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Immaculate Headsmen

24 July 1637

A small army composed by the Dutch West India Company (WIC) landed on the West African coast to capture the Portuguese trading post Fort Elmina on 24 July 1637. The WIC army comprised 150 local Sabu warriors who wore orange-coloured pieces of cloth, the colour of the Dutch stadholders, on their arms. Elmina's line of defence included African warriors armed with machetes supplied by the Portuguese. The Elminians hacked away at the exhausted WIC soldiers: 375 soldiers, 66 sailors and several Sabu warriors were killed. According to Dutch eyewitnesses the death toll could even have been higher if the Elminians had not spent most of their time disrobing and beheading their victims. The Elminians forced prisoners to take their clothing off before beheading them because the headsmen did not want the valuable textiles to become stained with blood. Ironically, this time-consuming practice enabled many Company troops to escape the battlefield. A second WIC assault fared better: Elmina was surrendered to the Dutch on 29 August 1637.

From Mark Meuwese, Brothers in Arms, Partners in Trade. Dutch-Indigenous Alliances in the Atlantic World, 1595-1674 (2012) 293-294