Figure 3.1 St. George of the Mine.The castle of St. George of the Mine overlooks the coast of Ghana. Built in the fifteenth century, it guarded Portugal’s trading post at El Mina. From here, the Portuguese traded for enslaved people brought from the interior of the African continent. (credit: modification of work “St Jago fort in Elmina Ghana” by Edward Kamau/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)
The Portuguese built the castle of St. George of the Mine (later called Elmina) in the fifteenth century, which many historians characterize as the beginning of the early modern period (Figure 3.1). Located on the coast of present-day Ghana, the fortress gave the Portuguese a foothold in the West African gold trade, which was by then largely in the hands of the kingdom of Songhai (Songhay). The economic health and longevity of the Songhai Empire depended on the secure and smooth operation of the trans-Saharan trade in goods across North Africa. Gold was then unquestionably the most prized of all West African commodities, and in time, the trade in human cargo became equally important. With an eye toward their profit margins, the Portuguese traders at Elmina combined the flows of trade in these two highly valued commodities, becoming intermediaries who provided enslaved people from Benin to the Akan mines in modern-day Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. By the sixteenth century, Elmina had become one of the earliest direct links between European slavers and the slave markets of the African interior.