The Anglo-Ashanti Wars, spanning from the 19th century, was a series of conflicts between the Asante Empire, located in the Akan interior of present-day Ghana, and the British.
The first of the four Anglo-Ashanti wars took place in 1823 and 1831 and was seen by the British as part of their anti-slavery campaign. However, the British forces were defeated, causing a setback to their mission.
The second war occurred between 1863 and 1864 and ended in a stalemate, leaving both sides without a clear victory.
The third war, which took place in 1874, concluded with a peace treaty, giving the British control over the rest of the Gold Coast as a Crown Colony. By 1877, Accra had become the capital of the Crown Colony.
The fourth and final conflict took place between 1894 and 1896, with the British finally emerging victorious.
The Asante were forced to sign a treaty of protection, and the Ashantehene, or King of all Asante, along with other leaders, were exiled. The failed revolt led by Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen-Mother, in 1900, marked the seizure of Asante territory as part of the Crown Colony.
The primary cause of the Anglo-Ashanti wars was the British concern for protecting the coastal people, including the Fante and Accra inhabitants, from Asante incursions.
In 1806, the British abolished slavery on the Gold Coast, which caused bankruptcy for the British African Company of Merchants, who owned the slave forts along the coast.
This abolition of slavery affected the Asante economy, which was heavily reliant on the slave trade. At the height of the trade, 10,000 slaves were being exported from the region annually.
The British took over the forts and expanded their influence into the interior in their anti-slavery campaign. They were also suspicious that the Asante continued to participate in the slave trade. This led to clashes between the British and Asante.
Another dimension of the Anglo-Ashanti wars was the imperial rivalry between the British, who supported the Fante, and the Dutch, who supported the Asante. The later wars were more about the British’s desire to impose control on the Asante, to the point of humiliating them.
Despite the British’s eventual victory in the Anglo-Ashanti wars, it took almost a century from the earliest conflict of 1806-1807 for the colonial power to defeat the Asante Empire, which was a sophisticated, well-organized African state.
The Asante Empire was a union that possessed many consultative and democratic features, although its economy was based on slavery. The Ashantehene, or King of all Asante, shared power with others and was ultimately answerable to his subjects for his leadership of the state.
However, the British colonial and district officers replaced this system, resulting in the Asante losing their sovereignty to colonial rule. Despite this, the Asante remained fiercely proud and independent, winning the respect of the British.
The long history of mutual interaction between the Asante and European powers resulted in the Asante having the greatest amount of historiography in sub-Saharan Africa.
The British regarded the Asante as one of the more civilized African people and meticulously cataloged their religious, familial, and legal systems.
Furthermore, the Asante Empire was known for its impressive military prowess, which was feared by neighboring states. Their skilled use of weapons, including guns, was a source of concern for the British, and they recognized the Asante as formidable adversaries.
The Asante were also known for their craftsmanship, creating intricate gold jewelry, and using Adinkra symbols, which were intricate visual representations of proverbs.
Despite being ultimately defeated by the British, the Asante Empire’s legacy still lives on. Their history and cultural traditions continue to be celebrated, and their contributions to African history and culture are recognized.
The Asante’s ability to maintain their pride and independence in the face of colonization and suppression has earned them a place in African history as one of the continent’s most formidable and resilient peoples.
Earlier Anglo-Ashanti wars
The Anglo- Ashanti Wars were not the first conflicts between the Asante Empire and European powers. The British had been involved in three earlier battles with the Asante, which foreshadowed the larger and more prolonged conflicts of the 19th century.
The Ashanti-Fante War of 1806-1807 began when the Asantehene Osei Bonsu accused some people from Assin of robbing graves.
The Fante gave refuge to the accused, and a British agent representing the African Company of Merchants sheltered the accused grave robbers in the fort at Cape Coast.
After a fierce fight, the British agent made a treaty with the Asante, which included handing over the old, blind Assin king to whom he had given refuge.
The Ga-Fante War of 1811 involved a series of battles between the Asante and their Ga allies against an alliance of the Fante, Akim, and Akwapim tribes. Although the Asante won the main battle, the Akwapim captured a British fort at Tantamkweri and a Dutch fort at Apam.
The Ashanti-Akim-Akwapim War was an expansion of the West African Empire of Ashanti against the alliance of Akim and Akwapim tribes from 1814 until 1816.
In 1814, the Asante, under the leadership of Asantehene Osei Bonsu, defeated the outnumbered yet brave Akim-Akwapim alliance.
However, when they followed up their victory by plundering the city of Accra, instead of attacking the Europeans, they lost a valuable ally in the Ga people.
The coastal people, primarily some of the Fante and the inhabitants of the new town of Accra, who were chiefly Ga, came to rely on British protection against Ashanti incursions.
In 1816, the Asante advanced into Fante country, capturing and killing the fleeing Akim-Akwapim warriors.
They established themselves as overlords of all the region between the Asante and the sea. Local British, Dutch, and Danish authorities were all forced to come to terms with Asante, and in 1817 the African Company of Merchants signed a treaty of friendship that recognized Asante’s claims to sovereignty over large areas of the coast and its peoples.
These earlier conflicts showed that the Asante was a formidable force that European powers could not ignore. It also demonstrated the complex power dynamics and alliances among the different ethnic groups in the region.
Despite the tensions and conflicts, the Asante Empire was a sophisticated, well-organized African state, with consultative and democratic features.
The British regarded the Asante as one of the more civilized African peoples, cataloging their religious, familial, and legal systems.
The long history of mutual interaction between Asante and European powers led to the Asante having the greatest amount of historiography in sub-Saharan Africa.
First of the four Anglo-Ashanti Wars
The First Anglo-Asante War, spanning from 1823 to 1831, was a culmination of years of tension between the British and the Asante Empire.
With the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the profitability of the African Company of Merchants, a major British trading company, was severely affected. In 1821, the company was dissolved, and the British government took over control of the forts along the coast.
Meanwhile, the Asante Empire had grown into a dominant force in the area due to the profits from the slave trade.
As the British extended their influence into the interior, they became increasingly concerned that the Asante were still supplying slaves to other European nations that had not yet outlawed the trade.
This led to serious clashes, which eventually escalated into a full-blown war from 1824 to 1831, making it the first Anglo-Ashanti wars of four.
In 1823, Sir Charles MacCarthy, the British governor, rejected Asante’s claims to Fante areas of the coast and refused overtures to negotiate.
He then led an invading force from Cape Coast, allied with the Fante partly to secure access to the coast for trade and partly because the Asante had good relations with their commercial rivals, the Dutch.
However, the British seriously underestimated the Asante’s power and weaponry, which had been developed with profits from the slave trade.
In the Battle of Nsamankow in 1824, a British expedition was defeated, and MacCarthy was killed, with his head and that of Ensign Wetherall kept as trophies.
Major Alexander Gordon Laing, an explorer, returned to Britain with news of their fate. The Asante continued their campaign and inflicted another defeat on the British at Efutu, but disease forced them back.
Subsequent fighting proved to be even more successful for the Asante. In 1826, they again moved toward the coast and fought impressively in an open battle against superior numbers of British allied forces, including Denkyirans.
However, the British’s use of Congreve rockets caused the Asante army to withdraw.
With no prospect of a quick victory against a formidable opponent and concerns about the cost of the war, the British withdrew to Sierra Leone in 1828 and paid the London Committee of Merchants to maintain the forts.
The British finally managed to reach a peace agreement with the Asante in 1831, with the Pra River being accepted as the border. This treaty marked the end of the first Anglo-Asante War and ushered in 30 years of peace.
Despite their defeat, the Asante Empire remained fiercely proud and independent, and the British came to respect their sophisticated, well-organized state.
In fact, the Asante have the greatest amount of historiography in sub-Saharan Africa, with the British cataloging their religious, familial, and legal systems. This mutual interaction between the Asante and European powers throughout history has left a significant impact on the region.
Second Anglo-Asante War
The peace between Asanteman and the British had been relatively stable for over 30 years after the end of the First Anglo-Asante War in 1831.
However, tensions began to simmer again in 1863 when a large Asante delegation crossed the Pra river in pursuit of a fugitive named Kwesi Gyana. This action provoked a response from the British, leading to a conflict that would come to be known as the Second Anglo-Asante War.
Although there were a few minor skirmishes across the Pra river in the preceding years, the large-scale conflict of 1863-1864 was sparked by the Asante delegation’s crossing.
Despite the outbreak of fighting, the governor’s request for troops from England declined, leading to a drawn-out and difficult conflict. As casualties mounted on both sides, sickness, and disease took a heavy toll, with both the Asante and the British losing more men to illness than any other factor.
Ultimately, the war ended in a stalemate in 1864. Despite the fact that neither side emerged as a clear victor, the conflict had significant implications for both the Asante and the British.
It reinforced the Asante’s reputation for strength and resistance, while also highlighting the limitations of British military power in the region.
The Second Anglo-Asante War would pave the way for further conflicts between the two sides, as tensions continued to simmer beneath the surface.
Third Anglo-Asante War
The Third Anglo-Asante War took place from 1873 to 1874, during which the British, led by Colonel Wolseley, defeated the Asante and briefly occupied their capital, Kumasi.
The war was sparked by the Asante’s invasion of the British protectorate, which they saw as a threat to their access to the sea.
The treaty that ended the war required the Asante to pay an indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold, withdraw their troops from the coast, and terminate their alliances with other states.
However, the Asante were able to rebuild their strength and ignore the conditions of the treaty. The war was modern in its press coverage and use of precise military and medical instructions.
Despite appeals to interfere with British armaments manufacturers who sold to both sides, the British government refused to do so. The war destabilized the region and led to numerous wars that raged for years afterward.
Fourth Anglo-Asante War
The Fourth Anglo-Asante War occurred in 1894 when the British, fearing French and German incursion in Asante territory, sought to conquer the Asanteman once and for all.
The war was triggered by the Asante’s refusal to pay fines imposed on them after the Third Anglo-Asante War.
The British expedition force, led by Sir Francis Scott, arrived in Kumasi in January 1896, and the Asantehene, Agyeman Prempeh, surrendered without resistance.
Governor William Maxwell also arrived in Kumasi, and Robert Baden-Powell led a native levy in the campaign. Agyeman Prempeh was arrested, deposed, and exiled to Seychelles after signing a treaty of protection.
War of the Golden Stool
The War of the Golden Stool was provoked by the demand of the Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, to sit on the Golden Stool, which was considered sacred by the Asante.
Although the British ultimately defeated the Asante, the role of Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen-Mother of Ejisu and other Asante leaders in the revolt, has been debated.
The Ashanti territories became part of the Gold Coast colony in 1902, and the Asantehene was allowed to return in 1926 but not permitted to use the title of Asantehene until 1935.
The Asante empire was incorporated into the Gold Coast, which later became Ghana after independence, but its internal instability is due to tensions between its different constituent tribes.