17th Century Swedish Gold Coast: A Nordic Colony in Africa

A Swedish colony in Ghana? We are quite familiar with Africa’s dark colonial past, which was primarily shaped by the British and the French. Little do most people know that the Swedes, famed seafarers of the North, also built a colony on the Gulf of Guinea, in what is now modern-day Ghana, in pursuit of achieving the “Swedish Gold Coast” dream. In this article, allow me introduce you this short-lived Scandinavian colony in Africa, which remains hidden in the dusty pages of history.

It is not a commonly known historical fact that there had once been a Swedish Colonial Empire. Unlike other European colonizers, such as Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, the overseas colonies of the Swedes were smaller and fewer.

A 17th century map of the Gulf of Guinea (commons.wikimedia.org)

The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast was a historical region in West-Africa which was fought over by many European empires and kingdoms. Like the name alludes, the Gold Coast was extermely valuable due an abundance of gold resources. The earliest European settelers arrived in West-Africa in the mid-15th century and they established many forts, trade posts and ports on the lands they set foot on, which started the colonial era.

The nations that ruled the Gold Coast are as follows:

  • The Portuguese Gold Coast (1482–1642)
  • The Dutch Gold Coast (1598–1872)
  • The Swedish Gold Coast (1650–1658; 1660–1663)
  • The Danish Gold Coast (Denmark-Norway, 1658–1850)
  • The Brandenburger Gold Coast and Prussian Gold Coast (Germans, 1682–1721)
  • The British Gold Coast (1821–1957)

The Swedish Gold Coast

The Swedish Gold Coast colony (SwedishSvenska Guldkusten) was founded in the year of 1650 by Hendrik Carloff (Karloff). This short-lived colony lasted only 13 years and changed hands in April 1663, when the Swedish Gold Coast was overthrown by Denmark and turned into the Danish Gold Coast.

The Swedish Gold Coast consisted of the following establishments:

Fort Carlsborg / photo by Rjruiziii (commons.wikimedia.org)
A drawing of Christiansborg Castle (commons.wikimedia.org)

The story of this Swedish colony starts a year prior to its inhabitance with the foundatition of the Swedish Africa Company by Dutch entrepreneur, Louis De Geerin, in 1649. Subsequently in the year 1650, an expedition crew was sent to the Gulf of Guinea under the command of sailor-adventurer, Hendrick Carloff. Upon disembarking at the Gold Coast, he made a deal with the king of the Akan people, the natives of the area who now inhabit modern day Ghana, and purchased vasts lands. On the day of April 22nd, 1650, the Swedish Gold Coast was founded and Hendrick Carloff became its first governor.

6 years later, in 1656, Johan Filip von Krusenstierna (brother of the famous Baltic-German admiral-explorer, Adam Johann von Krusenstern, who had led the first circumnavgiation of the globe under the Russian monarchy) was assigned as the governor of the Swedish Gold Coast. Carloff, having been diminished in status and authority was incensed and left the colony. Only 2 years later, he came back to the Gulf of Guinea, sided with the Danes, and siezed Fort Carlsborg ,which had been the prime spot of timber and gold trade.

This was among the pivotal reasons for King Charles X Gustav of Sweden waging a war on Denmark. After the bloody war, which caused 7000 casulties just on the Swedish side, the Treaty of Copenhagen was signed in 1660 which granted the siezed castle back to Sweden. However, it was found out that before the treaty, one of Carloff’s companions, named Samuel Schmidt (or Smith), had already sold the colony in April 1659 to the Dutch West India Company and had run away with a huge sum of gold.

A drawing depicting the Second Northern War between Sweden and the allies Denmark-Poland (wikipedia.org)

In subsequent months, local tribes rose up against the new owners of the colony, which resulted in them offering the land back to Sweden. In December 1660, the Swedish soverignty sent a new expedition party to the Gold Coast and settled in it only for a short time. On 20 April 1663, Fort Carlsborg and the capital of the colony, Fort Christiansborg, were once again seized by the Danes after a long defense by the Swedes under Commander Anton Voss.

Over the next several years, the Gold Coast was ruled by the Danes, Germans, Prussians and the British, until it became the Republic of Ghana in 1957.