James Bannerman was a prominent trader and slave-owner in Ghana in the first half of the nineteenth century. His parents were Colonel Henry Bannerman, a Scottish trader and officer, and a Ga woman from Accra whose name is unknown. Henry Bannerman worked for the Royal Africa Company and was stationed at Cape Coast, a British fort on the Atlantic Ocean in what is today Ghana. His mother’s family was connected to nearby chieftaincies. These dual connections gave Bannerman the ability to work as a middleman between West Africans and the British.
Little is known about Bannerman’s childhood. In 1826, Bannerman married Yaa Hom, an Asante princess who had been captured when the British defeated the Kingdom of Asante at the Battle of Katamonso in 1826. At the time, Asante was the dominant state in the region. Bannerman and Yaa Hom eventually had six children together.
Bannerman was a prosperous slave owner and clashed with the British over the abolition of slavery in Cape Coast. He believed that he had a right to manage and maintain his “property” as he saw fit. In 1841, he wrote the British Parliament warning that the abolition of slavery would lead to a flight of Ghanaians away from British territory.
Bannerman benefited from the growing trade between Cape Coast and Europe. As a prosperous land and slave owner with connections both to the British and the Asante, he was well positioned to be of service to foreign businesses and local kingdoms. After a long trading career, Bannerman entered the British colonial administration as a justice of the peace in 1842. By 1850, he became the lieutenant governor of the Gold Coast (today Ghana). He also served as an unofficial member of the Gold Coast Legislative Council.
During his time as lieutenant governor, he was involved in many important events. Most notably, he came to the defense of Thomas Birch Freeman, an Afro-English missionary who was attacked by priests of a local deity named Naanam Mpow. Bannerman responded by jailing the priests. While he had higher ambitions, he was never able to become governor of the Gold Coast.
Bannerman’s family remained prominent after his death in 1858. His son Charles established the Accra Herald newspaper in September 1857, the first African to publish a newspaper in West Africa. The Accra Herald (later named the West African Herald) continued for 16 years. Another son, Edmund, served as secretary to governors of the Gold Coast, a Civil Commandant, and a Justice of the Peace. He later became an attorney. Bannerman’s sons were all educated in England.
Bannerman’s grandson, Thomas Hutton-Mills Sr., was a lawyer and nationalist leader in the early twentieth century. He served as the first President of the National Congress of British West Africa in 1920. Thomas Hutton-Mills Jr., was a lawyer and early member of Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP). He was put in jail in 1950 for helping lead boycotts and strikes against the British. He later became a member of the Legislative Assembly, a cabinet minister, and after independence, Ghana’s Ambassador to Liberia.
Doortmont, Michel. The pen-pictures of modern Africans and African celebrities by Charles Francis Hutchison: a collective biography of elite society in the Gold Coast Colony. Leiden: Brill, 2005.
Dumett, Raymond E. “African Merchants and Trader’s Agents of Major Towns of Ghana during the Late Nineteenth Century.” Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 13, no. 2 (1972): 261-64.
Ipsen, Pernille. Daughters of the Trade: Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.
McCaskie, T.C. “Asante and Ga: the history of a relationship.” In Paul Jenkins, ed., The Recovery of the West African Past: African pastors and African history in the nineteenth century. C.C. Reindorf and Smauel Johnson. Basel: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, 1998: 135-53.
McCaskie, T.C. State and Society in Pre-Colonial Asante. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Owusu-Ansah, David. Historical Dictionary of Ghana. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2005.
Parker, John. Making the Town: Ga State and Society in Early Colonial Accra. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2000.
Reynolds, Edward. “The Rise and Fall of an African Merchant Class on the Gold Coast, 1830-1874.” Cahiers d’études africaines 14 (1974): 253-64.
rich, jeremy. "Bannerman, James." Dictionary of African Biography, edited by Ed. Louis Gates Jr.. , edited by and Emmanuel K. Akyeampong. . Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t338/e0283 (accessed Thu Sep 05 11:58:07 EDT 2019).
David Glovsky and James Almeida
Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.