Friday, December 14, 2007
Heroes of Our Time
George Kuntu Blankson
First appointed member of the Legislative Council
With: A.B. CHINBUAH
A DISTINGUISHED Statesman, merchant prince, devout Christian and the first appointed member of the Legislative Council in the 19th century, George Kuntu Blankson was among the leading members of the Gold coast society in the colony in the 19th century, and his life spanned the whole period. He was extremely wealthy, generous and very popular.
He was born in 1809 at Sodufu, near Elmina, in the Central Region. His father was Chief Kuntu of Egyaa. As a very influential chief who had good relationship with the British colonial officials, he was able to send his son to the colonial school at Anomabu. At the closure of the school, George Kuntu Blankson continued his schooling at the Cape Coast Castle, 15 miles away. This meant that he has to walk miles away. This meant that he had to walk 30 miles everyday to and from school. He was a determined person, so he made the 30 miles journey without complaining. He completed his elementary education in 1824. He decided to enter business and was employed by a British Merchant who often sent him to Ashanti to trade. In the course of his travels to Ashanti for trading purposes he was once arrested and put in protective custody by the Ashantis in 1834, during the reign of the Asantehene Osei Yaw Akoto. While in their custody the Ashantene used him as his official to correspond with the governor and the colonial officials in the south until 1836. In the meantime, before his arrest he and a friend of his, William de Graft John Sam, had formed the Society for Promoting Christian knowledge. Their society provided a platform for the founding of the Wesleyan Church by Rev. Joseph Dunwell in 1837. Kuntu Blankson and his friend de Graft John Sam became useful colleagues of Rev. Joseph Dunwell in the Wesleyan Missionary work in the Gold Coast. They assisted him to lay the foundation of the Wesleyan mission in the colony.
George Kuntu Blankson was the head of the Anomabu circuit of the Wesleyan Church overseeing other societies founded under that circuit. During his missionary work, he engaged in trading to support the church. His business grew by leaps and bounds to such an extent that he made so much money. It was therefore not surprising that when an English trader by name Brodie Cruickshank became a Judicial Assessor, he assigned his business to him and introduced him to his partners in England.
There is no doubt that Mr. Cruickshank’s action boosted Mr. Kuntu Blankson’s business to such an extent that the sky was the limit. He established factories, plantations and fishing industries in many coastal towns in the Central Region. He employed factory hands, store keepers, clerks etc. He treated his workers very well and was a father to them all. This endeared him to them. His popularity with them was such some spiritual means to poison him to three of his colleagues because he was destroying their trade by the introduction of Christianity, some of his workers disclosed this conspiracy to him and saved his life and those of his colleagues.
The conspirators were arrested, tried and sentenced to terms of imprisonment. In spite of his prosperity and immense wealth he continued to champion the cause of the Wesleyan Missionary. He remained a very staunch Wesleyan; took part in all church activities, gave generously to the church and contributed immensely towards the church building at Anomabu. The government of the day recognized and acknowledge him as a very important and influential man among his people, and therefore invited him to the public service. He was assigned many duties on behalf of the government. In the wars between the Ashantis and the Fantes, he was appointed leader of many delegations to negotiate for peace and sign treaties on behalf of the Fante government.
In 1853, Governor S.J. Hill appointed Kuntu Blankson as his general assistant and made him take part in an expeditionary force, under the command of British Army Officer Captain McCourt to rescue a British Officer in Ashanti. The war was waged at his expense. He provided the money for the logistics of the Fante troops. He won the war and signed the treaties for peace on behalf of the Fantes. In 1861, for all these public services, he was appointed the first African member of the Legislative Council. This was a great honour to him. He remained in the Legislative Council as an unofficial member for 12 years.
When war broke out between the Fantes and Ashantis again in 1863, he led the Fante forces and with a combined force of the British, he fought the Ashantis from Manso, Bobikuma, and Ajumako until the war came to an end through peaceful negotiations with either party claiming no victory in 1865 and 1866. Here again his military skills and friendship with the then Asantehene, Nana Kwaku Dua I, made it possible for him to end the war successfully and bring peace between the Fantes and the Ashantis.
This won him the admiration of both the British government and the Ashantis. He was the undisputed leader of the Fantes in the theatre of the war and the court of diplomacy. Gov. Pine was so elated with his accomplishments that he commissioned him honorary lieutenant-colonel.
As a member of the Legislative Council he not only fought for the development of the Fante people but also for the other parts of the country. It was through his efforts and influence that the Accra light house at James Fort was erected in 1871.
By 1873 his prestige and honour had reached their peak. His business was flourishing, and he was the golden boy of the British colonial officers. He was at the height of his achievements. He was Midas, every thing he touched turned into gold. It was one of the tragedies and ironies of life that when everything seemed to be going well for him, misfortune reared its ugly head. It all began with the loss of his three children in one year, one of whom George Blankson Junior, was said to have been the legal draftsman of the articles of the constitution of the Fante confederacy. This personal grief had not subsided when his life long partner, his wife, who had assisted him in all his endeavours succumbed to death.
Kuntu Blankson suffered another deadly blow when the Asantehene Kofi Karikari accused him of receiving bribe from an Ashanti chief during his detention in Ashanti in 1834. He was also accused of disclosing the Fante war secrets and selling gun powder to the Ashantis by an informant. These allegations were very serious, treasonable, and unpatriotic. The Fante chiefs and people were very much incensed against him. He was therefore invited to appear before an assembly of Fante chiefs at Anomabu in 1873 to answer the charges. Before he could open his mouth, he nearly received mob justice and would have been lynched but for the timely intervention of Sir Samuel Rowe, a British military surgeon who as acting Special Commissioner declared him a prisoner of the British, and therefore requested that he should be handed over to the British for trial at the High Court. Sir Samuel Rowe therefore had him sent to the Cape Coast Castle under a military escort. He remained there till October 1873 when Governor Sir Garnet Wolseley released him. A year afterwards he was tried by a bench of magistrates. He was acquitted and discharged of all charges and regained his freedom.
Unfortunately for him even though he had been vindicated the Fantes believed his guilt and isolated him for the rest of his life. He was a lonely person and was ostracized from society.
During the time of his trial he lost every thing he had. All his business, factories and buildings were burnt down, and all his moveable properties were destroyed and looted.
In spite of his tragedy, Kuntu Blankson was a great man and a hero who did much for his people, especially in preserving Fanteland from the incursions of the Ashanti, to take over their lands and subjugate them as a vassal state.
He provided jobs for hundreds of his people and made them wealthy. As a member of the Legislative Council he did well to advance the cause of his people and others beyond Fantland, such as the Ashanti. He also used his friendship with the kings of Ashanti and the Fantes to bring peace between the two warring factions. Though his life ended on a sad note his place in history remains intact. He died at the ripe age of 89 on August 23, 1898 at Anomabu, his home town, where he was buried.
Daily Graphic - Friday, December 14, 2007 Page: 11