Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast

Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast

Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast

Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast

Synopsis

Severine Brock's first language was Ga, yet it was not surprising when, in 1842, she married Edward Carstensen. He was the last governor of Christiansborg, the fort that, in the eighteenth century, had been the center of Danish slave trading in West Africa. She was the descendant of Ga-speaking women who had married Danish merchants and traders. Their marriage would have been familiar to Gold Coast traders going back nearly 150 years. In Daughters of the Trade, Pernille Ipsen follows five generations of marriages between African women and Danish men, revealing how interracial marriage created a Euro-African hybrid culture specifically adapted to the Atlantic slave trade.

Although interracial marriage was prohibited in European colonies throughout the Atlantic world, in Gold Coast slave-trading towns it became a recognized and respected custom. Cassare, or "keeping house," gave European men the support of African women and their kin, which was essential for their survival and success, while African families made alliances with European traders and secured the legitimacy of their offspring by making the unions official.

For many years, Euro-African families lived in close proximity to the violence of the slave trade. Sheltered by their Danish names and connections, they grew wealthy and influential. But their powerful position on the Gold Coast did not extend to the broader Atlantic world, where the link between blackness and slavery grew stronger, and where Euro-African descent did not guarantee privilege. By the time Severine Brock married Edward Carstensen, their world had changed. Daughters of the Trade uncovers the vital role interracial marriage played in the coastal slave trade, the production of racial difference, and the increasing stratification of the early modern Atlantic world.

Excerpt

Severine Brock was born and raised in Osu, a small town on the Gold Coast. Her first language was Ga, yet it was not surprising when, in 1842, she married Edward Carstensen, the last governor of the Danish Fort Christiansborg. Women in her family had been marrying Danish men for generations. Already by 1800, when Severine’s grandmother married merchant H. C. Truelsen and lived with him in a European-style stone house with storage rooms and cobblestones, it had become a familiar choice for Ga women of a certain status to marry European men. The practice of interracial marriage on the Gold Coast began shortly after Europeans started trading in the area in the seventeenth century and continued in Osu for generations after the official Danish slave trade was abolished in 1803. The practice was called “cassare” or “calisare”—for setting up house—and both the word and the practice were inherited from earlier Portuguese traders in West Africa. When Severine married Edward, she was only about sixteen years old, but she could draw on many generations of experience with Danish language and culture, and on a hybrid Ga-Danish culture with deep historical roots in Osu as well as in the larger world of the Atlantic slave trade.

This book is the story of the century and a half that preceded Severine Brock’s marriage to Edward Carstensen; of six generations of Ga families in Accra marrying their daughters to Danish men at Christiansborg. The story begins in the early eighteenth century, when Christiansborg became the headquarters for the Danish slave trade in West Africa, continues over the course of the century, and ends in 1850, when the fort was sold to the British. It traces the changing power dynamics of the Atlantic world. It shows how the increasing strength of the European colonial system shaped individual lives and families of West African and European slave traders, and how the spatial organization and the material culture of these families shifted in a . . .

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