The Komenda Wars may be the best example of the unfortunate repercussions of lengthy battles for supremacy and legitimacy. The conflict lasted from 1694-1700 and occurred in the Gold Coast (modern day Ghana), involving the Eguafo Kingdom and nearby African States. It concerned the Dutch West India Company (WIC) and British Royal African Company (RAC) trade rights. The conflict dictated the beginnings of a globalized world which, unfortunately, had drastically negative effects upon the region and its inhabitants. After the Komenda Wars, the Gold Coast became a Slave Coast. A Dutch slave trader, noted in 1705: “[the Gold Coast] has already changed into a Slave Coast and…nowadays the natives no longer occupy themselves with the search for gold, but rather make war on each other to furnish slaves.”
As traffic near the port village of Komenda grew, hostilities surrounding the relationship between states emerged. In the Eguafo Kingdom, there were two main polities: great Komenda, the location of the royal capital, and small Komenda, the coastal village with various European factories otherwise known as a trading house or post. Although trade in gold proved viable before the 1680s, many European charters had yet to settle an outpost or factory for trade and gold mining in small Komenda. This changed when the WIC and RAC each rested their companies' fortunes on the viability of small Komenda while also working with the king of great Komenda. After the RAC abandoned their 7 year old factory in 1680, they returned in the fall of 1681. James Nightingale, a British merchant assisting the RAC’s Komenda project, wrote in November 1681: “I am safe arrived here pitcht upon a house for the company’s factory which with a little charge may be made serviceable, it stands not far from the harbor soe being more capable to see what canoes goes out and in to hinder their trading with interlopers.” At the Komenda factory the RAC mainly traded for gold along with occasional slaves and corn. From the commencement of the RAC’s project, they prioritized their exclusivity to the Komenda trade, planning to “hinder” any trading by possible competitors. Nightingale even emphasized the delightfully accommodating nature of the Eguado Kingdom: “The king himself gave me this house, Captain Bracon and all the rest of great and small Commenda give your honor hearty thanks in sending me hither.” Captain Bracon or John Cabees was the head African merchant of small Komenda, exerting considerable influence on incoming traders. While addressing his superiors in January 1982, Nightingale emphasized their favorable position: “If once being gone it will not be easier to get them again, especially Commenda…which are privileged places to the Royall Company of England.” In this same letter he alludes to Mr. Cabees’ loyalty to the RAC as he warns intruding French ships: “you French dogg get you gon with all your people out of my ship or else I will kill you.”
Although the RAC had a privileged position in Komenda throughout 1680-1683, the RAC abandoned and reestablished their factory due to a multitude of factors. During a period of RAC despondency, the Dutch strived to establish a factory in Komenda; however, in 1682 Nightingale, “stopped their design.” Regardless, after the RAC abandoned the trade once more, the WIC constructed their own factory. Upon returning to Komenda, the RAC saw the Dutch lodge and concluded that they fell out of favor. One RAC employee wrote, “I have acquainted Captain Bracon with your Honors order for selling dates at 15 angles each, which he says will give the merchants more encouragement to buy the Royall Company Goods.” Due to inconsistent business, the RAC products fell out of favor. Henceforth, the Dutch exhibited considerable control over the Komenda trade.
1. John K. Thornton and John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 308.
2. Castles, Factories, and Forts," Slavery and Remembrance, accessed April 16, 2023, https://slaveryandremembrance.org/articles/article/?id=A0128.
3. Robin Law, The English in West Africa: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company of England, 1681-1699: 1681-1683 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
4, 5, 6, 7. Ibid