"We Shall Rejoice to See the Day When Slavery Shall Cease to Exist": The Gold Coast Times, the African Intelligentsia, and Abolition in the Gold Coast1

Article excerpt

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The articulation of antislavery among Africans remains to be studied. Overall, the staple of animated questions, debates, and conclusions of the vast literature on abolition of slavery in the last two decades or so has neglected African contributions of ideologies of antislavery to the global abolition epoch in the Atlantic world.2 Charting a new trajectory for the study of abolition in Africa, as well as the global abolition epoch, this study examines the ideologies of antislavery among Africans as expressed in the Gold Coast Times (Cape Coast) during the heyday of the British abolition of slavery in the Gold Coast in 1874-75.3 The study, echoing African agency, reveals the manifest presence of the African intelligentsia abolitionists in the late nineteenth-century Gold Coast.4 The origin and timing of the African intelligentsia's antislavery attitudes in the Gold Coast are not made known in the sources. However, the sources do reveal that antislavery flowered in the littoral region between Elmina and Accra, the hub of precolonial intellectual activities, political activism, and diffusion of cultures, linked to the larger Atlantic world.5

Overall, I argue that antislavery existed among the African intelligentsia and that they articulated their ideologies of antislavery in several ways, both on the eve of the British colonial abolition of slavery and in its immediate aftermath.6 The study is divided into four main parts. The first section problematizes the sources and addresses some methodological considerations; For its part, the second portion interrogates the comparative historiography on abolition, while the third section conceptualizes the African intelligentsia abolitionists and their association with the Gold Coast Times, the main platform for the African intelligentsia's espousal of ideologies of antislavery. Divided into two parts, the final section examines the African intelligentsia's articulation of antislavery both before and after the inauguration of abolition by the colonial state.

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Writing in 1964 about abolitionism and African political thought, George Shepperson sounded a cautionary note that the "influence of the abolitionist epoch on African political thought poses many problems which can only be answered assuredly after much further research."7 Shepperson enunciated the probable effects of the epochal abolition of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on continental African ideologies of liberation.8 More important, he posed the question of whether the abolitionist thought of diasporic Africans had influenced continental African political thought.9 With regard to the issue of abolition, Shepperson's question has remained unanswered in nearly forty years.

Unlike other regions of the Atlantic world, several factors explain why African ideologies of antislavery have not been empirically studied or theorized. First, despite the popular reverberations of African agency carefully encoded in prefaces and introductions, hegemonic histories and obscurantist theorizing still inform the writing of African history, especially the institution of slavery and its abolition, colonial rule, and the problems of postcolonial Africa.10 Thus, the effusive genres that seek to give voice to the subalterns still bear the redoubtable scars of Eurocentrism. second, excepting a few studies, the intellectual history of much of Africa, including that of the Gold Coast, is yet to be fully studied.11 At best, the available studies offer variations of the same theme: all trace the institutional evolution of the littoral intelligentsia and their visceral attachment to the European presence.12 Thus the historiography lacks systematic accounts of the ideologies of the African intelligentsia-the opinion leaders and a pressure group in the colonial setting-based on their writings, collective biographies, family histories, genealogies, and the local newspapers which they patronized.13

Abolition of slavery in Africa coincided with colonial rule, and this has resulted in submerging the study of abolition under African resistance to colonial rule. …