Jan Sneeze

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Jan Nieser ( actually: Johann Nieser ; hist. Also: Jan Neizer ) (* 1756 in Accada (today Akwida in Ghana); † 1822 in Elmina , today Ghana) was a famous and influential Afro-European trader on the West African gold coast . At that time he was considered one of the richest mulatto traders on this stretch of coast. He also played an active role in politics during the early Ashanti Wars at the beginning of the 19th century. His main economic focus was on the slave trade until it was discontinued .

Origin and youth

Johann Nieser was the son of a German medical assistant in the Dutch service and a local woman named Manzang. As Nieser later claimed, both his mother and grandmother were born in Elmina and the blood of the royal family of Eguafo (the grand commany of Europeans) flowed in their veins.

In 1764 father and son went to Europe, where the young Jan Nieser first went to school. Shortly before 1770 Jan Nieser returned, this time alone, to the Gold Coast, where he was in Dutch service for 16 years, first as a soldier and later as an assistant in the civil administration. In 1785 Jan Nieser visited Europe again, probably driven by the idea of ​​laying the foundations for a start as a private trader associated with European companies on the Gold Coast. He succeeded in doing this because he signed a contract with Louyssen & Son, one of the largest Dutch trading houses of the time. a. also engaged in the slave trade.

Stations as a trader on the Gold Coast


Jan Nieser's house in Elmina, 1792

Back on the Gold Coast, however, as he was not an official dealer of the Dutch-West India Company (WIC), he got to feel the entire system of difficulties that the restrictive trade policy of the Dutch monopoly company brought with it in relation to West African trade. Nevertheless, Nieser managed to establish himself as an influential trader in Elmina during this time . At the time of the dissolution of the WIC and the associated opening of Dutch West African trade, we find Jan Nieser as the largest among Elmina's private traders.


In 1793, Nieser relocated to Accra because the slave business in Elmina , as he wrote to Louyssen, could no longer be operated profitably. The reason for this was undoubtedly the looming and increasingly worsening conflict between Fantis and Ashanti, which led to the Fantis blocking trade routes from the inland to Elmina, especially the routes used in long-distance trade with upper and central Niger . In Accra, Nieser first built his own house and tried to gain public recognition by making payments to the city treasury of Accra, which he himself referred to as "citizenship" or "custom", as well as gifts to various chiefs in the hinterland of Accra let. Accra was an important location as it was the end point of the so-called eastern trade routes, which almost all ran via Asante and, although longer and more arduous than the western routes, were largely safe from the Ashantin arch-enemies, Fante and Akim. In addition, all three European nations that traded on the Gold Coast were represented in Accra, which also created a certain sense of security. Therefore, since the western routes were closed, the movement of goods between Asante and the coast was mainly concentrated in Accra. Each of the Ashanti "Boers", as the Dutch called the powerful wholesalers in the interior, also had at least one of his sales representatives in Accra. In September 1794, Nieser wrote to Louyssen that he was now well known in the interior of the country and that he could therefore deliver 500 slaves and more per year, in addition to gold and ivory .

Overall, however, the overseas trading business on the Gold Coast at that time was not without risk, as the supply of slaves was subject to fluctuations and was highly dependent on wars and natural disasters in the interior of the country. Gold and ivory were also only available sporadically, if at all. Added to this was the state of war in Europe, which seriously disrupted trade to and from the West African coast. For the Dutch posts on the Gold Coast, 1794 marked the beginning of an almost uninterrupted twenty year crisis, which was characterized by an increasing shortage in the supply of merchandise from Europe. Jan Nieser only seemed to have survived this period economically, as he created new delivery routes to the Danes and English and was not afraid to sell his goods to ships from other nations. The latter, however, created new problems, because in 1804 the commander of the English fort in Accra, J. Swanzy, threatened with the bombing of Nieser's property that he should try again to load slaves onto ships in the roadstead in front of Accra flagged differently than the English.

In 1806 a war broke out between the Accraese and other ethnic groups directly residing in the neighboring coastal area on the one hand and the inhabitants of the Akwapim Mountains and their allies on the other. However, a memorable betrayal occurred when one of the Accra people, a man named Apho, used drum language to convey the deployment points of the Accra and their allies to the enemy . Before all allies were gathered, the Akwapimers were able to claim victory. Accountability was then demanded from the aphorism in question, but he fled to Jan Nieser, for whom he had worked once in an earlier time. However, Sneeze was careless enough to grant asylum to the said apho. The raging mob then besieged Sneezer's house, which looked like a fortress anyway, and began to loot and burn down the houses in the immediate vicinity. There were some deaths. Eventually the walls that surrounded Nieser's property were also torn down. The Dutch commander from nearby Fort Crevecoeur, under whose protection Nieser and his estate were under protection, and the Danish governor tried to mediate in the dispute, because both had a legitimate interest in avoiding violent conflicts at their gates. The attempts to mediate the two commanders with regard to the aphoea failed, however, so that Nieser was finally forced to deliver the aphoea to the angry crowd, who was then murdered and dismembered.

Elmina again

After years of increasing hostility, the beginning of 1806 saw the outbreak of war between Asante and a Fanti alliance, which in the meantime had arisen as a counterpoint to the danger of Ashanti invasion. A strong Ashanti army crossed the Prah and penetrated deep into the Fanti area. At Abora there was finally the decisive battle in which the Fantis and their allies were defeated.

The quarrels in Accra and the news of the successful Ashanti expedition to Fantiland fed the hope of permanently open trade routes between Asante and Elmina, which prompted Nieser to relocate to Elmina again. After all, he had family ties to the royal family of Eguafo through his mother and his wife, Quaba, came from the local aristocracy in Elmina, so that he already had a very established and powerful position in Elmina and its northwestern hinterland. In Accra, however, he left a son behind to work for him as a commercial agent.

In 1809 a united army of Fanti, Wassaw and Fetu contingents attacked Elmina. Jan Nieser said he supported the Elminaer with weapons and ammunition worth 11,000 nfl. and about 200 men fought under his leadership against the attackers. He also proposed to the Dutch council on Elmina that the King of Ahanta should be offered goods worth 200 ounces of gold as a reward if he interfered in the war on Elmina's side. In this context, Nieser offered to take over half of this sum himself. However, the Ahanta king refused to participate in this conflict in any way. Nevertheless, with Sneeze's help and with the use of the Dutch military, Elmina was able to withstand the Fanti siege for a long time until they were finally appalled by the Ashantine forces.

When the Dutch mulatto garrison rebelled against their superiors at Elmina Fortress in March 1813, Nieser's name can be found again in the annals. The reason for the rebellion was that the Dutch officials, due to a lack of supplies from Europe, were unable to pay the mulatto soldiers their wages. It was only thanks to a generous loan from Jan Nieser and the appearance of his armed private army that the mutiny could be suppressed and the Dutch could maintain their position in Elmina.

Arrest and trip to the Netherlands

In March 1818, the then Dutch general manager at Elmina, Herman Willem Daendels , ordered Jan Nieser to be arrested in preparation for a court case that he had brought against Nieser. The accusation against Jan Nieser was that he had defied the Dutch authority and that he had tried to incite the traditional rulers to have him (Daendels) personally murdered. Furthermore, Sneezer would have had armed supporters from Eguafo brought to Elmina to demonstrate his strength with them and would also have armed his slaves so that they could better resist a Dutch official who had tried to sneeze at a shop in Cape Coast , which was about Luso-Brazilian tobacco .

In May 1818, however, Daendels died on Elmina, which put the Dutch council in an embarrassing situation. Sneezer was still in custody on Elmina and could not be released without a serious loss of prestige. However, the council also refused to follow Daendel's demands, as there was little confidence in the usefulness of a trial. So the council finally decided to move the decision on this matter to broader shoulders. Sneezer was offered the decision to either remain in custody at the fortress and wait for an answer from Europe, or to travel "voluntarily" to Holland to get his case heard there. Nieser decided to travel to Europe and in May set sail with a Dutch ship that brought him to Amsterdam via Suriname . After his hearing, all allegations against him were finally dropped and he was given free passage back to the Gold Coast on the brig "Eendracht".

Return to the Gold Coast

Nieser's last years are relatively opaque, however, because despite his widely acclaimed reception when he returned to the Gold Coast from Holland on February 18, 1819, his return was not very pleasant for him. His sons had since sold a large part of his property and largely squandered his wealth, so that he, who was once considered the richest trader on the whole coast, had to admit his inability to pay a debt in Cape Coast in 1821 . In the same year 1821 he tried again with a few other business partners and started a large-scale cotton planting outside the city, which however did not prove to be very successful.

Jan Nieser died in Elmina in 1822 at the age of 66.

During his funeral a dispute arose among the mourners, which escalated shortly afterwards. After throwing stones a few times, however, a Dutch guard was forced to flee into the fortress. The stone throws were answered with rifle shots, which cost three people their lives.


  1. "Boers" literally means "farmers" in Dutch. In the above context, however, the term became real for representatives of the merchant aristocracy, rich wholesalers and the like. like used.
  2. In this context, B. pointed out that in 1792/93 a plague epidemic raged in the regions of western Sudan (= western Sahara and the savannah adjoining it to the south ) including the Niger Arc. Large parts of the western savannah were also hit by swarms of locusts in 1795 and 1796 , which destroyed a large part of the harvest and triggered a devastating supply crisis among the population at that time in these areas. Swarms of locusts even reached the coastal area of ​​the Gold Coast in 1799 and also caused devastating damage to agriculture here. These are only three examples from those years, but they form the background to the phenomenon that numerous Africans at that time voluntarily went into slavery just to get something to eat and to survive. Many of them reached the gold and slave coast via the long-distance routes, from where they were shipped to America.
  3. What is meant is the general outbreak of war in Europe in the form of coalition wars , i. H. more precisely the wars with the First and Second Coalitions, which are also known as the Revolutionary Wars of France. After the execution of the French King Louis XVI. England expelled the French envoy, with the result that France declared war on Great Britain and the Republic of the United Netherlands on February 1, 1793. The declaration of war on Spain took place on March 7, 1793. Fighting took place not only in Europe, there was also a struggle for supremacy on all the world's oceans and in the colonies and an intense trade and pirate war was waged on both sides . From 1795 the northern Netherlands was an ally of France in the form of the Batavian Republic . It was not until the Peace of Amiens on March 25, 1802 that the fighting came to a temporary end. From 1807 Denmark and Great Britain are also at war.
  4. The Dutch Fort Crevecoeur in Accra was attacked by the English from the neighboring Fort James after the annexation of the Netherlands to Napoleon's sphere of influence and was largely destroyed. Danish-British relations on the Gold Coast were also at an all-time low at this point. Although there was still peace in Europe between Britain and Denmark, in 1805 the British governor threatened to seize and arrest the Danish governor as soon as he got the opportunity. A British ship expedition that appeared in front of Christiansborg in those days also served this purpose. However, this did not go unnoticed by the Danes and since they were prepared for an attack day and night from now on and were on standby, the British had to give up their plan after a few days.
  5. The Prah River formed the southern border of Asante.
  6. There are several places in Ghana called Abora. Probably Abora in Denkira is meant at 6 ° 3 ′  N , 1 ° 59 ′  W
  7. [nfl] = Nederlandse Florijn = Dutch guilder; In the 18th century the rule was: 1 Dutch guilder = 20 stüver, 7 pfennigs each. For Holland (Amsterdam) in particular: 40 gulden = 1 ounce gold = 29.25 g Au, fine. With the coin standard of September 20, 1816, the guilder with the hundredth ("cent") was introduced as a dividing coin in the Netherlands .


  • Basil Davidson: West Africa before the Colonial Era - A History to 1850. London / New York 1998.
  • JT Lever: Mulatto influence on the Gold Coast in the early nineteenth century: Jan Nieser of Elmina. In: African Historical Studies. 3 (2), 1970, pp. 253-326.
  • Séréné-Mody Cissoko: Famines et épidémies à Timbouctou et dans la Boucle de Niger du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle. In: Bulletin de l'Institute Fondamental d'Afrique Noire. (Dakar), sér. B, 30 (3), 1968, pp. 806-821.
  • Jean M. Grove, AM Johansen: The Historical Geography of the Volta Delta, Ghana, during the period of Danish influence. In: Bulletin de l'Institute Fondamental d'Afrique Noire. (Dakar), sér. B, 30 (4), 1968, pp. 1374-1421.
  • HC Monrad: Painting of the coast of Guinea and the inhabitants of it as well as the Danish colonies on this coast, designed during my stay in Africa from 1805 to 1809. Weimar 1824.