In contrast to widespread notions of colonial legacy that ascribe primacy to colonial agents, I argue in this paper that African merchants helped shape the emergent state and market structures in the Gold Coast (later Ghana). To make this argument, I question concepts of nationalism that exclusively focus on its conflictual, anti-colonialist dimension. In the Gold Coast, early nationalists, who were western educated and Christians, held firmly to European notions of progressive development, and formed an integral part of the colonial administration in the incipient stages of the colonial regime. This close relation turned frosty towards the turn of the 19th century when the structures of colonial administration started getting entrenched. I argue that instead of a one-dimensional emphasis on nationalist resistance, a focus on strategies of both collaboration/cooperation and conflict is important to delineate the crucial roles that these Gold Coast merchant elites played in the formation of the structures of the modern state in the colony. This research focuses on the varied alliances which these elites forged, and the tensions inherent in such all-encompassing alliances. It also focuses on acts of advocacy as well as activism that they carried out through the media of newspaper publishing, petition writing, and as representatives on the colonial legislative councils.