Dutch Letters from Ghana

Jos Damen tells the stories of two unusual men who lived a century apart in the Dutch colony at Elmina in West Africa; a poet who became a tax inspector and a former slave who argued that slavery did not contradict ideas of Christian freedom.

Flying the flag: Elmina Castle following the Dutch conquest of 1637, an illustration used in the 'Atlas Blaeu-van der Hem'. This is an account of two men, Willem van Focquenbroch and Jacobus Capitein, who lived in different centuries and came from different backgrounds. They might at first appear to have nothing in common but there are similarities between them, and their personal stories offer a particular insight into the Dutch colony on the Gold Coast, now part of modern Ghana, in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Both men were educated at Leiden University and both clashed with the societies in which they lived. These were partly cultural clashes and partly personality conflicts. Both were headstrong individuals who followed their own paths. They were the same age – just 30 – when they died. Van Focquenbroch was a Dutch intellectual who studied theology at Leiden and medicine at Utrecht, became a successful playwright and poet and went to Elmina as a tax collector where he died in 1670. Capitein was born a slave in the area a century after van Focquenbroch. He also became a student at Leiden and argued in his dissertation that slavery was in accordance with the Bible. He later returned to the land of his birth to preach the word of God and died there in 1747.

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