October 17, 1816: Philip Quaque, first African to be ordained by the Anglican Church, dies in Cape Coast

Born in 1741,Kweku (Quaicoe, Quaque) was one of three Fante children taken to England for education by a missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1754. British merchants were well-established at Cape Coast castle when Quaque was born. When he was a child, Anglican missionaries under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) began to expand their efforts in Gold Coast, eventually with an eye to recruit African missionaries. With help from family connections, the SPG chose to send Quaque to London for schooling in religious and missionary work.

Of the three children, Thomas Cobbers died in 1758, while William Cudjoe suffered a mental breakdown and died in 1766. Kweku fared better. The two brothers were baptised at St Mary's Church, Islington on 7 January 1759, which they had attended for four years. Kweku took the name Philip. In London, he studied theology and in 1765 was ordained in the Church of England. Phillip Quaque was the first African to be ordained as a minister of the Church of England. The same year, he married Catherine Blunt, an English woman, and the two returned to Cape Coast the following year.

The Royal African Company employed Quaque as the chaplain at Cape Coast Castle. He set up a small school in his own house, "especially for the training of Mulatto children who were growing in large numbers" and attempted to work as a missionary, but having forgotten most of his native tongue, Fante, he was unable to make any conversions and experienced difficulty connecting with the natives. His wife died within a year of their arrival at Cape Coast. He married twice more, these times to African women, and in 1784 sent his two children for education in London.

Because of his African heritage and English training, Quaque stood at the intersection of two different cultural, religious, and racial worlds.

Quaque is remembered for his influence on both early Christian missions and schooling in Gold Coast. He corresponded with Anglican officials, laypeople, politicians, and other people of African descent around the Atlantic, and much of that writing has been preserved. In spite of his many letters to the SPG, the only wrote back to him three times over the five he worked in Cape Coast. During this period, he worked to promote the Anglican faith in the Gold Coast. Unfortunately, he faced numerous setbacks in his efforts. Many locals were happy to listen to missionaries as long as they gave out food and drink, but were not interested in converting to Christianity. Quaque was not regularly compensated by either the SPG or the merchant group that ran Cape Coast castle, so he was forced to barter in the local marketplace for food and supplies. This proved to be more than just inconvenient, as both organizations accused him of either focusing too much on commerce or too little on his mission. While he often wrote that his mission lacked success, Quaque’s schools trained a generation of students who would—along with their descendants—rise to prominence in Gold Coast society. In the long term, his work achieved much and his volumes of correspondence are valuable in the ways they show Gold Coast society from a unique perspective.