The Journal of African History

Research Article

The Ashanti Question and the British: Eighteenth-Century Origins

Margaret Priestley

One of the major developments in West Africa since the later seventeenth century has been the emergence of the powerful inland Empire of Ashanti and its gradual expansion towards the coast. This process ultimately brought the Ashantis into contact with the Fantes, the conquest of whom was necessary if the Empire was to extend to the sea. Their relationship, therefore, forms a central theme in the history of the Gold Coast in modern times. But problems were created by it which extended far outside the bounds of native politics. The existence on the coast of European trading settlements in close rivalry with each other meant that any serious local upheaval was bound to have wide repercussions. For economic reasons, Europeans could not remain indifferent to changes in the balance of power which would affect trade routes from the interior to the forts and, in particular, the future of the Fante states whose people, by the eighteenth century, had long acted as middlemen in the slave trade.