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The Royal African: or, Memoirs of the Young Prince of Annamaboe. Comprehending a Distinct Account of His Country and Family; His Elder Brother's Voyage to France, and Reception there; the Manner in Which Himself Was Confided by His Father to the Captain Who Sold Him; His Condition While a Slave in Barbadoes; the True Cause of His Bring Redeemed; His Voyage from Thence; and Reception Here in England. Interspers'd Throughout with Several Historical Remarks on the Commerce of the European Nations, Whose Subjects Frequent the Coast of Guinea. To which is Prefixed a Letter from the Author to a Person of Distinction, in Reference to Some Natural Curiosities in Africa; as Well as Explaining the Motives which Induced Him to Compose These Memoirs.
London: W. Reeve, G. Woodfall, and J. Barnes, [1750].

Summary

The identity of the author of The Royal African: or, Memoirs of the Young Prince of Annamaboe (1749) is not known. The text itself purports to be a biography of Prince William Ansah Sessarakoo, a noble-born native of what is now Ghana who was enslaved in Barbados in 1744 and released from slavery in 1748. He became something of a celebrity in London after his arrival there in the same year. In actuality, the text sheds relatively little light on Sessarakoo's life and history. Instead, the bulk of The Royal African—which was popular enough to go through at least three editions from 1749 to 1754—focuses on commercial relationships between English and French traders in western Africa. Sessarakoo's story at times seems a secondary consideration to the author's economic interests. Indeed, since the Royal African Company of England was forced to surrender its exclusive trade rights in Africa to the newly-formed African Company of Merchants in 1750, only one year after The Royal African was first published, its author might be accused of utilizing Sessarakoo's celebrity to package political propaganda with a popular history. The title notwithstanding, these Memoirs of the Young Prince of Annamaboe are a history of African trade first and a narrative of enslaved nobility second.

Sessarakoo is never named directly in the text. Instead, he is referred to as "the young Prince" or Cupid, a nickname the English gave him because of his "sweet and amiable Temper" (pp. 51, 39). Other contemporary accounts of Sessarakoo's captivity, such as William Dodd's The African prince, now in England to Zara at his father's court (1749), reveal Sessarakoo's name and parentage. The prince was a son of Eukobah and John Bannishee Corrantee Ohinnee. Referred to only as "John Corrente" in The Royal African, John Bannishee Corrantee Ohinnee was a powerful leader of the Fante people in Annamaboe (the present day town of Anomabu in Ghana). Beyond these details and various anecdotes that illustrate the extent of Corrente's power over the European merchants who traded with his people, little is known about the lives of Sessarakoo and his family, including the date and circumstances of their deaths.

According to The Royal African, Sessarakoo's captivity and enslavement result indirectly from the scheming of his father, Corrente, who uses his family to procure economic advantages with the French and English. French merchants seeking to win Corrente's favor offer to educate one of his children, and he sends an illegitimate son "over to France with proper Recommendations to the Company" (p. 30). When the son returns "with fine laced Cloaths" that "dazzle the Eyes of the Negroes," his accounts of the French court "draw the Father [Corrente] over entirely to the French Interest" (p. 31).

The English wish to offset this French coup and propose the education of a second son in London. With a new appreciation for the advantages of a European education, Corrente sends Sessarakoo, "his greatest Favourite" and the son of "his chief Wife," to England, but the British captain to whom Corrente entrusts his son sells the prince in Barbados to cover a debt owed him by Corrente (p. 37). On his return, the captain presents Corrente with a list of outstanding debts and an implicit promise to retrieve Sessarakoo after the debts had been paid, but the captain dies before Corrente can buy his son's liberty, leaving Sessarakoo "in Cicumstances as miserable, and at desperate as could be imagined" (p. 44).

Unable to rectify the captain's perfidy after his death, Corrente demands that the English government find and return his son, in exchange for which he agrees to the expulsion—by force—of French traders from Annamaboe. As an additional demonstration of his trust, Corrente agrees to the English suggestion that they educate a third son, in the event that Sessarakoo cannot be redeemed from bondage. Fortunately, Sessarakoo's Barbados master is "a Gentleman of distinguished Character" who treats him "with much Humanity," so when English authorities find Sessarakoo and rescue him from slavery, the prince readily concludes that "his Misfortune befell him from the Disposition of a single person and was entirely disapproved by Englishmen of every Denomination" (pp. 43, 51). He then cheerfully travels to London in pursuit of his promised education.

Despite Sessarakoo's royal heritage, Londoners question his status as a prince, and The Royal African is written—at least in part—to establish his claim of nobility. In an introductory epistle, the author explains that he places so much emphasis on Sessarakoo's nobility because acknowledging the prince's social status is equivalent to acknowledging the humanity of all Africans. The author points out that "Things are in all Countries the same, however, the Names by which they are called may differ. As for Instance, Rice brought from Guinea remains Rice when it is brought here; tho' the Negroes know nothing of that Word, and we know as little of theirs for that Kind of Corn" (pp. vi-vii). English readers who ignore African titles may also reject African humanity, and the author hopes that Sessarakoo's narrative will prove "that good Sense is the Companion of all Complexions, and that the Brain in black Heads was made for the same Purpose as in white, whatever some People may imagine" (p. 22).

The Royal African clearly and repeatedly denounces racist views, but the author does express a belief in the superiority of English culture. Despite the honorable behavior of the French and the English captain's treachery, the narrative ends with Corrente banishing the French traders from Annamaboe, preferring instead "the natural Candour and Generosity" of those merchants with "a true English Soul" (p. 51).

Works Consulted: Crooks, J. J., Records Relating to the Gold Coast Settlements From 1750 to 1874, 2nd ed., London: Frank Cass, 1973; Dodd, William, The African prince, when in England, to Zara, at his father's court; and Zara's answer. An elegy on the death of . . . Frederick Prince of Wales. And Diggon Davy's resolution on the death of his last cow: a pastoral, 2nd ed., London: Mr. Waller and Mr. Ward, 1755; Justesen, Ole, ed., Danish Sources for the History of Ghana 1657-1754, Trans. James Manley, Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2005.

Zachary Hutchins

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