In 1682, the Margrave of Brandenburg founded the colony of Gross-Friedrichsburg on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. The Germans were seriously going to take up the slave trade.
The Brandenburg navigator, Major Otto Friedrich von der Gröben, set foot on African land in triumph – to the beat of a drum. And the very next day, from specially brought building materials, the Germans began to build a fortress, over which then for several decades the Brandenburg flag proudly fluttered – a red eagle on a white background.
The power of the great elector
And the man, in whose head this colonialist matured idea, was at that time in distant Europe: Elector Frederick Wilhelm I of Brandenburg, who ascended the throne in 1640 after the end of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), zealously set about restoring the impoverished country. And for this, he needed money, money, and more money. And in Africa, they could be found: the slave trade flourished and brought natural financial fruits to the states actively involved.
Brandenburg had no intention of establishing its complete control over the coast where the colony finds. Yes, they would not have been allowed to do this by the stronger powers at that time. The plans of Friedrich Wilhelm and his associates were simple: to quickly make money on the sale of slaves, and at the same time to open their own, so to speak, trade office in Africa.
In honor of their master, the Brandenburgers named the fortress they founded Groß Friedrichsburg. To win the friendly disposition and loyalty of the Africans, they brought cheap goods with them and entered into agreements with the locals one after another on a (supposedly!) Mutually beneficial basis. And the fortress served the Europeans as reliable protection from all who opposed the new rule of the Brandenburg flag.
People are like cattle
For several years, “live goods” were caught in the territory of modern Ghana. The sale of African prisoners of war into slavery was also ordinary. Slaves transported by sea to America.
The surgeon Johann Peter Oettinger served in the fortress of Gross-Friedrichsburg and witnessed the sad events. Here is how he reported what he saw: “One rebellious slave beat with a rope until his body completely covers with deep scars, and blood poured onto the ground.”
Oettinger, of course, worried about those unfortunates whose fate was a foregone conclusion, but in the end, he was part of the system. His task was to monitor the health of the slaves on the way to America so that decent money could obtain for them in the market. “My heart sank when I saw that people were treated like cattle,” the doctor recalled.
Reasons for failure
Brandenburg’s “successes” in the slave trade were very modest. In 1693, the ship “Friedrich Wilhelm,” transporting slaves to America, was sunk by the French way back.
About 90 people permanently in Gross-Friedrichsburg suffered from a tropical climate and rapidly spreading epidemics. Among other things, the Germans in Africa had much more experienced and financially wealthy competitors: the Portuguese, the British, the Dutch, the Danes. The Brandenburg colony soon found itself on the brink of utter ruin.
End of Gross-Friedrichsburg
A little more than thirty years after its foundation, the fortress of Gross-Friedrichsburg and other possessions of the Margrave of Brandenburg in Africa sold to Holland. However, the Dutch were hardly happy with the purchase: the local African leader remained loyal to Brandenburg and, not knowing about the sale, for several years. Stubbornly defended Gross-Friedrichsburg from its new owners. When the Dutch finally forced him to flee, he patriotically took the Brandenburg flag with him.
For some time, the Dutch banner developed over the fortress; then, the British replaced it. Only in 1957 was the independence of the Gold Coast proclaimed. The new state was named Ghana and almost immediately accepted into the UN.
In 1979, the ruins of the Gross-Friedrichsburg fortress were included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.