History, The British-Ashanti Wars
asantehene, Dutch fort, Elmina, local conflicts, British protectorate
The majority of the Gold Coast’s fortresses were under British control by the early 19th century. Seeking a peaceful environment in which to conduct trade for raw materials, Britain viewed Ashanti efforts to assert dominance as a threat to Britain’s commercial interests and began to intervene in local conflicts. The Ashanti, on the other hand, saw British interference in its conquered territories as infringement on its sovereignty and fought back. During a confrontation in 1824, the Ashanti army routed a British force and killed its commander, Charles MacCarthy, the colonial governor of Sierra Leone. In 1826 the Ashanti launched an offensive against British coastal positions. They suffered high casualties and were turned back by an alliance of British and Danish troops in a fierce battle on the plains near Accra. The Ashanti signed a peace treaty with Britain in 1831. The subsequent peace coincided with a period of increased European Christian missionary work in the region.
In 1844 the British signed a political agreement with a confederation of Fante states. Known as the Bond of 1844, the agreement extended British protection to the signatory states and gave Britain a degree of authority over them. In subsequent years, additional coastal and interior states signed the Bond. Britain bought all of Denmark’s Gold Coast territory in 1850 and purchased the Dutch fort at Elmina in 1872.
The systematic consolidation of British power on the coast alarmed Ashanti leaders. With the 1872 purchase, the British became the only European power left on the Gold Coast. The Ashanti, who for years had enjoyed friendly relations with the Dutch, lost an important pathway to the coast. Ashanti forces surrounded the British territory and then invaded in 1873. After initial successes, the Ashanti were forced to retreat. An attempt to negotiate a peaceful conclusion was rejected by the British commander, Sir Garnet Wolseley. In January 1874 a large expeditionary force led by Wolseley fought its way into Ashanti territory, capturing Kumasi and then burning the Ashanti capital to the ground.
In a treaty that ended the war, the Ashanti recognized British sovereignty over the coast, agreed to pay war reparation costs, and renounced influence over all the territories under British protection. In return, the British permitted the Ashanti commercial access to the coast. In July 1874 the British proclaimed the coastal territories as the Gold Coast Colony and moved their administrative center from Cape Coast to Accra. In the subsequent years, internal dissention made it impossible for Ashanti to control subject territories. In 1896 Britain attacked and occupied Ashanti, declaring it a British protectorate. The asantehene and several Ashanti elders were taken prisoner and exiled to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. In 1899 British forces occupied the Northern Territories, the high plains region north of Ashanti. A final Ashanti rebellion against the British occurred in 1900. Under the command of Yaa Asantewa, queen mother of the Ashanti state of Ejusu, the Ashanti demanded the return of their exiled leaders. The rebellion was put down in 1901, and Ashanti was proclaimed a British colony. In 1902 Ashanti and the Northern Territories were annexed to the Gold Coast Colony. Thus, Britain became the sole power in the political and economic affairs of what is now Ghana.
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