Door of No Return: Cape Coast Castle and the Slave Trade


Focusing primarily on Cape Coast Castle, the African headquarters of the British slave trade from 1664-1807, this thought-provoking account tells the story of the people who lived, worked, or were imprisoned within its walls, the soldiers stationed there, the negotiations with local African leaders, and the deadly diseases inside the compound.
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Focusing primarily on Cape Coast Castle, the African headquarters of the British slave trade from 1664-1807, this thought-provoking account tells the story of the people who lived, worked, or were imprisoned within its walls, the soldiers stationed there, the negotiations with local African leaders, and the deadly diseases inside the compound.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Door of No Return dwells on the details that provide the Castle's bizarre and haunting resonance. It was the site of insane brutality and of foul diseases, yet it was also a place of elegance and refinement—and the source of many ignoble fortunes. It attracted the licentious, the cruel, the greedy and the luckless, and installed them in a fortress above the ocean. Two centuries later, slavery remains an episode hard to look at with level head, but William St Clair shines a light at the heart of the shame."  —The Economist

"William St Clair illuminates the African side of the slave trade in his dignified analysis. The Door of No Return is a work of superb scholarly detection."  —The Guardian

"William St Clair comes at the vast and grim subject of slavery from a new angle, through the history of a single building. The Door of No Return is a powerful, poignant, often startling story."  —The Independent

"The great strength of St Clair's narrative is to make the ancient walls of Cape Coast Castle 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, author, Black Ivory: Slavery in the British Empire

"A readable and detailed account of Britain's role in the slave trade. . . . St Clair has a new angle . . . the history of a single building."  —The New York Times Book  Review

Caroline Elkins
There have been many books written on the slave trade, of course, but St Clair has a new angle. He relates the history of a single building, Cape Coast Castle, where Britain had its headquarters, such as it was, for the slave trade on Africa’s Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). It was out of the dungeon and through the door of this castle — “the door of no return” — that Africans passed en route to the awaiting slave vessels. Surprisingly, the records of Cape Coast Castle had scarcely been touched before St Clair began delving into them, sifting through records and ledgers, letters and notes.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Culled from previously unexplored papers in the British National Archives by historian St Clair, this gripping history describes the British headquarters at Ghana's Cape Coast Castle, the "last look" point for more than three million men, women and children sold into the 17th-century slave trade. They would have seen majestic breakers crash below the white fortress that functioned as a hot, smelly, utilitarian slave mall before they headed into its bowels. Held together by a skeleton crew of expatriates who often died there, the building bustled with local tribespeople, mulattoes and the odd European woman. St Clair introduces them all through personal correspondence, governors' logs, notes canoed from castle to ship and his own interpretations of artifacts, to recreate perhaps the most impressively detailed picture of slave-trading lives to date. In the end, the book reveals as much of British mores and culture as any history of England. The writing captivates, hinting at the author's intense curiosity that must have sustained copious hours of research. Yet owing to his ability to take in the entire view, the details rarely overwhelm. Coinciding with the bicentennial of the abolition of the Anglo slave trade, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in this essential history. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933346052
  • Publisher: BlueBridge
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 973,921
  • Product dimensions: 5.61 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

William St Clair is a former senior research fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge University. He has also held senior positions in the British Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, and the Treasury, and is the author of The Godwins and the Shelleys, Lord Elgin and the Marbles, and The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period.

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