Forts & Castles

From about the 15th to the 19th century about 80 castles & forts were built along the coast of Ghana by different European powers, the primary purpose of which was to protect their trading interests, mainly from each other. As these structures changed hands or were rebuilt, so their names in some cases also changed. Eventually 

all these fortifications were acquired by the British by the time that the Gold Coast was declared a crown colony in 1874. 

The examples listed below are given as the places occur geographically from west to east.

Fort Apollonia, Beyin
The name Apollonia was first given to the area by a Portuguese explorer who sighted the place on the Feast of St. Apollonia, 9 February. Apollonia was a 3rd century Christian martyr who had been a nun in Alexandria, Egypt.

 Date Ownership  Name
 1768  Britain  Fort Apollonia
 1868  Netherlands  Fort Willem III
   Photo: Courtesy of Pat Smith                                        

Fort St. Anthony, Axim
It seems likely that the fort was named after the Portuguese Catholic saint, Anthony of Padua or Lisbon, born Fernando Martins de Bulhões (c.1195 – 13 June 1231) to a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal where he lived most of his life. He died in Padua, Italy.

 Date Ownership  Name
 1515  Portugal  Santo Antonio
 1642  Netherlands  
 1872  Britain  St. Anthony 

According to Burton & Cameron, the local name for the area was Essim, which may have meant either 'you told me' (Fante) or 'you know me' (Nzema), but no reason is recorded for the choice of name. This was pronounced by the Portuguese as Ashem, but written as Axem,  hence the modern version of the name.
Source: R.F.Burton & V.L.Cameron, 1883, "To the Gold Coast for Gold", Vol.II

Fort Gross-Friedrichsburg, Prince's Town
The only German fort in Ghana, Gross-Friedrichsburg was built by the Brandenburg Africa Company and named after their patron, Frederick William, Prince-Elector of Brandenburg, popularly known as the Great Elector, under an interesting agreement which gave the company a monopoly of trade with the Ahanta people and also forbade any trade in slaves.

 Date Ownership  Name
 1683  Brandenburg  Groot-Friedrichsburg
 1717  Ahanta  
 1725  Netherlands  Hollandia
 1872  Britain  Gross-Friedrichsburg

The contemporary print shows the local name of the nearby 'Village Pocquesöe' or Pokesu, which became known as Prinze Terre or Prinsi, and now called Prince's Town (often seen written as Princes Town, or even Princess Town).

Fort Metal Cross, Dixcove
Fort Dixcove was Britain's answer to Groot-Friedrichsburg. When it was transferred to the Dutch it was renamed after one of the gun-boats sent by the Dutch to deal with local unrest occasioned by the transfer of ownership.

 Date Ownership  Name
 1692  Britain  Fort Dixcove
 1868  Netherlands  Metalen Kruis
 1872  Britain  Metal Cross

The local name of the town is Infuma, meaning ‘not expecting to find’ - the original founders unexpectedly came across a stream in the area, and decided to settle there. The British named the area after a local chief who was called Dekyi. It might be surmised that this was the chief from whom they obtained the lease for the promontory on which they were allowed to build the fort. Ellis records the use of the names "Dikjes-chaft, or Dicky's Cove (Dixcove), where the English were building a fort then half-finished". Thus by 1893 the town had assumed the modern spelling of the name. In support of this account it is clear that the name Dekyi is a traditional name for the chieftancy, for in 2002 Modern Ghana carried a tribute to "the late Nana Hima Dekyi XIII, Omanhene of Upper Dixcove, in the Ahanta West district of Western region who ... reigned from 1964 to 2002 ... reputed to be the only female paramount chief Ghana has ever produced. She was 94 years."

Fort Batenstein, Butre
The Dutch West Indian Company built Fort Batenstein to establish its trade against Swedish competition. The name means 'profit rock'. 
Dickson records that William Bosman "wryly remarked that the Dutch fort at Butri, christened Batenstein, because of the brisk gold trade there, should be renamed Schadenstein (Bate signifies profit and Schade loss)". Other comments by Bosman refer to the fort as "ill-designed ... with four useless little bastions".

 Date Ownership  Name
 1656  Netherlands  Batenstein
 1872  Britain   

The town appears to be named after the nearby River Butre, the mouth of which lies just to the east.
Source: K.B.Dickson, 1969, "A historical geography of Ghana", CUP

Fort Orange, Sekondi
Willem III van Oranje was Stadholder over 5 provinces of the Dutch Republic from 1672, becoming William III, King of England, co-monarch with Mary II, Queen of England, in 1689. H
e died in 1702. The fort is now used as a lighthouse.

 Date Ownership Name 
 1670s  Netherlands  Oranje
 1872  Britain    Orange

Fort St. Sebastian, Shama
Saint Sebastian was an Italian Christian who was martyred in about 288A.D. during the rule of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
 
 Date Ownership  Name
 1520s  Portugal  San Sebastian
 1638  Netherlands  
 1872  Britain  Saint Sebastian 

According to local tradition, the founder of Shama was called Sama, and he was a cousin of Kwaa Amankwa, who founded the town of Elmina.
Source: Ghana Districts > Central > Komenda/ Edina/ Eguafo/ Abirem Municipal

Fort St. Jago, Elmina
The name of the fort derives from the hill on which there was a church built earlier by the Portuguese and dedicated to St. Jago. Its function was to protect the landward side of Elmina Castle, which the Dutch had already taken from the Portuguese in 1637.
 
 Date Ownership Name 
 1660s  Netherlands Fort Coenraadsburg
 1872  Britain   St. Jago 

Elmina Castle, Elmina
The original dedication of the castle was to 'St. George of the Mine'.

 Date Ownership  Name
 1482  Portugal  São Jorge da Mina
 1637  Netherlands  
 1872  Britain  

Elmina Castle was erected by the Portuguese to protect their interest in the gold trade. Originally they called the whole of the Guinea coast El Mina, ('The Mine'). The town is said to have been founded by Kwaa Amankwa.

Cape Coast Castle, Cape Coast
The Swedes named the first permanent fort built at Cape Coast after their King Charles X, or Karl X Gustav (1622–1660), who came from a German family and reigned from 1654 until his death. 'Carolusburg' means 'Charles's Castle'.

 Date Ownership Name 
 1653  Sweden Carolusburg
 1665  Britain    

The Portuguese built the first trade lodge at Cape Coast in 1555 and called the local settlement Cabo Corso, meaning 'short cape', later corrupted to Cape Coast. The older traditional name was Oguaa from the Fante word 'egua' meaning 'market'.

Fort William, Anomabu
Fort William was not the first fort to be built at Anomabu, and it was neither built nor named in a hurry. Eventually in the nineteenth century, during the short reign of King William IV (1830-7) another storey was added, and the fort named.

Date Ownership Name 
 1753-70  Britain Fort William

The town was named after a rocky outcrop in the sea which was home to a large number of birds, anoma meaning 'bird', and abo meaning 'rocks'.

Fort Amsterdam, Abandze
Fort Cormantin became the English headquarters on the Gold Coast in 1661, but it was captured by the Dutch just 4 years later, whereupon the English moved to Cape Coast. The area was called Cormantin, Kormantse or Kromantse, which gave its name to the many 'Coromantee' slaves sent to Jamaica. 

 Date Ownership Name 
 1638  Britain Fort Cormantin
 1665  Netherlands Fort Amsterdam

The village which grew up around the fort became known as Abandze, or 'under the fort'.

Fort Patience, Apam
The Acron people asked the Dutch to build a fort on their land to protect them from their neighbours, the Agona and the Fante, both allies of the British. However there was some disagreement about the final form of the structure, so the building, which started in 1697, was not completed until 1702, hence both the Dutch and English names, which have the same meaning.
Photo: © Thierry Secretan
 Date Ownership Name 
 1697  Netherlands Lijdzaamheid
 1868  Britain Fort Patience
 
The word apam means 'alliance'.

Fort Good Hope, Senya Beraku
Here the Dutch had already established a trading relationship with the Agona people, building a lodge in 1667. The chief asked the Dutch to build a fort, to which the latter readily agreed in expectation of increased trade in gold, ivory and slaves, hence the optimistic name.
Photo: © Thierry Secretan
 Date Ownership  Name
 1705  Netherlands  De Goede Hoop
 1868  Britain  Fort Good Hope

The name Senya refers to the people and local language, which is from the Guan branch. Beraku may refer to a local deity, and is also the name of a bird, possibly either the Laughing Dove, or the Red-Eyed Turtle-Dove.
Source: A.B.Ellis, 1893, "A History of the Gold Coast of West Africa", Chapman & Hall

 
Christiansborg Castle, Accra
For most of its life 'The Castle', or 'Osu Castle' has served as the seat of government of Gold Coast and Ghana. The name, meaning 'Christian's Castle' was chosen to commemorate the Christian V, King of Denmark.
 Date Ownership  Name
 1661  Denmark  Christiansborg
 1679  Portugal  St. Francis Xavier
 1683  Denmark  
 1850  Britain  

There are at least two accounts of the origin of the name Accra based on the Akan name for 'ant'. But these are probably folk etymologies.

 
Fort Prinzenstein, Keta
One of the few forts built East of the Volta, Fort Prinsenstein ('Prince's Rock) was used to hold slaves awaiting transportation to the Carribean. The fort was built during the reign of the Danish king, Christian VII, who reigned from 1766 to 1808, but his rule was in name only from 1772 onwards. From 1784, his son Frederick VI ruled as prince regent, who is therefore possibly the prince for whom the fort was named.

 Date Ownership  Name
 1784  Denmark  Prinsensten
 1850  Britain  Fort Prinzenstein
 
The town of Keta is to the west of a sandbar and was founded by Ewes migrating from Togo. On crossing the sandbar the leader Wenya told his followers, "Mieva do kea ta", or "Mekpo ke fe ta", meaning that they had reached the sand head.
Source: E.K.Akyeampong, 2001, "Between the Sea and the Lagoon", p.28; Kobla Ladzekpo, DanceDrummer.com