van der Puije, John
John van der Puije (March 18, 1848 - September 12, 1925) was an Accra merchant, divisional chief, and member of the Gold Coast Legislative Council from 1894-1904. He played an active role in Gold Coast affairs at the turn of the century. Among other things he urged the revival of the work of the Church of England on the Gold Coast, and helped introduce Freemasonry to the country.
He was born in 1848. His father was Jacobus van der Puije, and his paternal grandfather was the Dutch governor of Elmina Castle from May to December 1780. His mother was Naa Karley Ankrah, who came from the royal house of Otublohum (Otu’s quarter) in Ussher Town, Accra. He was educated at the Wesleyan school in Accra, and at the Dutch school in Elmina. On leaving school he entered commerce.
In 1880 a group of people, including his brother, Isaac van der Puije, an Accra merchant named J. H. Cheetham who served on the Legislative Council from 1893-98, Timothy Laing, and J. E. Casely Hayford, established the Gold Coast Chronicle and appointed him chairman of the board of directors. He spent a number of years carrying on his business in the Anlo area, on the east bank of the Volta near its mouth, in what is now the Volta Region of Ghana. Here he became so popular that in 1889 he was asked to serve on a delegation from the chief and people of Anlo to Governor Brandford Griffith (who served intermittently from 1885-94).
On September 12, 1888 he was elected chief of Otublohum, in Ussher Town, Accra, and in 1890 he became the representative for the eastern Province on the governing body of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (ARPS), a group that protected African interests.
He also made a number of business trips to England. In 1892, on one of these trips, he was commissioned by Liverpool firm, Messrs. J. J. Fischer and Co. Ltd., to establish a branch in the gold coast. The success of this venture led to a similar commission from another firm, Messrs. Pickering and Berthoud Ltd. Earlier, whilst in England in 1891, he was initiated into Freemasonry as a member of the Royal Victorian Lodge in Accra. During his visits to England he also urged the British Colonial Office, and various persons of influence, to have Africans appointed to positions of responsibility in the colonial administration.
Upon leaving the Methodist Church for the Church of England, in which he became active, he wrote a number of letters to the Colonial Office urging that the Church of England, which had been inactive on the Gold Coast for about 150 years, revive its work, which it did in 1906.
The death of John Sarbah in 1892 created a vacancy in the Legislative Council. It was a delicate task for Governor Brandford Griffith to find a suitable African to fill the vacancy. He chose Chief van der Puje, who on May 15, 1894, became a member of the council. Three years after the colonial administration brought the Lands Bill of 1897 before the council. If enacted by the British, the bill would have jeopardized the African land tenure system. Educated Africans were vehemently opposed to the bill, and the Gold Coast Chronicle joined other local newspapers owned by Africans in rallying the support of the people against it. In the Legislative Council, chief John, as well as Cheetham, voiced the opinion of the Colony against the bill. The initial hostile reaction led to some amendments to it, and the two African council members registered their dissent whenever an occasion presented itself, even though the official majority of the administration was determined to pass it into law. Finally the bill was withdrawn after the ARPS sent a delegation to Britain to protest against it to the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain (term of office 1895-1903).
Chief John also served on the Accra Town Council from 1901-03. In 1904 he retired from the Legislative Council owing to ill health, his place being taken by J. P. Brown, who was then president of the ARPS. From 1904 onwards he continued his business, and engaged in cocoa trading, while continuing to devote his time to the affairs of the Ga State that he ruled. He died on September 12, 1925. He was a public-spirited man with a wide variety of interests.
J. O. Vanderpuye
David Kimble, A Political History of Ghana, 1850-1928, Oxford, 1963; K. A. B. Jones-Quartey, A Summary History of the Ghana Press, 1822-1960, Accra 1975. See also the Gold Coast Legislative Council Minutes, 1894-1904, Ghana National Archives, Accra.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (in 20 Volumes). Volume One Ethiopia-Ghana. Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1977. All rights reserved.