John Faber, William Ansa Sasraku, mezzotint after a painting by Gabriel Mathias (died 1803)

London, 1749

The Akwamu, Denkyira, Akim and Fanti people of what is now Ghana were involved throughout the eighteenth century in wars to control trading links with Europeans on the coast. In the mid-century the king of the Akwamu, Nana Ansa Sasraku, came to dominate a vast stretch of land from Denkyira to the Accra plains. To consolidate his power, Sasraku knew that effective communication was needed with the main trading partners - the Europeans. Sasraku realised that he needed a trusted English-speaking mediator and so arranged for his son to be educated in England.

The British sea captain to whom Prince William Ansa Sesraku was entrusted took him instead to Barbados and sold him into slavery. Luckily for the prince, his father's control of West African trade was important enough for the young man to be retrieved and taken to London as promised. The prince was the toast of the town and his story was told in prints, poems, newspaper reports and a book entitled The Royal African.

The European trade in African slaves began in the sixteenth century in order to service sugar plantations in Brazil and later the Caribbean. By the mid-eighteenth century sugar was the most valuable import into England. The plantations required large numbers of strong manual workers who could withstand a hot, humid climate. Slaves had long been high-status possessions in Africa and Europe and the presence of exotically dressed black attendants in many portraits demonstrates the continuation of this attitude. But on the plantations they were treated with systematic cruelty.

(With thanks to Otoobour Djan Kwasi II and Adelaide Adu-Amankwah)

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Height: 328.000 mm
Width: 225.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1902-10-11-1867


Bequeathed by William Eaton, 2nd Baron Cheylesmore


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