With the Caribbean becoming more and more of a bother thanks to a number of slave rebellions in the 18th and 19th century, Europe was focusing on Africa.
France held power in Benin during the 19th century and was making movements with the native inhabitants there. A partnership that allowed France to do business in Benin turned hostile during the later part of the century. The French made claims to important ports in the region that the Dahomey Kingdom refused to acknowledge. This ignited the First Franco-Dahomean War.
The First Franco-Dahomean War
The dispute in the region and the ensuing raids would force France to step in bolster its protection of Cotonou. The standing force was almost 360 in addition to ongoing fortifications. To ensure that they weren’t taken by surprise from within, the French would have Fon officials arrested.
There were minor clashes near Cotonou but it wasn’t until the Dahomey capital city of Abomey sent a massive force to crush the French and secure the town. The morning of March 4, 1890, saw close to 8,000 Dahomey troops rush the French and start taking down the fortifications. While the numbers alone should’ve crushed the French forces, Cotonou was too well protected and French forces were able to hold the town.
Another battle south of Cotonou took place following the Dahomey forces’ regrouping. Porto-Novo was the battleground this time and the French were even better prepared to receive backup. This battle would end with the French and Port-Novo holding. Dahomey remained aggressive throughout the war but eventually halted its assault and returned back home. The war was officially over.
Afterward, there was a period of peace with Dahomey not attacking the towns of Cotonou and Porto-Novo and signed a treaty in October 1890. This treaty stated that the kingdom acknowledged that Porto-Novo belonged to the French. King Behanzin of Dahomey would hand over Cotonou but was given 20,000 francs a year.