the Dutch on the Guinea Coast, and accordingly Captain Robert Holmes (afterwards Admiral Sir Robert Holmes) was directed to take there a small squadron, with instructions—as he showed at his examination in March 1665—to avoid hostilities as far as possible, but to protect the property of the Royal African Company "by force if needful and if he were able." Holmes was already not unknown on the Coast; he was indeed, anathema to the Dutch, who went so far as to set a price on his head. Under date 19th October 1661 there appears in the State Papers a memorandum from the Dutch Ambassadors to Charles, reminding His Majesty that in his letter of 14th August he absolutely disclaims the proceedings of Captain Holmes, commander of some of His Majesty's ships upon the coast of Africa, which he promises to inform himself of particularly. "The States General being informed that said Holmes is in England, have commanded said Ambassadors to pray His Majesty to cause him to give account of what he has enterprised against the States' Subjects, hindering that freedom of trade of the coasts of Africa which they have long enjoyed, and seizing the fort of St. Andrews, which the Dutch held by good title: that said fort may be restored to said Company and the damage repaired: and that henceforth His Majesty's subjects may more regularly observe the law of nations, and that His Majesty's allies may continue their trade in the River Gambia and at Cape Verd without hindrance." Both nations, pretty innocents, were playing the game of the wolf and the lamb.
Holmes sailed towards the end of 1663, "but searching a Dutch ship by the way, he found express orders, as King Charles informs the States in his letter of 4th October 1666, from the Dutch West India Company to their Governor, General Valckenburgh, to seize the English fort at Cormantine, which discovery disposed him to go, as he thought he had a right, beyond his original commission." Arrived at Cape Verde towards the end of January 1664, Holmes captured in the offing two Dutch vessels, then, running inshore, summoned the Dutch forts on the island of Goree to surrender. This demand was refused with contempt, and not only with contempt but with violence, for the Dutch Governor, it is said, took it on himself to have the English messengers flogged. So Holmes, landing a party of his men, stormed and took the works, capturing at the same time a vessel which lay ready for sea under the protection of the forts' eight-and-twenty guns.
From Goree Holmes wrote to the African Company reporting its capture, and requesting that reinforcements might be sent without delay. To this course the Company consented willingly, giving as their reasons that "it is a strong fortified place where the ship may conveniently ride, and has been the chief Dutch factory for all the north part of Guinea. That if it please the Company to keep possession of said island, no nation can have any trade in any of these north parts." It did please the Company to keep possession of said island, but they omitted at the time to take into their calculations the existence of an energetic and inconvenient person named de Ruyter, whose views on the subject of Goree, and of the Guinea Coast as a whole, with scant delay so far prevailed over those held by the English Company that on January 2nd, 1665, we find the latter in a Petition to the King not only repudiating any connection with Captain Holmes or his acts, but requesting that the Dutch prizes taken by him should be handed to the Company, "seeing that de Ruyter declares his acts have been done in compensation for losses inflicted by Holmes." "Heads I win, tails you lose" seems to have been then the creed of this injured and innocent Company—a creed not altogether unknown in connection with certain phases of commercial morality in our own day. However, in this case it paid them, to the extent at least that the Dutch vessel Golden Lyon, which Holmes had captured, was handed over to them,—the outcome, no doubt, of possessing a powerful Chairman of Directors.
After the taking of Goree, Holmes proceeded leisurely the down the coast, strengthening Fort James on the Gambia, "the next best fortification to Cape the Coast Castle of all that are to be found on either says north or south coasts of Guinea," as Barbot says; then attacking and capturing Fort Witsen at Takoradi, Leaving in that place a sufficient garrison, he next made an attempt on St. George del Mina. But here he broke his teeth; St. George was too strong for the force at his command, and he drew off, leaving behind him as the price of failure more men than he could afford to lose. Better luck attended him at Cape Coast, or Cape Coast was less stubbornly defended, for that Castle, the strength of whose position alone should have made it impregnable to any force such as Holmes could launch against it, was soon in his hands. Fifty men were left here as garrison, along with workmen and material to strengthen and put in order the fortifications,—a wise precaution, as things turned out ere went months had passed. From Cape Coast Holmes went to Mouree, out of which the Dutch were quickly driven. the Anamabo followed suit, then Egyah; and now the whole Gold Coast was in his hands, with the exception of Elmina and Axim.
Thus was the war rendered inevitable between England and the Netherlands; Holland was bound to retaliate, From this "White Man's Grave," the Guinea Coast, arose and spread the flames of a war whose consequences were world-wide, a war in whose battles brave men freely shed their blood, not in African seas alone, but in the Channel, and in the North Sea, in the East Indies, in America North and South, among the many-isled waters of the West Indies, wherever, indeed, English ship could meet Dutch. London itself ere that war ended shook to her foundations, when the Dutch Admiral de Ruyter swept like a hurricane up the Thames, burning and destroying.
But before the actual declaration of war, many things happened. "The cursed cause" of the trouble, as some delighted to brand Captain Holmes,—though that fountain of ill sprang from a somewhat higher source,—sailed west to America and there fell upon New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony that is now New York. And New Amstersdam passed for ever out of the hands of Holland.
Meantime the English settlements on the Guinea Coast were left unprotected. The reinforcements for which Holmes had written did not arrive, or arrived tardily and in force insufficient to prove effective. There were on the coast no English armed ships, beyond a few traders of no account as a fighting force. The way was open, the door set wide on its hinges, inviting counter attack. Nor were the English long kept in suspense. On October 11th, 1664, as the workers toiled at Goree "mounting great guns and mending the breaches made by Captain Holmes," a fleet of twelve or thirteen sail hove in sight and ran in, showing Dutch colours. De Ruyter, who had been in the Mediterranean when news of Holmes's reprisals reached him, slipped through the Straits of Gibraltar and hurried down to Goree, demanding that "the island and the Company's goods in the ships" there at anchor should be at once handed over to him. De Ruyter held in his hand all the trump cards; there was nothing to be done but, with as good a grace as might be, to comply with his request. Following on this, Fort James on the Gambia was harried, Sierra Leone, Mesurado, Sesters, and other English "factories" destroyed. Then on Christmas Day the Dutch "went against Tacorady with great store of men, but were repulsed by ten Englishmen and negroes, upon which with a thousand negroes from their factory they burnt the town and blew up the castle, stripping the English naked." The ruins of this "castle," says Colonel Ellis, were still in existence a few years ago. Meanwhile all down the coast, as the news of de Ruyter's arrival spread, there followed on its heels the rumour that Prince Rupert was coming and that all would yet be well. But the hopes of the English watchers were doomed to disappointment. Never came Rupert; his work was elsewhere.
And now de Ruyter reached Cape Coast, where stood the Castle which he was specially desirous of taking. But to do this proved no more easy task than Holmes had found the taking of d'Elmina. The fort's guns commanded the only available landing-place, thus preventing any direct attempt from the sea; nor could the Dutch ships approach near enough to silence the English guns. And de Ruyter was not equipped for operations by land. To the bitter disappointment of Valckenburgh, the Dutch Director General, de Ruyter refused to make any attempt on the Castle; but he did not scruple to give free vent to his opinion of the Dutchmen who had in the first instance permitted Holmes to steal a march on them and to plant a garrison there.
However, if he could not take Cape Coast, there were other places to be laid hold of. Fort Nassau, at Mouree, which Holmes had taken, was recaptured, Cormantine and Anamabo reduced. At the former place the Dutch and their native allies, the Fantees and others, suffered severely. There was but a sprinkling of Englishmen in that fort, but "John Cabessa," the local native chief, and three hundred of his men fought for the English with extraordinary bravery and vigour. The place was attacked both by sea and by land, de Ruyter's ships pouring a heavy fire on the works, whilst a large body of native auxiliaries under Valckenburgh himself, a body estimated at ten thousand men, assaulted it from the land. So obstinate was the resistance that the Dutch advance was for hours held in check, whilst the ground near the fort was littered with bodies of the dead. But in the end numbers prevailed; the fort surrendered without terms. John Cabessa, who, the account says, "was truer to the English than any of His Majesty's subjects there," rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, killed himself. "Great reward was offered for whoever should bring his head to the Dutch, but the Blacks buried him at Old Cormantine." The negroes of this coast did not scruple in the olden days eagerly to accept reward from the Portuguese for the head of an Englishmen or a Frenchman, but where the head of one of their own chiefs was concerned—even when that chief was already dead—they were not to be bought; they were as deaf to the voice of the tempter, as incorruptible, as were the Highlanders of the '45 when a great price was put on the head of the young Chevalier.
In this castle of Cormantine when it was taken, there was found, we are told, "a tried lump of gold in the wall 105 lbs. weight, which was brought aboard the de Ruyter"; a welcome and substantial little salve, no doubt, to wounded national feelings.
Except Cape Coast Castle, the whole Gold Coast was now in the hands of the Dutch. We were indeed, as Pepys records in his Diary, "beaten to dirt at Guinny by de Ruyter and his fleet" The Company of Royal Adventurers, as has already been noticed, was stripped pretty clean, and did not long survive the process. De Ruyter had done his work well, and though amongst the Colonial Papers of that day appears one entitled "An Account of De Ruyter's Barbaryties on the Guinea Coast," those "barbaryties "do not appear to have been anything at which we could afford to cast a stone. He burned ships, it is true, and blew up fortifications, but he gave quarter to the English at Cormantine and at other places; and, for the rest, he seems to have been no worse than Holmes or any other of our own men. War, (and it was nothing else, though formal declaration was as yet delayed), war is not made with kid gloves.
Official declaration of war, however, speedily followed from both parties, and the principal scenes of that war were soon being enacted in other waters. Under date 28th January 1665 there also appears in the State Papers the following letter addressed to the Commandants of our Settlements in New England, a letter signed by the King and countersigned by Secretary Bennet: "Because of the iniquities, spoils, and affronts of the Dutch and their notorious proceedings on the Coast of Guinea, de Ruyter being sent thither with twelve ships of war to destroy all the King's interests in those parts, and His Majesty having cause to suspect, on his return to invade all the English shipping he can meet with and assault the Plantations in New England and other Colonies, they are required to take care of the forts and defences, and empowered to do what is necessary for the safety of the islands and navigation of English merchants." The King made no mistake as to de Ruyter's designs on the Plantations, but the proceedings of the Dutch on the Guinea Coast were certainly no more "notorious" than were those of our own people at Goree and at New York. On either side were fire-eaters whose actions rendered war sooner or later inevitable, and if the Dutch were the first aggressors, our own men were little behind them. Moreover, it is certain that Charles wilfully closed his eyes to a good deal that was going on in West Africa.
It is beyond the scope of this volume to trace the course of the war that now raged. The Peace of Breda in 1667 confirmed to both nations the conquests each had made. Hence England in America retained the New Netherlands (or the State of New York as it was now called out of compliment to James Duke of York, Charles's brother), and in West Africa was confirmed in her possession of Cape Coast Castle; whilst Holland, once more possessed of Goree and Fort Nassau at Mouree, gained also Cormantine and sundry other English factories and posts.
The net result on the Gold Coast was greatly to the advantage of Holland, but the balance did not long remain in her favour; with the advent of the new Royal African Company in 1672 English influence began once more to extend, forts were built at Accra, Winnebah, Secondee, Commenda, Anamabo, and other places, and the Castle at Cape Coast, enlarged and put in a thorough state of defence, became headquarters of the English Company.
Treaties are very excellent things. The difficulty is, when they concern far distant and little known parts of the world, to see that they are properly enforced. As regards the Treaty of Breda, a clause ran to the effect that "whereas in countries far remote . . . especially in Guinea, certain protestations and declarations, and other writings of that kind, prejudicial to the liberty of trade and navigation have been emitted and published on either side," for the future such protestations and declarations should be ignored, considered null and void, and trade and navigation should be free and unhampered. A truly desirable state of affairs, but more desirable than easy to enforce. Before a year was out English and Dutch on the Gold Coast were again squabbling fiercely. The English had established themselves at Egyah. That, said the Dutch, was contrary to the terms of Treaty, for Egyah being under the guns of Cormantine, which had been ceded to Holland, was in the bargain necessarily regarded as Dutch property; therefore the English must evacuate their post at Egyah, a step which the latter refused to take. Then, owing to native troubles the Dutch blockaded that part of the coast on which stands Cape Coast Castle, and demanded that until such time as their quarrel with the natives should be settled the English must cease to trade in those parts,—a preposterous demand, and one that led to great local friction. Neither side, we may take it, "played quite fair." Bosman in his History complains of English treachery, accuses us of setting the blacks against the Dutch, and states that by bribes we induced the negroes to make war. It may be, but these are precisely the acts with which we charged the Dutch. The probabilities are that nobody's hands were very clean, no one quite void of offence. Yet no really serious trouble arose out of this or any other of these burning questions, not even during the war between England and the Netherlands in 1672-4. In matters of trade the two nations continued bitterly to oppose each other, but throat-cutting was confined to matters commercial, and where one party had succeeded in monopolising the trade of a district, the other merely endeavoured to oust the first comer, possibly even to the building of a fort, as we did at Commenda, under the very guns of the Dutch.
Such anxiety to monopolise trade did not tend towards improved treatment of the black man—at least by the Dutch; one hopes, perhaps in vain, that our own countrymen were more humane. In 1687, at Elmina, during a native rebellion, Barbot, who in that year visited the Settlement, saw three negroes, prisoners, who had been kept by the Dutch for nine months in irons, exposed during the day to the fierce rays of the sun or to the lashing of tropical rain-storms, and during the night left without shelter from the inclemencies of whatever weather might be experienced.
Bosman, too, gives an account of what General Swerts, the Dutch officer in command at Commenda when that fort was attacked by the blacks in 1695, calls "a comical accident." "Here," says the General, "I cannot forbear relating a comical accident that happened. Going to visit the posts of our fort, to see whether every man did his duty, one of the soldiers, quitting his post, told me that the Blacks, well knowing he had but one hat in the world, had maliciously shot away the crown, which he would revenge, if I would give him a few granadoes" [hand grenades]. "I had no sooner ordered him two, than he called out to the Blacks from the breastwork in their own language, telling them he would present them with something to eat: and giving fire to the granadoes, immediately threw them down among the crowd, who observing them to burn, thronged about them, and were at first very agreeably diverted: but when they burst, they so galled them that they had no great stomach to such another meal." General Swerts' ideas with regard to what is comic do not commend themselves to the ordinary individual. Where officers of rank sanctioned, and enjoyed, "jokes" so inhuman, one may conclude that the treatment of the wretched negroes by the rank and file was unspeakably cruel. We shall see later something of the manner of treatment adopted by the various European nations where natives, and more especially where Slaves, were concerned.