Shared ancestors and their shared experiences
Cape Town from Table Bay 1778
Megan and I are 8th cousins because of our shared 7th great-grandparents, Johannes (Jan Harmensz) Potgieter (1674-1733), Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (1706-1746) and his wife Catharina Botha (1714-1781). As I indicated in my last post, there is more to tell because there are interesting people with colourful stories associated with these ancestors. I have spent a few weeks putting those stories together.
The stories go back to the earliest years of European settlement at the Cape in the mid 1600s for which there are surprisingly good records. The records required some hard work in order to extract the stories because quite a few are in Old Dutch script and use an antiquated Dutch language. The perseverance was worth it and has revealed a rich group of characters.
The most impressive amongst them are the young slave women taken to the Cape from India, Madagascar and Africa. Yes, we have slaves as ancestors. Some died young. Most survived their enslavement and went on to prosper and to found a number of prominent Afrikaans families. Also impressive were the contemporary attitudes that allowed these ex-slaves to take their place in society. One was granted a block of land on what is now Castle Street in the middle of the Cape Town CBD. One owned Camps Bay. Another owned Groot Constantia.
There is the free settler from Cologne who received one of the first grants of land, but was murdered just outside the Castle on what is now the Grand Parade.
There is the rifleman from Rotterdam, with a green thumb, who married the murdered man’s thirteen year-old daughter, but only after he had fathered a child with a slave at Groote Schuur. You guessed it. He was a Van der Merwe. But not a Koos.
There is the young man, born a slave to a slave mother, who married an aristocratic Huguenot woman and had to rescue other Huguenot ancestors from a murdering soldier who took them hostage.
There is the young man’s father, a soldier from Germany, who kept running foul of the law and was banished to Robben Island.
There is the young man’s mother who washed Jan van Riebeeck’s clothes.
There is adultery and divorce and some very choice language.
There are ancestors that we don’t share, who jointly helped an Empress grieve the death of her son.
The stories are intertwined and complicated in places, but I have provided them with references and links to maps that hopefully help explain them and put them in context. Thanks to the internet, I was also able to source a number of fascinating old maps and pictures from the Netherlands Rijksmuseum and Nationaal Archief that provide a contemporaneous flavour to the stories.
©Alun Stevens 2019