Dutch sailing vessel of the 17th c.
Sir Harry Johnston, 'Liberia', 2 vols. (New York, 1906).
(click picture to supersize)

A Dutch account of the Pepper Coast
in the Seventeenth Century



The relations between the Dutch and the people living on this part of the West African coast, which is now called Liberia have been described by Sir Harry Johnston as far back as 1906. Sir Harry Johnston, a British explorer and prolific writer, presents a very interesting insight in the region and its people in the seventeenth century – as seen by the Dutch – in his classic work on Africa’s first republic, ‘Liberia’ (2 volumes), published in New York in 1906.

Sir Harry Johnston starts his account with the first elaborate description of the ‘Grain Coast’, as the region then was called, which was derived through the Dutch and compiled by a German1 geographer, Levinius Hulsius, in 1606. Twenty years later Hulsius reported on the voyage of Samuel Braun to the Guinea Coast (1626). Commander Samuel Braun, a Swiss employed by the Dutch, visited Cape Mount, the Cestos river and the Kru coast in 1614 and this may have happened with the Dtuch ship ‘White Dog’ (see Overview of the relations between Liberia and the Netherlands). Johnston extensively cites from Dapper’s famous work on Africa (1668) and from Bosman’s well-known description of the Coast of Guinea (1704). The latter also quotes from a letter written by John Snoek, who sailed from Holland to the Grain Coast in the yacht ‘Johanna Jacoba’ in 1701. Snoek visited Cape Mount, Cape Mesurado, Sanguin river (also spelled Sangwin), the area of the Cestos (or Sestos) river, Cape Palmas and the Cavalla river region.    

Guinea Coast from the Sierra Leone River to Cape Palmas
By J. N. Bellin 1746 (courtesy of Robert Putman). Click to

It was decided to present Johnston’s text here for two reasons. First, his account is complementary to the Overview of the relations between Liberia and the Netherlands, which is presented elsewhere on this site. Secondly, it provides us with a fascinating insight in the natural and economic conditions prevailing in the region at that time as well as the social fabric and relations between the various tribes. Although the vocabulary and language used by Johnston is not always easy to follow (since at times outdated) it was decided to present his text unchanged, except for some minor printer’s errors, in respect of his authorship. Where deemed appropriate, observations have been added though separate from the main text. For editorial reasons, Johnston´s original account has been presented using the following structure:

Sir Henry (Harry) Hamilton Johnston, G.C.M.G., K.C.B. (12 June 1858 - 31 August 1927), was a British explorer, botanist and administrator, one of the key players in the "Scramble for Africa" that occurred at the end of the 19th century.



1 It looks like this information was not correct. Levinus Hulsius, was born in Gent, Flanders (nowadays Belgium) in 1550. He was a historian and geographer.  He settled in Germany where he started a printing office in Frankfurt am Main. His heirs continued publishing his works (reprints and new books) after his death in 1606.





Grain or Pepper Coast is the name of a coastal area in western Africa, between Cape Mount and Cape Palmas. It encloses the present republic of Liberia and got its name from the malagueta pepper.















Source: Sir Harry Johnston, ‘Liberia’, 2 vols. (New York, 1906), Chapter VII, 'A Dutch Account of Liberia in the seventeenth century', pp. 83-104.



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