18 August 1661: Remembering Christiansborg

Three hundred and sixty years ago, on 18 August 1661, Mantse Okaikoi sold the land on which the slave trading fort first named Christiansborg, which we call Osu Castle, now stands

On this day in history . . .


On 18 August 1661 Mantse Okaikoi of the Ga people of Accra signed an agreement with Jost Cramer, the Danish governor of Fredericksborg, a European settlement near Cape Coast, exchanging the land now called Osu Christiansborg for 3,200 gold florins.

Okaikoi – a celebrated warrior who founded the Akwashong, the supreme military command of the Ga-Dangme peoples – sold to the Danes not only use of the land on which they built the nucleus of Osu Castle, but also use of the adjoining beaches.

Eventually betrayed by his own generals in a battle against the Akwamus, who were repeatedly raiding Accra in their quest for land and wealth, Okaikoi took his own life.

Many of his followers migrated to Anecho and Little Popo. Others moved out of Accra to settle with relatives living further along the coast in the areas we know as the Central and Western Regions.

At the same time, trade between those who stayed behind and various European trading companies grew, turning the quarter of Accra known as Ga Mashie into a thriving and cosmopolitan community.

A stone fort called Christian

Before the 1650s the land where Christiansborg now stands had been under the control of a Swedish trading delegation led by the Dutch trader Henry Caerlof. In 1652, with permission from their business partner Okaikoi, the Swedes built a mud-brick lodge on the site and began to use it as their main trading base east of Cape Coast.

Control of the site soon passed to Holland, which in turn lost it in 1663 to the Danish West India-Guinea Company, the firm seeking to establish a Danish-Norwegian protectorate on the coast (Norway at that time was a colony of Denmark).

In 1659 the Danes built a small stone fort on the site, naming it Christiansborg (“Christian’s fortress”) after Christian IV, the longest-reigning of all the Scandinavian kings, who had died in 1648 after being on the throne for nearly 60 years.

It was the beginning of the Danish presence in Accra, and the eventual colonisation of the whole ocean-facing belt of land known as the Gold Coast.

Initially the fort was a centre for the trade in gold and ivory but by the late 17th century trading in slaves had become its principal business.

Christiansborg came under the control of varying interests at various times – the Swedes, the Danes, the Portuguese, the Akwamus, the British, the Gold Coasters and finally Ghanaians.

In 1679 the land changed hands and became Portuguese. The Portuguese build a Catholic chapel, fortified the bastions and renamed the site Fort São Francis Xavier. In 1683 the Portuguese sold the fort back to the Danes. Between 1685 and 1689 it was mortgaged back to the British.

In 1693 the fort was seized by Assamani, the legendary Akwamu warrior, after he entered the premises under the guise of working as a cook for the Danish traders.

The following year Assamani sold the fort back to the Danes but kept the keys to the castle. They remain part of the ancestral Akwamu stool property.

Mission schools

Over the next century, the fort grew to become a structure roughly four times the size of the old stone building as the local European traders grew in power and influence. However, after Denmark abolished the slave trade in 1792 (not enforced officially until 1803), trading through Christiansborg slumped.

Assamani's keys to Christiansborg
Assamani captured the keys to Christiansborg in 1693. They remain part of the Akwamu stool property. Photograph: Rachel Engmann

The first Basel Mission girls’ school on the Gold Coast was founded in the grounds of Christiansborg in 1843 by Catherine Elisabeth Mulgrave (known after her marriage to the German philologist Johannes Zimmermann as Catherine Mulgrave-Zimmermann).

Born “Gewe” in Luanda to an Angolan prince and a Christian Euro-African woman called Sophina, Catherine was enslaved and despatched as cargo on a slave ship bound for the Caribbean in 1833. When the ship was wrecked off the coast of Jamaica she escaped and was eventually rebaptised by the English colonial governor of Jamaica, the Earl of Mulgrave.

She joined a party of 24 Jamaican Moravian missionaries sent to the Gold Coast in 1843 to evangelise the people. She was the first woman to work actively as a teacher in the territory of the Gold Coast, and is the symbolic mother of generations of trained and professional women in Ghana.

In 1850 the Danes sold all their Gold Coast possessions – including Christiansborg, five other forts and their plantations in the Akuapem Hills – to the British for £10,000. In 1862 the fort’s upper floors were badly damaged in an earthquake but these were rebuilt.

In 1873 it became the seat of British governance in Accra and in 1876 it became the headquarters of the colonial government of the Gold Coast when the British moved the capital from Cape Coast to Accra.

Multifaceted past

From 1890 onwards the colonial authorities used Christiansborg as a constabulary mess and psychiatric asylum. It became the seat of the colonial government again in 1902.

On 28 February 1948, three ex-servicemen who had served in the West African Frontier Force during the Second World War were shot dead by troops under British command as they marched towards Christiansborg Crossroads to demand more generous demobilisation terms from the colonialists.

The incident triggered riots and a boycott of European-manufactured goods, and was a catalyst to the burgeoning Gold Coast independence movement.

On independence in 1957 Christiansborg was renamed Government House. It continued to be the seat of governance as Ghana became a republic in 1960 and remained so through the next 50 years.

It was not until 2009 that President John Agyekum Kufuor moved the seat of the head of state from Christiansborg to the site previously known as Flagstaff House, now dominated by Jubilee House, the new, imposing building that is home to the Office of the President in Accra.

The Christiansborg Archaeological Heritage Project is excavating the Castle site. For more information visit:

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