August 29, 1637: Dutch successfully captured Elmina Castle from the Portuguese

St. George’s Castle was built in 1482 by the Portuguese and being the largest European structure in Sub-Saharan Africa in its day. It was of great strategic military and commercial importance. The Dutch first attempted to seize the Castle in 1625 but failed. In July 1637, they mounted a second serious offensive. The account follows:

The Battle of Elmina in 1637, was a military engagement between the Portuguese and the Dutch, that culminated with the capture of the historical St. George of Elmina Fort by the latter.

In 1637 the Dutch West India Company detached 9 ships from the forces attacking the Portuguese in Brazil and sent them against the Portuguese in Fort Elmina. They appointed Colonel Hans Coine to command the fleet, which consisted of a total of 1,300 men. They landed on July 24 a short distance away from Cape Coast, and proceeded by canoe down the Sweet River towards the Portuguese fort, bringing 800 soldiers and three days’ worth of provisions.

A hill named St. Jago dominated the fort on the north side, which Coine determined needed be taken if they were to take the fort. However, 1,000 Elminians allied to the Portuguese were at the base of it, preventing the Dutch from seizing it. Coine sent four companies of Fusiliers after it, but they were annihilated. A second Dutch detachment that attacked the other side fared better, routing the Elminians. The Portuguese and their native allies made two attempts to take back the position, but both failed. After the second failed attack, the Portuguese fell back into their redoubt at the summit of the hill.

The redoubt was protected by a wooden wall on one side, and a river on the other. Coine decided to ford the river to allow a mortar and two cannon to fire upon the fort. After bombarding the fort for two more days, he demanded the surrender of the garrison. The Portuguese governor requested a three-day truce, but Coine refused as he only had provisions for one more day. He brought more of his forces to St. Jago and continued to bombard the fort. The bombardment was ineffective, and by the next morning Coine realized that he would either have to attack the fort that very day or abandon the attempt. He dispatched a group of Grenadiers up the hill, but before they could attack a chamade was sounded and two messengers were sent out by the Portuguese to negotiate a surrender.

The surrender allowed the Governor, the Garrison, and all Portuguese citizens to leave, without swords or any other weapons, on a boat to the island of St. Thomas. The Dutch would be allowed take all that was left including gold, silver and slaves. The Dutch later built a fort on the Hill to prevent others from taking the Castle from land.