Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Protten, Christian Jacob (B)

1715-1769
Moravian Church
Ghana

Multiple versions are available: (A)

Christian Jacob Protten (1715 to August 24, 1769), a mulatto, was a pioneer Christian missionary and schoolmaster on the Gold Coast in the 18th century.

The son of a daughter of Chief Ashangmo, ruler of the Gas from 1660-80, and of a Danish soldier father, he was educated in the Danish school for mulattoes in Christiansborg Castle. He was taken to Copenhagen, Denmark, at the age of 12 with another mulatto pupil, Friedrich Pedersen. King Frederick IV of Denmark (reigned 1699-1730) was his godfather at his baptism, which took place on November 27, 1727, when he was given the name of Christian Jacob. Protten was first apprenticed to a blacksmith, and then, in 1732, entered the University of Copenhagen.

After meeting Nikolaus Ludwig, Graf von Zinzendorf (1700-60), the Moravian Church leader, in 1735, he spent a year at Herrnhut, the Moravian colony at Berthelsdolf in what was later to become Saxony. In March 1737, Protten and Henry Huckuff sailed from Amsterdam in the Netherlands as Moravian missionaries to the Gold Coast. They arrived at Elmina on May 11. Huckuff’s death a month after arrival led Protten to change his plans and to visit his mother at Little Popo (Anécho), in what is now Togo.

His project to open a school at Elmina was opposed by the Dutch governor, who regarded him as a Danish spy, and who kept him virtually a prisoner until 1737. A letter from von Zinzendorf eventually recalled Protten to Herrnhut in 1741, from where in 1743 he went on his own account as a missionary to St. Thomas in the West Indies. He returned to Germany in 1745 and on June 6, 1746 married Rebecca, the mulatto widow of the Moravian missionary Martin Freundlich.

The Moravian leaders disapproved of Protten’s proposal to return to the Gold Coast, but in 1757 he was commissioned by the Royal Chartered Danish West India and Guinea Company to teach and preach at the Christiansborg Castle School. On the voyage out, he landed on the Grain Coast (now Liberia) and stayed there for 15 weeks before finally arriving at Christiansborg in June. Later, the death of a pupil, which took place when Protten was cleaning his gun, caused his return to Europe in July 1761. He reached Herrnhut in 1762. He returned to Christiansborg once more in 1765 accompanied by his wife, and took charge of the mulatto school in the Castle until his death four years later.

He wrote a grammatical introduction to the Fante and Ga languages, published in Copenhagen in 1764. He also translated Martin Luther’s Smaller Catechism into Ga and Fante. His plan for a boarding school, submitted in 1764 to Frederick V, King of Denmark (reigned 1746-66), shows his awareness of the place of African languages in the school curriculum.

Noel Smith


Bibliography

Wilson Armistead, Tribute for the Negro, Manchester, 1848; H. W. Debrunner. “Anfaenge Evangelischer Missionarbeit auf der Goldkueste bis 1828,” Evangelisches Missions Magasin, Basel, 1954, A History of Christianity in Ghana, Accra, 1967; J. E. Hutton, A History of Moravian Missions, London, 1923; Christian Jacob Protten, En nyttig Grammaticalsk Indledelse til Tvende hidintil gandske ubekiendte Sprog, Fanteisk og Acraisk, Copenhagen, 1764; C. C. Reindorf, The History of the Gold Coast and Asante, Basel, 1895, 2nd ed., Accra, 1966; P. Steiner, Ein Blatt aus dr Geschichte der Brudermission, Basel, 1888.


This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana, ©1997 by L. H. Ofosu-Appiah, editor-in-chief, Reference Publications Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.