Slave holding post -- "Door of no return"
It’s estimated that more than half of the slaves transported via the transatlantic trade passed through Elmina Castle, constructed by the Portuguese in 1482, initially as a trading fort on Africa’s Gold Coast in what is now Ghana. Elmina is the oldest European-built structure south of the Sahara Desert.
At its peak, Elmina – “São Jorge da Mina” (Saint George of the Mines) – saw 30,000 captives annually pass through its infamous “door of no return,” and herded in shackles and chains onto ships for transport to the New World and the Caribbean where they were sold as slaves. Elmina was one of more than 60 such facilities in a 300-mile stretch of the Gulf of Guinea along the Western Africa coast. The Portuguese built Elmina, but the Dutch, Prussians, French, and British also built slave holding forts in the region, which Moors called, “The Land of the Blacks.”
Portuguese traders, beginning in the 15th century, were the first to come to the gold and ivory rich region where they also acquired pepper, gum, and mahogany in exchange for clothing, silk, sugar, spices, rum and other local items. Their main interest was harvesting gold mines and for that they needed slave labor, which the Portuguese brought in from other parts of Africa. That changed in the 16th century when they began gathering slaves on the Gold Coast. They were followed in short order by the Dutch, English, French, Swedish, Danish, and the Brandenburgers, all of who came to the Gold Coast and built slave-holding forts similar to Elmina to compete in the trade of humans.
The slaves came as prisoners from tribal wars, sold to the officials at Elmina, some came through traders from the north, from inland points, some were marched hundreds of miles to the coast. Many of the captives didn’t survive the marches, and those that did were housed in the most inhumane of conditions in the stench of Elmina’s dark, dank dungeons where they were tightly packed, unable to move about and mired in human waste. They were tortured, starved, and suffered various diseases. Conditions were no better for those who survived the dungeons and were packed into the holds of ships for the long journey across the Atlantic.
Elmina became a central point in the transatlantic trading triangle. Europeans shipped goods to Africa in exchange for slaves who were then taken on the middle passage to the New World and the Caribbean and sold for sugar, molasses, tobacco and other local crops and goods. In the final leg, the ships returned to Europe to sell the products they had acquired.
The Dutch seized Elmina from the Portuguese in 1637 and commanded all of the Portuguese Gold Coast by 1642. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1871 when the fort became a possession of the British.
Memorial plaque at Elmina Castle