Slavers in the family: What a castle in Accra reveals about Ghana’s history

As a Ghanaian archaeologist, I have been conducting research at Christiansborg Castle in Accra, Ghana. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the castle is a former 17th-century trading post, colonial Danish and British seat of government, and office of the president of the Republic of Ghana. Today, it’s known in local parlance as simply “Osu Castle” or “The Castle.”

My research is the first archaeological excavation of the castle. I became interested in the history of the castle when several years ago, my aunt remarked: Go to the castle and see your surname inscribed on the castle wall.

I was confused. The story I’d grown up with was that my family — the Engmanns — descended from a Danish Christian missionary stationed on the coast. As I discovered after taking my aunt’s advice, there was a great deal that I did not know.

When visiting the castle, I noted a water cistern in the courtyard inscribed with the name “Carl Gustav Engmann.” This led me to the Danish National Archives, where I studied boxes of archival manuscripts written by Engmann. What I learned during this early part of my exploration was that Engmann — my great-great-great-great-great grandfather — was in fact a governor of Christiansborg Castle from 1752 to 1757. He later became a board member of the Danish Slave Trading organization between 1766 and 1769.

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