Ghanaian slave roots in Southern New Jersey?

By Kofi Ayim

A collaborative effort of a three-man team has unearthed what they believed to be a Ghanaian who came to New Jersey in the early periods of the slave trade. The tombstone of Naphy Accoo was discovered in a predominantly black church cemetery in Southern New Jersey by the leader of the team, the late Giles Wright, a historian of the New Jersey Historical Commission. The other team members were Ron Accoo, a living descendant of the Acco family and this writer, Kofi Ayim.

Old maps of Woolwich Township in Southern Jersey showed a place (hamlet, town, city?) called Cootown. It is believed that “Cootown’ was a corruption of Accootown, because according to century-old birth registration records of a medical practitioner, the birthplace of some of the Accoo family members born in the mid-1800s was given as Accotown. Exactly when the first Accoo arrived in the U.S. is not known, but from the extensive genealogical research of Ron Acco, a “Kill” (Achilles) Acco was 100 years old in the 1860 U.S. federal census. Ron also unearthed five manumission certificates with last names/surnames of Accoo.

A saliva swab was taken off a ninety year African American Accoo in Salem City, Salem County, New Jersey and an Essex County contemporary migrant Accoo. The DNA analysis, however, was not conclusive.

The name Accoo was established to be of Ghanaian ancestry. In its African rendering Accoo is indeed “Ako”, a unique name that is original to the people of La, a suburb of Accra. La is part of the greater Ga Dangme stock. Europeans epithelized La to Labadi. “Accoo” is indubitably a hallmark of Danish vernacular during that period of the slave trade that the Danes were active on the Gold Coast. In Danish records Ako is written as “Acco”, “Acko” or “Achoi.” And “Naphy” is Nafi. In a 2006 interview with a senior member of the Ako family in Ghana, Nabi Yoomobi Akron pointed out that in their traditional setup, it is the root name i.e., Ako that is important. He suggested that “Nafi” could have been a nickname given to Ako in prevailing circumstance. He said his name “Nabi” means the grandson of Yoomobi Akron. His son would qualify his name with “Kansowa”, great grandson in that descending order. He explained that Ako is a name used exclusively by the royal quarters of La in the Kuwe clanship. Names like Odotei, Ako, Mensah, Sowa, Odoi in that order is common in the Ako clan. Okaakyire (Okerchire?) is another Ako name. The Ako family of La produced one of Gold Coast’s foremost politicians, Ako Agyei (Adjei?), a member of the “Big Six” that formed the first political movement – the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) – to fight against British colonialism and independence.

According to Danish sources, an Acco, a brother of Odoi Kpoti (chief of La) and Caboceer (Portuguese for representative, chief, leader) in Keta was shot there in 1733. At the time he was shot, his son Seva (Sefa?) was in the hands of the Danes as a pawn waiting to be rescued. Using a son who was likely to inherit a father as a pawn in a patrilineal system such as the Ga Dangbe was serious business. (The Akwamu, an Akan group initially used their sons as collateral in lending ventures with Europeans because in Akan matrilineal systems, a son could never inherit or succeed a father. Later Europeans wizened up to the Akwamu trickery and would insist on nephews as collateral). What happened to the young man is not clear, but it was a common practice to sell human collateral if the stipulated agreement was violated. The name “Sefa” is Akan in origin, but students of Ghana (Gold Coast) history know that, La, like James Town (another suburb in Accra) had extensive relationship and roots from Akwamu (Osu, on the other hand had relationship with Akyem ). According to the then Danish resident merchant and author Romer, Wetze Odoi Kpoti who died in 1757 at age 80, was given a noble Akwamu wife by the Akwamu king Akonor.

A Portuguese traveler wrote in 1602 that Labedde (Labadi) was a fine, clean place surrounded by walls and bulwarks. The La people were believed to have been war refugees from the Guan speaking La State destroyed in the 15th century by the Dangbe. Ancient Dangbe people, like ancient Egyptian Jews were always led by priests. Palestinian Jews, on the other hand like the Akan people, were led by kings.

Dedicated to the memory of Giles Wright.

This writer earlier this year published a book about a Ghanaian slave with roots in Newark N.J. (see page 11)


Posted by on May 19 2012. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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