Philip Quaque (1741 to 1816), sometimes referred to as Philip Quacoe, a pioneering educator and evangelist, was the first African Anglican missionary in the Gold Coast.
He was the son of Birempon Cudjoe, a successful caboceer (chief) of Cape Coast, and was educated by the Rev. Thomas Thompson, the first missionary from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.), who arrived in the Gold Coast in 1752. He opened a school in Cape Coast for the town’s children, and since he wanted to train teachers for his school, he sent Philip Quaque, Thomas Cobbers, and William Cudjoe to England in 1754 to be educated.
The three students were educated in England at the expense of S.P.G., under the care of a Mr. Hickman, a schoolmaster at Islington, London. But Thomas Cobbers died of consumption in 1758, and although the two remaining boys were baptized in the parish church of Islington on January 7, 1759, William Cudjoe soon after had a mental breakdown and died. Philip Quaque was soon after transferred to the care of the Rev. John Moore who lived at Charterhouse Square in London, where Philip was taught for seven years. Moore stated that Philip Quaque “has rewarded my labors by improving in every branch of knowledge necessary to the station for which he was designed.” These remarks plus the occasional Latin phrases which Philip often used in later years in his letters indicate that this school was more ambitious than the normal parish school of the time. Whether Quaque actually attended Oxford, as indicated in W. W. Claridge’s A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti (1915), or whether he ever lived there, is not certain. We know, however, that he was ordained in London in 1765, married an educated English girl, Catherine Blunt, in the same year, and in February 1766 returned with his wife to the Gold Coast as a “Missionary Catechist and Schoolmaster to the Negroes…with a salary of £50 per annum.”
After visiting Anomabu, he decided to open a small private school for mulatto children in his own room in Cape Coast Castle. The only black children who might also have attended this school from the outside were probably children of wealthy Africans. The pattern of education was based on the English charity school system of Islington. Quaque gave religious instruction and taught reading and writing; arithmetic was taught only when the children could read very well.
His religious work did not, however, prosper well. By 1774 he had only baptized 52 persons, few of whom were African. He moved to the Royal African Company’s Metal Cross Fort at Dixcove, near Cape Three Points in the western part of the Gold Coast, for eight months, but here too he had small success.
The Cape Coast school aimed at training clerks for the “Public Office.” By 1797 there were three African “writers” working for the Committee of Merchants in the Cape Coast, and these are believed to have passed through Quaque’s School. The school was maintained jointly by the Committee of Merchants and the S.P.G. through its committee in London. Later, responsibility for the maintenance of the school was entrusted to a local educational authority called the Torridzonian Society which was formed in the Cape Coast in 1787, and to which Quaque belonged. The main aim of this society was to improve the school and transform it into a good boarding school. Under the society’s direction, the school became the first on the Gold Coast to introduce school uniforms for its pupils.
The effectiveness of the new school was, however, sshort lived By 1792 friction between the president and the secretary of the society led to the neglect of the school, and the school children began wandering about the town. From this time until Quaque’s death in 1816, the school never again flourished. This was partly due to the state of perpetual unrest in the country at that time, arising out of tension between the British authorities in the Castle and the local inhabitants. In 180, for example, riots broke out in Cape Coast in protest against the imprisonment of a headman alleged to have sold “bad” gold to the Castle, after which Cape Coast was destroyed by the Castle’s guns.
The failure of this school marked the beginning of the end of Quaque’s career in the Gold Coast. Furthermore, his relationship with the officers in the Castle, the local inhabitants, and his own relatives were all full of difficulties.
After his stay in England, Philip could no longer speak Fante, but had to speak through an interpreter. He was therefore isolated from his people. His marriage to an English lady was a source of friction with his relatives. His foreign ideas, furthermore, also led him to oppose the wishes of relatives of whom he had, in any case, a poor opinion. His relationship with the authorities in the Castle was also poor. The Castle was indifferent to his ministry, and his church services were infrequently held, either at the arrival of a visitor or the absence of the governor or the officers being enough to cause cancellation of a service. There were occasions when officers or governors openly ridiculed religion, and made nonsense of the work being done by him in both the church and the school. The color of his skin was also sometimes a disadvantage. There were, for example, certain officers who refused to attend services because they were being conducted by a “blackman.”
Another factor which hindered his work was the fact that he engaged in some sort of trade, even although this was a situation forced upon him by circumstances. He found himself obliged to accept remuneration partly in goods for barter and partly in food and clothing, bbecausehis salary was almost always in arrears. At the time of his death the S.P.G. owed him arrears of £369.
Lack of encouragement, lack of vital contact with other churchmen, and lack of necessary direction from the S.P.G. and its committee all contributed to the failure of Quaque’s missionary efforts.
F. L. Bartels, “Philip Quaque 1741-1816,” in Transactions of the Gold Coast and Togoland Historical Society, Vol. 1, Part V, Achimota, 1955; H. W. Debrunner, A History of Christianity in Ghana, Accra, 1967; I. S. Ephson, Gallery of Gold Coast Celebrities, Accra, 1969; C. F. Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the S.P.G., 2 vols., London, 1901; Ralph M. Wiltgen, Gold Coast Mission History, 1471-1880, Techny, Illinois, 1956.
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.