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Native chief faced down the British and the Dutch during Prince's Town's Golden Age.
When Germans vacated Fort Gross--Friedrichsburg in 1717, John Conny was left in charge
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BY FRANK DELANO
PRINCE'S TOWN, Ghana--John Atkins, a doctor on a British warship, visited Prince's Town by accident in 1721. Little did Atkins know that he had stumbled upon John Conny, the town's most revered hero from the brief Golden Age of its history.
Conny (ca. 1670-ca. 1725) was the chief of Prince's Town. Atkins described him as "a strong-made man, about fifty, of a sullen look," "a bold and subtle fellow" and "cheerful and familiar" at the dinner table.
Atkins said Conny "seemed to have several" wives. One of them, "big with child," sat behind Conny at the table. Atkins estimated the two of them wore 8 or 10 pounds of "gold chains about their necks, their wrists, ankles and legs [and] drops in their hair."
The table was set with knives, forks and jugs of brandy in the fashion of the Brandenburgers, who had built Fort Gross-Friedrichsburg at Prince's Town in 1683. Conny had been their agent to buy gold, ivory and slaves from the interior of the country.
When the disillusioned Germans sailed home in 1717 they left Conny in charge of the fort, and he became an upstart native ruler on a Gold Coast dominated by forts of Swedes, Danes, Dutch, British and Portuguese.
With 200 well-trained Nzema (pronounced EN-zah-ma) troops armed with good German guns, Conny proved more than up to the task. The English sailors on Atkins' ship found this out the hard way when they stopped at a watering hole near Cape Three Points not far from Prince's Town.
Conny sent his emissary, carrying official credentials of "a large, gold-headed cane engraved John Conny," to demand the usual watering fee of 1 ounce of gold.
The tars scorned the black official and refused to pay.
The next day, Conny himself came to the watering hole with a posse of warriors, seized the British water casks, took a dozen sailors prisoner and knocked the head of a British officer who dared to object.
The dispute ended with the Englishmen giving Conny 6 ounces of gold and a cask of brandy for the trouble they had caused him. Conny then invited them to dinner at his mansion in Prince's Town.