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The Companies and the Slave Trade

The West India Cy

Vestindisk Kompagni

The British Companies

Colony and Independence

The Ashanti





GHANA WAS FIRST VISITED BY PORTUGUESE TRADERS IN 1472 AND THROUGH THE 17th century was used by various European powers - England, Denmark, Holland, Germany - as a center for their slave trade. Britain achieved control of the Gold Coast in 1821 and in 1850 bought the danish settlement. In 1874 the dutch settlements were also bought. In 1874 the joint settlements were named Gold Coast Colony. In 1901 Britain annexed the neighbouring Ashanti Kingdom and in the same year a northern region known as the Northern Territories became a British protectorate. Part of the former German colony of Togoland was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations and administered as part of the Gold Coast. The state of Ghana, comprising the Gold Coast and British Togoland, obtained independence on 6th of March 1957 becoming the first Negro African colony to do so. On 1st of July 1960 Ghana adopted a republican constitution, changing from a ministerial to a presidential form of government. The government was overthrown, the constitution suspended and the National Assembly dissolved by the Ghanaian army and police on 26th of Feb. 1966. The government was retruned to civilian authority in Oct. 1969. but was again seized by military officers in a bloodless coup on 13th of Jan. 1972. Ghana remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, with executes authority vested in the Supreme Military Council.



The story of Ghanese heraldry is mainly the story of the heraldry of the European traders and colonizators, their local Ashanti counterparts in the slave trade remaining for the time being out of sight for lack of data.


The Companies and the Slave Trade


The Chartered West India Company


Cypher of the ‘Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie’


Print of the Seal of the West India Company, 1623.


 (Algemeen Rijksarchief, Den Haag)


The Dutch West India Company, (the ‘Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie’, chartered 1621), had some settlements along the West African Coast. Amongst them was Fort Elmina, today in Ghana, captured from the Portuguese, which was the main centre of its slave trade. In the fort the slaves, provided by local princes, were stored before being shipped to the America’s. The place was bought by the British in 1874.

The cypher of the Company consisted of the letters G W and C. On the seal and in the arms of the Company was a sailing vessel.

The Company was liquidated in 1792 and it possessions transferred to the government of the Republic.


Photo: Leo Platvoet

The arms of the Dutch Republic (1792)

Above the entrance of Elmina Castle (Ghana)


A seal for the colony of Guinea has been preserved. It shows the seal of the Batavian Republic, adopted in 1796, and the legend BATAAFSCHE REPUBLIEK   GUINEA.[1]


Seal of Guinea (after 1796). (KPK)


The Danish West India Company


The Danish West India Company or Danish West India-Guinea Company (Danish: Vestindisk kompagni or Det Vestindisk-Guineiske kompagni) was a Danish chartered company that exploited colonies in the Danish West Indies, the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix (today’s United States Virgin Islands) and the Danish Gold Coast in present-day Ghana. The Virgin Islands were for a good two hundred years a Danish colony. The Danes settled on St. Thomas around 1670, on St. John in 1718, and on St. Croix in 1733.


The Vestindisk kompagni was established March 11, 1671, and from August 30, 1680, became known as Det Vestindisk-Guineiske kompagni.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the company flourished on the triangle trade, trading on the gold coast for slaves that were then traded for molasses and rum in the West Indies. Until 1754 the company itself was responsible for the colony, but this changed when the Danish government 'Chamber of Revenues' took over the administration.

On 24th of August 1754 the Danish government proclaimed that the company should be changed into the Rentekammeret Vestindisk-guineisk renteskriverkontor on the 28th of November 1754.

From 1760 to 1848, the governing body was known as Vestindisk-guineiske rente- og generaltoldkammer. This led to a brief establishment of Det Guineiske kompagni via Royal resolution of March 18, 1765, to maintain the trade with the Danish Gold Coast colonies. In November, they received both the fort Christiansborg (today the seat of the Ghanese government) and Fredensborg for 20 years; however, the company never received trade monopoly, like the previous West India Company had. The trade remained free for all Danish, Norwegian, Schleswig and Holstein companies.

In the mid 1770s, the company had so much financial trouble that it was liquidated on November 22, 1776. In expectation of this, the Danish government had already retaken control of the granted forts from August-September 1775.


The coat of arms of the company consisted of the letters K, D, V, W, C, and an elephant in chief, on a shield crowned with a crown of five leaves. This coat of arms can be seen on a map from 1740 but may be a phantasy of the dutch engraver of the map because the letters from the cypher are the first letters of the name of the company in dutch: Koninklijke Deense Verenigde Westindische Compagnie. [2]) The elephant is probably the elephant of the Danish Elephantenorden (1462, renewed 1693).

After the liquidation of the company the arms of the Danish chancellery were used. These consisted at first of a shield parted per pale of Denmark and Norway with a base of  the Union of Kalmar (i.e. Sweden) and later, after the secession of Norway in 1814, of the crowned arms of Denmark only.



The Royal African Company and the African Company


The Royal African Company was a slaving company set up by the Stuart family and London merchants once the former retook the English throne in the English Restoration of 1660. It was led by James, Duke of York, Charles II's brother.

Originally known as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa, it was chartered by James II. Slaves were branded with the company's initials, RAC, on their chests.

Between 1672 and 1689 it transported around 90,000–100,000 slaves. Its profits made a major contribution to the increase in the financial power of those who controlled London.



Jack of the Royal Africa Company  (‘Guinea Jack’) (Timothy Wilson/Phil Nelson) [3])


Fragment of British flag, possibly from Fort Cormantijn, 1665, and reconstruction.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, inv.nr. NR 208.  [4] )


In 1698, it lost its monopoly. This was advantageous for merchants in Bristol, even if, like the Bristolian Edward Colston, they had already been involved in the Company. The number of slaves transported on English ships then increased dramatically.

The Royal African Company's arms depicted an elephant and castle.The achievement was:


Arms: An elephant with a castle on his back flying thereof the red ensign, and a canton quarterly of a fleur de lys and a lion passant guardant

Crest: A crown of three leaves and two pearls, issuing therefrom the anchor of the Royal Navy per pale, between two wings Argent charged with a cross Gules, being the crest of London.

Supporters: Two negroes with feather-crowns, keeping in their exterior hands a bundle of arrows points downwards, and dressed in skirts.


š see illustration in the head of this section.


From 1668 to 1722 the Royal African Company provided gold to the English Mint. Coins made with this gold bear an elephant below the bust of the king and/or queen. This gold also gave the coinage its name - the guinea.


The company continued slaving until 1731, when it abandoned slaving in favour of trafficking in ivory and gold dust. Charles Hayes (1678-1760), mathematician and chronologist was sub-governor of Royal African Company till 1752 when it was dissolved. Its successor was the African Company.

The achievement of the African Company was [5]):


Foto Ebay


Arms: Argent, on waves of the sea, a frigate under full sail proper; and a chief Azure, charged with a cornucopia on the dexter and a beehive encircled by eight bees on the sinister, all Or.

Crest: An elephant saddled with a castle from which flows the english Ensign of St. George.

Supporters: D.: An Indian dressed in straw-skirt and a headgear of feathers, armed with bow and arrows; on the sinister a negro dressed in loincloth, a mask of an elephant’s head as a headgear, in his left hand a snake, all proper.


The dexter supporter symbolizes America, the sinister supporter Africa as the (slave) trade was between Africa and America.


Colony and Independence



Badge of the Colony


The badge of the colony after 1874 was circular and showed, like the badges of the other West-African colonies, an elephant on a plain with mountains in the distance and a palm-tree on the background. For the Gold Coast Colony the letters G.C. were added in base.


After the Second World War, to meet the unrest in the colony, a Joint Provincial Council  was set up in 1947 by the British, which, however was manned with people sympathizing with British rule. After fierce political struggle, selfgovernment was achieved in 1951 under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. The Provincial Council was maintained but other people took the places of the former members.



Emblem of the Joint Provincial Council


For the Joint Provincial Council an emblem was used consisting of a picture of an Asjanti head-stool on which were laid three ceremonial swords, symbols of power. In front of the stool was a chain of three links.


Even before the proclamation of independence a coat of arms was granted by Queen Elizabeth II on the 1st of March 1957. It was:


Arms: Azure, a cross Or, voided Vert, charged with a lion passant guardant Or; in the first a sword and a staff in saltire Or; in the second a borough Argent on a rock Or, and on a base barry wavy Azure and Argent of four pieces; in the third on a base Vert a cocoa-tree proper; in the fourth on a base Vert, a gold-mine proper.

Crest: On a wreath Or, Vert and Gules, a five-pointed star Sable, edged Or.

Supporters: Two eagles, wings desplayed Or, armed Gules, around their necks a ribbon Gules-Or-Vert and pending therefrom a five-pointed star Sable, edged Or.

Motto: freedom and justice, in red lettering on a golden ribbon.

Compartment: A grassy ground proper.


š See illustration in the head of this essay.


The sword and staff symbolizes the native administration, the castle stands for Osu-castle, the former Fort Christiansborg, and the seat of todays’ National Government. The cocoa-tree represents the main crop of the country and the gold-mine the wealth of the nation. The lion passant is for the british past and the black star symbolizes Aftrican Freedom.


The Ashanti


The Ashanti empire was in the centre of the southern part of today’s Ghana. It existed from the 17th century until 1901 when it was annexed by the British. The former empire is today the province of Ashanti with Kumasi as its capital.



To give an impression what Ashanti heraldry could have been, I give here a picture of a modern Ghanese crown, preserved in the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam.



Ashanti Golden Stool


Much of Ashanti state symbolism is concentrated around the Ashanti Golden Stool.


š en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asante_royal_thrones


For some pictures of modern Ghanese princes see: Lainé, Daniel: African Kings (Berkeley/Toronto 2000) pp. 90-99.


See also:



Trinidad and Tobago

American Virgin Islands



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© Hubert de Vries 2008.05.26 Updated 2009-11-04 / 2014-05-31




[1] ) Felhoen Kraal, J.: Wapens en Zegels van Suriname. Uitg. van het Indisch Instituut. Amsterdam, 1950. 31pp. 30 ill.. Afb. 24.        

[2] ) Ioannes van Keulen, De Nieuwe Groote Lightende Zee-Fakkel, vol. 4, Amsterdam, 1740. The map gives the situation of the Virgin Islands in 1719.

[3] ) Wilson, Timothy: Flags at Sea. National Maritime Museum Greenwich, 1986. p. 36. CRWFlags.

[4] ) Brandhof, Marijke van den: Vlaggen, vaandels & standaarden van het Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1977.

[5] ) Clericus, Ludwig: Aussereuropäische Wappen. In: Der Deutsche Herold, 1879, p. 46 & Taf. XIII. The achievement on gold ackey coins issued by the Company. 1750-1818. The legend on these coins reads: FREE TRADE TO AFRICA BY ACT OF  PARLIAMENT . 1750.  Picture retrieved from Ebay internet

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