A Guide to Sites, Museums, and Memory

Philip Quaque 1741 — October 17, 1816

Fishing canoes at Elmina, Gold Coast
Fishing Canoes at Elmina, Gold Coast, late 17th c. John Barbot, A Description of the coasts of North and South-Guinea . . . Now first printed from his original manuscript, In Awnsham and John Churchill (compilers), Collection of Voyages (London, 1732), vol. 5, plate 9, p. 156.

Philip Quaque (or Quacoe; both pronounced Kweku) was an African priest, missionary, and educator in Cape Coast, a city in Gold Coast, now Ghana. Born in 1741 in Cape Coast, Quaque was a part of the hybrid cosmopolitan society that grew up in the shadows of the large European trading forts, like Cape Coast Castle. He was a relative of one of the local political elites who helped secure for him schooling in London. He was probably of a Fante or Fetu ethnic background as his name Quaque is one given to a male child born on a Wednesday. Because of his African heritage and English training, Quaque stood at the intersection of two different cultural, religious, and racial worlds.

Quaque is remembered for his influence on both early Christian missions and schooling in Gold Coast. He corresponded with Anglican officials, laypeople, politicians, and other people of African descent around the Atlantic, and much of that writing has been preserved. British merchants were well-established at Cape Coast castle when Quaque was born. When he was a child, Anglican missionaries under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) began to expand their efforts in Gold Coast, eventually with an eye to recruit African missionaries. With help from family connections, the SPG chose to send Quaque to London for schooling in religious and missionary work. He stayed so long in London that he forgot his native tongue, but returned to Cape Coast in 1766, married to an English woman and newly ordained as an Anglican priest.

For the next five decades, he worked to promote the Anglican faith in Gold Coast. Unfortunately, he faced numerous setbacks in his efforts. Many locals were happy to listen to missionaries as long as they gave out food and drink, but were not interested in converting to Christianity. Quaque was not regularly compensated by either the SPG or the merchant group that ran Cape Coast castle, so he was forced to barter in the local marketplace for food and supplies. This proved to be more than just inconvenient, as both organizations accused him of either focusing too much on commerce or too little on his mission. While he often wrote that his mission lacked success, Quaque’s schools trained a generation of students who would—along with their descendants—rise to prominence in Gold Coast society. In the long term, his work achieved much and his volumes of correspondence are valuable in the ways they show Gold Coast society from a unique perspective.

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