The Grand Slave Emporium

The Grand Slave Emporium : Cape Coast Castle and the British Slave Trade

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For 143 years, Cape Coast Castle on the 'Gold Coast' of present-day Ghana was, in the words of one of its governors, the 'Grand Emporium' of the British slave trade. From this pretty, whitewashed, building perched on a rocky outcrop on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, British slave merchants bought African men, women, and children to be sent to the West Indies, to North America, and elsewhere in the New World. This fortress, now a UNESCO world heritage site, stained with a history that has affected the whole world, is the subject of this remarkable book. For those able to visit the Castle much of the experience is still as it was during the slaving era. However, to understand its extraordinary history, the main travelling must always take place in the imagination. William St Clair tells the story of the Castle and of the people who spent part of their lives within its walls, men, women, and children, Europeans, Africans, free and enslaved - these last listed in the Castle's books just as M., W., B., G. (standing for Men, Women, Boys, Girls). Three million of them passed through this and nearby fortresses. Drawing on an extraordinary, largely unpublished and unused archive, often still stained with sea water, William St Clair enables readers to appreciate its unique claim on the collective memory of the modern world.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 136 x 218 x 32mm | 557.93g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • Main
  • 1861979045
  • 9781861979049
  • 2,706,500

About William St. Clair

William St Clair is a Senior Research Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. His books include Lord Elgin and the Marbles, The Godwins and the Shelleys and, most recently, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. At the end of a Civil Service career he was under-secretary with responsibility for Treasury control of the Civil Service. He lives in London and Cambridge.
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Review quote

Here is an extraordinary story: the grotesqueness of African slavery sitting cheek by jowl with a God-fearing European brutality ... The great strength of St Clair's narrative is to make these ancient walls speak for the armies of the dead, black and white, whose precarious lives were bounded and imprisoned by the castle's culture. Cape Coast Castle survives as a reminder of the grim story of Atlantic slavery, brilliantly reconstructed here in an utterly novel and affecting way. -- James Walvin * University of York * fascinating... [a] truly thought-provoking book -- Noel Malcolm * Sunday Telegraph Seven * St Clair's cool eye dwells on the details that provide the monument's bizarre nad haunting resonance ... [he] shines a light at the heart of the shame. * Economist * Anyone reading William St Clair's superb book will feel astonished, and perhaps ashamed, at the hugely profitable slaving enterprise in this country - not so long ago - with which The Grand Slave Emporium confronts us. -- Jonathan Mirsky * Literary Review * St Clair delivers a series of small-scale, human tragedies which paint a clear picture of how vital and mysterious this 'trading post' was ... If only all historical analysis were this measured and, more importantly, this entertaining. -- David Jenkins * Time Out * A most original and remarkable book ... St Clair catches for us the sense of actually being there at the time as witnesses. * African Business * A work of superb scholarly detection, The Grand Slave Emporium anticipates the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade in 2007, and does so with a fitting dignity. -- Ian Thomson * Guardian * An absorbing study of an ugly but crucial swathe of British history. -- Nina Caplan * Metro * This timely book gives a lively perspective to that odious commerce ...[it] is like a television documentary where the governors, the slavers and the African chiefs talk, without a camera-hugging presenter. -- Graham Gendall Norton * History Today * St Clair opens a rare archive in the Public Record Office to give an account of British slavers and their suppliers in Africa. It's an admirable, succinct work of historical research, and tells its appalling story stoically to great effect. -- Marina Warner, Times Literary Supplement * Books of the Year * Vividly recreates the horrors of the slave trade which operated from Cape Coast Castle on the Ghanaian coast, drawing on a newly discovered archive. -- Jane Ridley, Spectator * Books of the Year * A powerful, well-written book which raises hard questions about the African slave trade. By allowing the records of the castle to tell their own strange, contrary and horrifying story, the reader is brought close to a time and place of monumental tragedy. Everyone who is interested in the workings of the human heart and the divided self should read this. * Lorna Goodison * [A] rare historical account that manages to provide us with a story that is both sensitively modulated in its humanity and yet unflinching in speaking about things that often invoke horror, pain and a great deal of bewilderment. It is well informed and exquisitely written. -- Ato Quayson, Author of Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process? In a deeply researched and engagingly written account of Cape Coast Castle and its environs in present-day Ghana, award-winning biographer William St Clair has recreated the 'life' and traced the evolution of the 'grand emporium' of the British slave trade from its beginnings in the seventeenth century, through its history as a site of misery for untold numbers of enslaved Africans, to its present status as site of memory for their descendants. Using manuscript evidence as well as published records, St Clair has recovered the voices and identities of scores of people who left Africa through the Castle's 'door of no return', and of those Europeans and Africans who profited by forcing them through it. The result is an elegantly constructed and balanced reconstruction of the Castle and its inhabitants. -- Vincent Carretta, Author of Equiano the African
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