The Portuguese constructed Fort Saint Anthony (Portuguese: Forte de Santo António; Dutch: Fort Saint Anthony) near the town of Axim in what is now Ghana in 1515. The fort was seized by the Dutch in 1642 and became part of the Dutch Gold Coast. The Dutch significantly extended the fort before handing it over to the British in 1872, along with the remainder of their colony. The fort is now owned by Ghana’s government and is open to the public.
Fort Saint Anthony, the Dutch territories’ westernmost fort, was the first fort seen by Dutch traders and the point of entry for provisions and freshwater. The commandant of Fort Saint Anthony, together with the commandants of Fort Nassau at Moree, Fort Crèvecoeur at Accra, and the factory at Ouidah on the Dutch Slave Coast, served as senior commissioners (Dutch: oppercommies) in the Colonial Council at Elmina. Fort Saint Anthony, unlike many other Dutch strongholds on the Gold Coast, was never abandoned during the nineteenth century and was occupied until 1872.
Little is known about the early years of Fort Saint Anthony and the rationale for the Portuguese to settle at Axim due to a lack of research of sixteenth-century Portuguese records, while a desire to dominate the gold traffic in the area appears a probable motivation. A letter from the governor of Elmina to the King of Portugal in 1503 requests that construction supplies be sent to captain Diogo d’Alvarenga, who was in charge of the construction of the “House of Axem.” Following the destruction of this house by locals, the Portuguese built a new post somewhat further east, most likely on the site of the modern Fort Saint Anthony still stands.
Unlike the other forts on the Gold Coast, the commander of Fort Saint Anthony’s jurisdiction extended far beyond the fort and the town of Axim. The Netherlands claim joint jurisdiction over a number of communities surrounding Axim in the Treaty of Axim, which they signed with local peoples in 1642 after their capture of Saint Anthony from the Portuguese in the same year. They claim to have inherited this authority from the Portuguese.
Furthermore, representatives of Gyommre, “Abripiquem,” Ankobra, Ebokro, Axim, and “Encasser” signed a declaration in November 1656, at the request of Director-General Jan Valckenburgh, in which they declared to have been allies since time immemorial and to have always brought their disputes to the commandant of Fort Saint Anthony at Axim.
The broad area of jurisdiction is assumed to have resulted from Portuguese attempts in the early 17th century to reclaim its gold trade domination, which had been taken over by the Dutch in recent years, by directly accessing the gold trade’s sources in the interior. The Portuguese built a fortified outpost on the Ankobra River, 20 kilometers from Axim and near the present-day settlement of Bamianko, in 1623, from which they developed a gold mine on Aboasi Hill, eight kilometers away.
The Dutch took up the Portuguese attempt to regulate the gold traffic in the interior after conquering Axim. However, after a battle with locals, the fort they erected on the Ankobra River for this purpose, Fort Ruychaver, was blown up by its commandant only five years after it was built.
After losing its monopoly on the slave trade in 1730, the Dutch West India Company attempted to construct cotton plantations at Axim.
Long into the nineteenth century, the commandant of Fort Saint Anthony had legal control over the aforementioned indigenous states. When the Dutch reorganized their possessions on the Gold Coast into districts in the late 1850s and instructed their fort commandants—now referred to as “residents”—to make reports of the peoples under their jurisdiction, Julius Vitringa Coulon, a resident of Fort Saint Anthony, drew a map that shows a jurisdiction similar to the one declared by Valckenburgh.