Christian Jakob Protten (1715-1769)

Christian Jakob Protten was a Togolese-Danish missionary and educator who led missionary projects in Africa during the mid-eighteenth century. He received elementary-level education at the “Danish school for Mulattos” in the Christansborg Castle, which was located on the Gold Coast of present-day Ghana and established for children of both African and European descent.

At the age of 11, he transferred to a school in Denmark. Although initially training to become a blacksmith, Protten soon switched fields to become a theologian. During his training, he met King Frederick IV, who took a liking to Protten, becoming his godfather when Protten was baptized. After being baptized, he attended the University of Copenhagen.

Protten became a Christian missionary and educator in 1735 after meeting Nikolaus Ludwig, Count of Zinzendorf, in the Danish Court. Zinzendorf, under whom Protten studied, was the leader of the Moravian Church. In 1737, von Zinzendorf sent Protten to Elmina, Protten’s native town on the Gold coast, where he was directed to start another school for children of European and African descent. He was not successful in this mission due to the ongoing war between the Dutch Republic and the Kingdom of Dahomey.

In 1740, Protten had to leave this assignment because the Dutch governor thought he was a spy and imprisoned him. When Zinzendorf successfully obtained Protten’s release from prison, Protten returned to Europe to teach in Germany and later traveled to the West Indies, where he met his wife. Protten and Zinzendorf became estranged due to both a clash of personalities and Protten’s alcoholism. Protten became very unhappy in Germany and was sent away with permission to go back to Africa. In 1756, he began teaching at a missionary school in the Christianborg Castle. He taught there until he died in 1769, except for the years between 1761 and 1764, which he spent translating Martin Luther’s Smaller Catechism into Ga and Fante.

– by Lilian Ortinau (University of Missouri)