Synopses & Reviews
The grim history of the slave trade from Africa is one that has had an impact on generations of people all over the world. While much of the initial voyage and inhumane treatment of slavery has been historically analyzed, there has been little written on the several forts and castles along the coast of Ghana that were used as slave holding facilities. This book focuses primarily on Cape Coast Castle, the African headquarters of the British slave trade from 1664 to 1807, through which countless men, women, and children were sold as slaves and carried away on slave ships, often to North America. It tells the story of the people who lived, worked, or were imprisoned within its walls, as well as the construction and upkeep of the building, the arrivals and departures of ships, the negotiations with local African leaders, and the deadly diseases inside.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Through detailed inventories, diaries, and letters, St. Clair offers a close look at what seemed to be impenetrable castles but were actually crumbling warehouses filled with people of various motives, engaged in an enterprise that raised moral, political, and economic issues in Africa and Europe. Thoroughly fascinating." Booklist
"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 (UK)
"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 (UK)
"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
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.
About 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.