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The Grand Slave Emporium: Cape Coast Castle and the British Slave Trade [Paperback]

William St Clair
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2007
From this handsome building on the Atlantic shore African men, women and children were sold as slaves and carried across the ocean. In a truly original book, by telling the story of the castle and some of the people who lived, worked or were imprisoned within its walls, William St Clair is able to illuminate a panorama of modern history which in its entirety is hard to comprehend.

Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; New Ed edition (1 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861979886
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861979889
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 565,729 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A most original and remarkable book ... St Clair catches for us the sense of actually being there at the time as witnesses. (African Business)

A work of superb scholarly detection, The Grand Slave Emporium anticipates the bicentenary of the abolition of the British slave trade in 2007, and does so with a fitting dignity. (Ian Thomson Guardian)

An absorbing study of an ugly but crucial swathe of British history. (Nina Caplan Metro)

This timely book gives a lively perspective to that odious commerce ...[it] is like a television documentary where the governors, the slavers and the African chiefs talk, without a camera-hugging presenter. (Graham Gendall Norton History Today)

St Clair opens a rare archive in the Public Record Office to give an account of British slavers and their suppliers in Africa. It's an admirable, succinct work of historical research, and tells its appalling story stoically to great effect. (Marina Warner, Times Literary Supplement Books of the Year)

Vividly recreates the horrors of the slave trade which operated from Cape Coast Castle on the Ghanaian coast, drawing on a newly discovered archive. (Jane Ridley, Spectator Books of the Year)

A powerful, well-written book which raises hard questions about the African slave trade. By allowing the records of the castle to tell their own strange, contrary and horrifying story, the reader is brought close to a time and place of monumental tragedy. Everyone who is interested in the workings of the human heart and the divided self should read this. (Lorna Goodison)

[A] rare historical account that manages to provide us with a story that is both sensitively modulated in its humanity and yet unflinching in speaking about things that often invoke horror, pain and a great deal of bewilderment. It is well informed and exquisitely written. (Ato Quayson, Author of Postcolonialism: Theory, Practice or Process?)

In a deeply researched and engagingly written account of Cape Coast Castle and its environs in present-day Ghana, award-winning biographer William St Clair has recreated the 'life' and traced the evolution of the 'grand emporium' of the British slave trade from its beginnings in the seventeenth century, through its history as a site of misery for untold numbers of enslaved Africans, to its present status as site of memory for their descendants. Using manuscript evidence as well as published records, St Clair has recovered the voices and identities of scores of people who left Africa through the Castle's 'door of no return', and of those Europeans and Africans who profited by forcing them through it. The result is an elegantly constructed and balanced reconstruction of the Castle and its inhabitants. (Vincent Carretta, Author of Equiano the African)

Here is an extraordinary story: the grotesqueness of African slavery sitting cheek by jowl with a God-fearing European brutality ... The great strength of St Clair's narrative is to make these ancient walls speak for the armies of the dead, black and white, whose precarious lives were bounded and imprisoned by the castle's culture. Cape Coast Castle survives as a reminder of the grim story of Atlantic slavery, brilliantly reconstructed here in an utterly novel and affecting way. (James Walvin University of York)

fascinating... [a] truly thought-provoking book (Noel Malcolm Sunday Telegraph Seven)

St Clair's cool eye dwells on the details that provide the monument's bizarre nad haunting resonance ... [he] shines a light at the heart of the shame. (Economist)

Anyone reading William St Clair's superb book will feel astonished, and perhaps ashamed, at the hugely profitable slaving enterprise in this country - not so long ago - with which The Grand Slave Emporium confronts us. (Jonathan Mirsky Literary Review)

St Clair delivers a series of small-scale, human tragedies which paint a clear picture of how vital and mysterious this 'trading post' was ... If only all historical analysis were this measured and, more importantly, this entertaining. (David Jenkins Time Out)

About the Author

William St Clair is a Senior Research Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. His books include Lord Elgin and the Marbles, The Godwins and the Shelleys and, most recently, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. At the end of a Civil Service career he was under-secretary with responsibility for Treasury control of the Civil Service. He lives in London and Cambridge.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Along the western coast of Africa, from where the Sahara desert ends in the north to the Cape of Good Hope in the south, are the remains of many castles, forts, and temporary lodges built by the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, the Germans  Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating study 6 Aug 2008
This is the book I have been looking for for years. Most books on slavery seem to deal with the actual transportation of slaves (particularly the infamous Middle Passage) or their treatment at the end of the voyage. Most have political agendas which lead you to doubt some of the facts and figures, or are written more for emotive reasons than informative.

Mr St. Clair uses the history of one building, the Cape Coast Castle, and the men and women who lived there to expose the whole history of slaving on the African Gold Coast. He charts the history and development of the trade with surprising lucidity, focusing on two main areas. 1) How the trade actually worked on a day-to-day basis; how the slaves were gathered and treated, how the small pockets of European traders existed on African soil, and how the ghastly trading was conducted. 2) The experiences of the men and women involved (by necessity, mostly the Europeans); how they lived and worked, and how they justified their actions. Through these two areas Mr. St. Clair charts the rise, developments and fall of the slave trade, and their effects on this area of Africa.

Throughout, Mr. St. Clair gives reasoned arguments and a good narrative. Most important of all, he appears unbiased, imparting information without either apology or condemnation. He lets the stark facts and stories talk for themselves. I can thoroughly recommend it.
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