Remarks on the history of Fort George by Nesyamn Ranut
August 10, 2023
 
Remarks on the history of Fort George by Nesyamn Ranut on the occasion of the visit by His Majesty, Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II of Ghana.
 
 

Photographer: Nesyamn Ranut

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

I am Nesyamn Ranut and on behalf of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, I extend a warm welcome to His Majesty, Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, and his contingent from Ghana.

Our organisation, established in 1991 under the National Trust Act, is dedicated to preserving and safeguarding the natural and tangible heritage of our twin island nation. Through advocacy and the promotion of historic legacies, we strive to bridge the gap between the past with the present, encouraging reflection on our history and inspiring a brighter future. We are particularly happy to be here at Fort George, one of the many significant sites on our Inventory of Heritage Assets, as it unveils the captivating stories of our past.

Just yesterday, we commemorated 185 years since legal emancipation of the enslaved was granted in Trinidad and Tobago. On this occasion, we acknowledge a connection rooted in history and shared ancestry. Aside from an obvious ancestral connection, the twentieth-century Pan-Africanist movement further strengthened these ties, resulting in cultural exchanges and profound tributes, such as Lord Kitchener’s anthem “Birth of Ghana,” a celebration of Ghana’s independence in 1957. Great leaders like Kwame Nkrumah continue to be cherished legends, revered not only by our social and political figures of the past but also by the present generation many of whom have embraced African-centered values. No doubt our shared experiences unite us in a powerful bond of solidarity and mutual respect.

As the agency responsible for preserving our tangible and natural heritage, we cannot overlook the efforts of our ancestors, who, despite facing dreadful circumstances, contributed significantly to the construction of historic landmarks like Fort George. Their resilience and sacrifices paved the way for the Trinidad and Tobago we know today, and we honour their memory as we work to preserve their legacy.

Fort George, formerly known as La Vigie, holds a prominent place in our history. Constructed in 1804 under the direction of the British Governor, Brigadier-General Sir Thomas Hislop, it stands as a testament to the island’s fortification during the Napoleonic Wars. However, it is crucial to recognise that Fort George, like many structures of that time, was built on the backs of the enslaved. Approximately 750 enslaved individuals were recruited to build Fort George and their contributions were invaluable. Among the enslaved was Jonas Mohammed Bath, born in the region previously referred to as Senegambia. Bath’s leadership and influence were pivotal in overseeing the construction of this fortress.

Over eighty years later and after the legal emancipation of slavery in Trinidad and Tobago, Prince Kofi Nti (his true name, Nana Kofi Ntim) emerged as another notable figure in Fort George’s history. He was born into the Ashanti royal family in Southern Ghana, as the son of King Karikari, the 10th ruler of the powerful Ashanti Kingdom. The Ashanti Kingdom had a long history of conflict with the British, spanning over 400 years before eventually falling under British rule.

In 1874, King Karikari signed the Treaty of Fomena, bringing an end to the Sagrenti War of 1873-1874. This significant treaty resulted in the release of captured Ashanti individuals, but it also required the Ashanti to pay an indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold, relinquish claims to part of their territory (Elmina), and withdraw their army from the coastline. As part of the treaty, two royal sons, including Prince Kofi Ntim, were sent to England for education. He was baptized and given the English name William, and he received his education in both England and Trinidad before being appointed to work closely with the army and the governor in Trinidad.

Kofi Ntim left an indelible mark on Trinidad’s landscape by designing and leading the construction, within the precincts of the fort, a Victorian-style building in 1883, which served as a signal station for the port and army.

Upon completion of the signal station, Kofi Ntim embossed his initials, W.K.N., onto the structure, signifying his pride and ownership of the project. While these initials have since been erased due to rehabilitation, the Signal Station remains a testament to his legacy, still standing here today as a symbol of our shared history.

Prince Kofi Ntim later journeyed to Barbados and Sierra Leone before returning to England, where he lived until his passing. His contributions to Trinidad’s heritage and culture endure through the Signal Station he designed.

Today, Fort George stands as an important historical landmark and a viewpoint that offers insights into our past. It symbolizes the shared history of enslaved Africans and the contributions of individuals like Prince Kofi Ntim, whose legacy continues to resonate.

Before I conclude, I would like to once more welcome His Majesty, Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. It is my sincere hope that our countries can engage in an open and broader dialogue about the role and impact of all nations involved in the slave trade and slavery. We must also acknowledge the enduring contributions of Ghanaians, citizens from other African nations, and Africans in the diaspora to the spirit of pan-Africanism, a force that continues to shape our present. By fostering such discussions, we can further strengthen our ties and promote deeper understanding.

Together, we can embrace our shared heritage, learn from our past, and work towards a brighter future. I thank you.

Photographer Nesyamn Ranut

 

Photographer Nesyamn Ranut

Photographer Nesyamn Ranut

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