Cape Coast Castle and Forts William, Victoria, and McCarthy, Gold Coast, 1840s?

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This record was last updated on 27 Jun 2017

Image Reference

Drawings of Western Africa (University of Virginia Library, Special Collections, MSS 14357, no 7).

Ink, watercolor, crayon. The foreground shows several small boats, identified as "English boat" (shown with a rudder), "lighter for goods," "surf boat," "surf canoe," as well as a "seat for high class passengers" and oars used on these vessels. Lack of natural harbors required ocean-going vessels to anchor offshore, beyond the often-treacherous surf; small boats were used to transport passengers and goods from ship to shore (see, for example, image references mariners28, sievers). Dominating the image is Cape Coast Castle (Cabo Corso), with old cannons scattered along the shore in the foreground. Forts William, Victoria, and McCarthy, dating to the early nineteenth century are on top of three hills in the background. The artist gives a tentative date of 1485 to Cape Coast Castle, but the fort was first constructed by the Swedes in 1653, and then captured by the English in 1664. The impressive structure shown here places it after the substantial expansion of the fort by the British in the eighteenth century. The perspective in this scene shows the drawing was done from the anchorage. There are some distortions in geographical details, but the relative positions of the forts are reasonably accurate. Interestingly, the cannons shown above the caption “Cabo Corso” are still visible today (2017). Although undated and unsigned, the drawing was perhaps made by an American Protestant missionary or associate, on a coastal voyage from Liberia to the Gabon estuary in 1838 (see Erskine Clarke, By the Rivers of Water [Basic Books, 2013] pp. 184-185). See also image reference UVA11. See Christopher DeCorse, Trade, Slaves, and the British Forts of West Africa, in D. Maudlin & B. Herman, eds., Building the British Atlantic World (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016), pp. 165-187. Thanks to Christopher DeCorse for his help in interpreting this image. See other images "UVA" on this site. For background to this and other UVA images, see image reference UVA01.