In the colonial history of Ghana, the voices of women are visibly absent. But a careful research has shown that there were powerful women who also contributed to the development of Gold Coast and achieved great successes in their own merit.
One of these great women was Kate Dawson, the millionaire and the powerful Fante woman who paid £486-worth of gold to Asantehene to stop invading Cape Coast and paid for a military expedition against the Asante which led to the Sagrenti War of 1873.
Kate Dawson also known as Kate Swanzy was a merchant, philanthropists, and patriot who became prominent in Cape Coast and the Gold Coast Colony. She was born somewhere in the 1800s and was named Efua Ketse. Kate was the daughter of Sarah Adadzewa of royal house of Akatakyi (Komenda) in the Komenda Edina Eguafo district of Central Region in the modern day Ghana. Her father was one Dawson who traces his ancestry to Anomabo and Cape Coast. It is recorded that her mum was one of the powerful women traders on the Coast, and when she died, Kate succeeded her.
Kate brought different management skills into her commerce, invested in real estates and became very prosperous. In fact, Samuel K. Otoo, the folkloric Fante writer and historian contends in Ofosu-Appiah (1977) that as at the mid-1970`s some of her real properties were still standing in Cape Coast. These buildings include Fortgate House, Gothic House, Government House, and the houses on a part of Cape Coast known as Dawson Hill. Apart from her business ventures, she also gave financial support to churches and the needy across the Coast.
Despite her business relationship with the British, Kate as a nationalist became one the strongest and vociferous opponent of the Poll Tax Ordinance of 1852. She personally wrote a letter to the British Governor, Henry Connor who was in office in 1855 about her abhorrence for poll tax, and why she was paying the tax under protest to avoid punishment which will affect her business interest and families that rely on her.
Later Kate Dawson met Henry Swanzy, a well-known English Trading firm of F & A Swanzy Limited, at their Anomabo factory (which is now Swanzy House at Anomabo). The two got married and through a joint trading acquired vast landed property in and around Cape Coast. She financed the indigenous rulers of Cape Coast, and of some states of the Gold Coast which sought her assistance.
Kate also gave some of her land to families which needed land for settlement. Otoo records in Ofosu-Appiah (1977) that after one of the crisis which arose between the British and the Asante, she agreed to the request of Commander, Stephen John Hill (Commander Hill), the British governor in 1851-1854, for land in Kotokuraba to settle demobilized soldiers, which included mercenary Hausa soldiers from Nigeria. That explains overwhelming Hausa and Islamic presence in the vicinity of Cape Coast-Kotokuraba today.
Otoo further averred in Ofosu-Appiah (1977) that Kate Dawson was so rich that on another occasion she single-handedly bought off a threatened Asante invasion with the £486-worth of gold that they demanded. Her action on that occasion won her the title of “Ebum,” meaning “The Breaker of the Asantehene`s Mighty Balance,” since nobody had expected such a large amount of gold to be owned by one person, and most interestingly, a woman.
When, in 1873, the Asante again threatened to invade cape Coast, she and seven strong prominent Fante ladies urged the the governor of the day to help the citizens, and offered to pay for a military expedition against the Asante. This led to the expedition against Asante in the Sagrenti War of 1873, described by G. A. Henty in “The March to Coomassie (1874).”
Henty, G. A. (1874). The march to Coomassie. London: Tinsley Brothers.
Ofosu-Appiah, H. L. (1977). The Encyclopedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (Volume One) Ethiopia-Ghana. P234-235
Swanzy, A. (1874). Trade on the Gold Coast: Remarks on Trade in West Africa, with and Without British Protection. A. Eccles & son.
Swanzy, H. (1956). A trading family in the nineteenth century Gold Coast. Transactions of the Gold Coast & Togoland Historical Society, 2(2), 87-120.
Kweku Darko Ankrah