7. Snyman, De Savoye and Catharina van Paliacatta

1778 panorama of Cape Town showing the Battery on the right through to the Hottentots Holland Mountains on the left.


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6. Van der Merwe and Cloete ◄ ● ► 8. Reflections


Jacobus Botha married Elsje Snyman whose parents were Christoffel Snyman and Marguerite-Thérèse de Savoye. Theirs was an unusual marriage because Christoffel’s mother had been a Companje slave and he was therefore of mixed race whereas Marguerite-Thérèse was from a well-to-do Huguenot family. Marriages of mixed race women to white men were not uncommon, but this was the only recorded marriage of a mixed race man to a white woman. How did this come about? It is a long and involved story.

©Alun Stevens 2016

We will begin the story with Christoffel’s mother, Catharina van Paliacatta who was also called Groote Catharina to distinguish her from other Catharinas. The first reference to Catharina is in respect to a trial in November 1656 in Batavia – the current Jakarta, Indonesia – where the VOC had its headquarters in the east. In the Sentence Book, she is described as follows:

Alsoo Catharina geboortich van Paliacatte out na aensien omtrent 25 jaeren en Moorse slavinne van Maria Magdalena vrije vrou ende juvrouw ten desen stede …

As Catharina born in Paliacatte, on observation about 25 years, a Moorish [Moslem] slave of Maria Magdalena, free woman and lady of this city … (Upham 2014a, 139)

Plan of Paleacatte 1700
Nationaal Archief

Paliacatte/Paliacatta is the current Pulicat in the state of Tamil Naidu, India. There is no information regarding how she moved from there to Batavia or on how she came to be a slave. It is also unclear as to whether she was actually born in Paliacatta as it was a hub for the internal Indian slave trade, and the VOC slave trade, and could simply have been the place from which she was brought to Batavia. Her owner, Maria Magdalena, because no surname is given, would have been a local, non-European woman.

The trial was for the manslaughter of Catharina’s lover, Claes van Malabar, a male slave with whom she had been living and engaging in vleeshelijcke conversatie (carnal intercourse). They got into a heated argument on 8 October 1656 during which Catharina called Claes a moerneuker (mother fucker). He then assaulted her and she, in retaliation and for self-protection, hit him with a sharp cobblestone, aimed at his genitals, which ruptured his bladder. He died a few days later.

She freely admitted her actions, was found guilty, and was sentenced to death by strangulation (garrotting). The Governor-General, Joan Maetsuijcker, however, commuted the sentence because he felt that she had acted in self-defence without an intent to kill. He sentenced her instead to be banished to the Cape for life as a Companje slave. She arrived at the Cape on 21 February 1657 on the Prins Willem and took up residence in the Fort. Also in the same Return Fleet, but on the Amersfoort was a private slave, Angela van Bengale, who was to play an important part in Catharina’s life and in the life of her children. We will come to her shortly. (Upham 2014a, 19-26)

She arrived at the Cape a few months before Jacob Cloete. The following painting from 1656 provides a good impression of what they arrived to:

View of Fort Good Hope at Table Bay
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

At the time there were only 145 non-aboriginal inhabitants at the Cape:

105 Companje employees
10 free burghers (the system having just started)
6 European women
1 free-black woman
12 European children
3 male slaves
8 female slaves

Catharina was one of the four female slaves allocated to the Commandeur (Jan van Riebeeck) at the Fort where she worked as a washerwoman. She would have lived in the Cat, the Commandeur’s personal quarters. She is recorded over successive muster rolls (monsterrolle) as remaining at the Fort and then Castle serving at least five of households of Commandeurs and Governors. Her status as a slave and convict became confused with all these changes and she ultimately became regarded as simply a slave. (Upham 2014a, 39)

The dearth of women is clear especially when one considers that the only single women were the slaves. Companje statutes outlawed concubinage and the shameful crime of fornication and whoredom (het schandelijke crime van fornicatie ofte hoerendom) with slaves as well as sexual relations between Christians and Muslims, but the isolated and primitive circumstances of the Cape meant that observance of the statutes was less than rigorous. Van Riebeeck, in fact, explicitly contemplated that the Companje’s men would take wives from amongst the slaves and that they would have children as this would be beneficial (het is ten dienste van de Companje – it is in the service of the Company) by expanding the workforce. It also seems that Van Riebeeck’s personal Indian slaves were sexually exploited by his officers with the fate of Companje slaves like Catharina less clear.

Catharina had a well documented relationship with Pieter Evrard, who arrived at the Cape in 1658 and rose to be head of the garrison, and member of the Council of Policy and Council of Justice. He died at the Cape in 1664 and in his will provided 150 guilders (ƒ150) to Catharina for the maintenance of her unborn child – undoubtedly his. Despite what was clearly a stable relationship, the provision was invalid in law because Catharina, as a slave, could not inherit. The child, a girl, was baptised Petronella on 6 September 1665.

Two slave girls were also baptised on 9 September 1662 that later evidence shows must have been Catharina’s daughters. They were Catharina and Maria. Maria’s later will made it clear that the two were sisters and both women were involved in caring for Petronella and her child after Groote Catharina’s death. Maria was known as Maria Pieters van de Caep suggesting that her father too was Pieter Evrard. Catharina was ‘van de Caep’, but there is no information as to who her father was, except that he was white because she was recorded as halfslag (half blood). She was later called Catharina Wagenmakers van de Caep after she became involved with and ultimately married the settlement’s master wagon maker, Andreas Bayer. (Upham 2014a, 45)

Groote Catharina was herself baptised on 29 April 1668 together with her fellow Indian, good friend, and by then ex-slave, Angela/Ansela van Bengale:

Den 29 April
zijn gedoopt na gedaen belydenisse twe bejaerde pesonen waer van de een genaemnt wiert Angila de ander Catharien

Are baptised after confession two aged [mature] persons where one is named Angila the other Catharien 11

Angela then witnessed the baptism of Catharina’s last child, a son, on 4 March 1669

Den 4 Maert
Een soontje van Groote Catrijn wiert genaemt Christoffel tot getuigen stont Angila

One son of Groote Catrijn named Christoffel as witness stood Angila 12

Angela had been a private slave of Rear Admiral Kemp who had brought her on the Return Fleet in 1657 and sold her to Jan van Riebeeck on arrival. She had then been a personal slave to Maria de la Queillerie (Van Riebeeck’s wife) so she and Catharina had met as part of the Van Riebeeck household. Angela was sold to Abraham Gabbema (Van Riebeeck’s Second-in-Command) when the Van Riebeecks left the Cape in 1662 and Gabbema freed her in 1666. She received the first land grant to a non-European in 1667 – a property close to the Fort in Heerestraat (now Castle Street), Table Valley. As godmother, she would play an important ongoing role in Christoffel’s life.

Christoffel called himself, Christoffel Snijman, and was consistently represented as such by others so it seems certain that his father was a Snijman. There was only one Snijman recorded at the Cape at the time of Christoffel’s birth. His entry in the muster roll for 1666 is:

Hans Christoffel Snijman van Hartsb. do [ditto = soldaet]

Hartsb. – Hartsburg/Harzburg is a district near the border between Lower-Saxony and Saxony-Anhelt, Germany, on the north western edge of the Harz mountains. 13

Hans Christoffel was not recorded in the muster roll for 1665, but is named as a defendant in a court case on 3 October 1665 so would have arrived at the Cape between approximately May and September 1665. The court case was in respect of a fight started by him with another soldier in which Hans Christoffel was stabbed. They were both fined.

He was also one of twenty soldiers who were prosecuted in a second court case on 4 December 1665. The soldiers were disgruntled with their work and working conditions so had downed tools the previous day and walked off into the sand dunes of the Cape Flats. They all returned in the evening when they ran out of food. They were sentenced to forced labour for a month with the ringleaders chained in pairs and the others chained to wheelbarrows.

Uniforms of VOC soldiers – H. Rolland
Nationaal Archief

He was recorded as a soldier in the muster rolls for 1666 and 1667 and was then, once again, in court in July 1667. The court papers provide some inkling of Christoffel’s conception because Hans Christoffel was convicted of persistently deserting his post as sentry at the Fort to sleep at the living quarters of a ‘certain known black girl’ (te slapen ten woonplaetse van seeckere bekende swart meijt). He was sentenced to be flogged and banished to Robben Island for two years.

His presence as a prisoner on Robben Island is recorded in the muster roll of 1668, but he then disappears from the record. We don’t know whether he died or left the Cape, but he played no further part in Catharina’s or Christoffel’s lives. (Upham 2104a, 52-54)

Catharina was freed and married freed slave Anthonij van Bengale on 20 December 1671 following orders from Governor-General Joan Maetsuijcker, who had also commuted her life sentence in 1656. This is confirmed in a letter to him dated 6 January 1672:

Regarding Catharina from Paliakatta [in] 1656 pardoned from death by the supreme government in Batavia and banished for ever to serve as a slave at the Cape, by your Honour’s orders to be granted freedom and discharged from slavery, also to be allowed to marry a certain free black Anthonie de Later from Bengal, all of which have taken place at the same time (Upham 2014a, 66).

Freeing her also freed her two minor children, Petronella and Christoffel, and her formal marriage to Anthonij legitimised them. Her two older daughters, Catharina Wagenmakers and Maria Pieters, were not automatically freed as they were already in the Companje’s service. They both later took legal action to obtain their freedom because of their European paternity.

Just prior to marrying, Anthonij had purchased a house and a garden. The house was in Zee Straat (now Stand Street) at the base of Signal Hill and the garden was in Table Valley. He was not able to keep up payments and the properties were repossessed in 1673 which forced the family to squat on a property on Tweede Bergdwars Straat (now Burg Street). This land was granted to them in 1675 and in 1676, Anthonij was also granted a garden in Table Valley. This was further up the valley in the current suburb of Gardens near Kloof Street. The neighbouring gardens, interestingly, were held by Jan Jansz van Eeden (who married Maria Rousseau) and Louis van Bengale (who sued his ex-fiancé Lijsbeth Sanders and her lover William Tarling) (Upham 2014a, 72).

The records document a range of transactions for Anthonij over the next few years. The family seems to have struggled in the late 1670s because there are a number of civil cases seeking payments and the family received a handout of 150 pounds of rice. But they do appear to have been fairly well connected, possibly because of Catharina’s long engagement with senior Companje officials at the Fort. For instance, in 1679, Aletta van Hinloopen, the wife of Governor Bax, ‘lent’ Anthonij ƒ300 which appears to have never been repaid. (Upham 2014a, 74)

Anthonij and Catharina applied to return to Batavia in 1680 and were granted permission to do so, but didn’t go. Business appears to have picked up with Anthonij operating a tavern or inn and supplying produce. Catharina’s eldest daughter, Catharina Wagenmakers, applied for and received her freedom at this time and then promptly opened a brothel – which she was forced to close a year later.

The 1682 tax roll shows a well established family (Upham 2014a, 81):

Anthonij van Bengale en Cathrijn van Paliakat
1 son, 1 daughter
3 male adult slaves
2 male slave children
2 horses, 3 cattle, 39 sheep, 12 pigs
1 muid 14  wheat sown, 7 muids wheat reaped
2 flintlocks (snaphaen), 1 rapier (degen)

Then tragedy struck. The records do not reveal exactly what happened, but Catharina, Anthonij and Petronella all died between late 1682 and early 1683. An outbreak of an infectious disease perhaps. Petronella baptised a daughter, also Petronella, in December 1682 with her older step-sister, Catharina Wagenmakers, as the witness. Anthonij was undoubtedly already dead because an auction of his deceased estate took place four days after the baptism.

Catharina was undoubtedly also already dead because she and Anthonij were legally married in Community of Property yet the estate was fully liquidated under the authority of the Master of the Orphan Chamber (MOOC). If she had been alive, half the estate would have been hers. The Vendu Roll for the auction survives and shows that absolutely everything was sold – house and yard, garden, a slave, horses and sheep, household furniture, kitchen requisites, paintings and, importantly, jewellery, dresses, cloth, buttons and other sewing requisites. It seems extremely unlikely that these latter items, clearly Catharina’s possessions, would have been sold if she had been alive. The MOOC appears to have taken charge of the estate in the interests of the two minor children because both their parents were dead. (Upham 2014a, 81, 82, 151)

There were some interesting participants at the auction. Angela van Bengale’s wealthy daughter, Anna de Koningh, bought two gold earrings. Angela’s husband bought a silk suit, two pairs of gloves and a sewing cushion. Willem Adrian van der Stel, the son of the Governor and later Governor himself, bought two rolls of thread and 19 buttons. Jan Janse van Eeden bought a bed, a pot, three old barrels and some ‘jumble’ (rommelerij).

The estate papers show a fairly substantial estate worth ƒ2,609. Expenditures included payments for a double funeral and wake with lots of beer, wine and food including 1½ sheep. No date is given for the funeral, but it seems that it was for Catharina and Anthonij. Payments were made for Christoffel’s education and there were payments for caring for the two Petronellas. The care for the granddaughter stopped in September 1683 when there was an invoice for black paint to paint a coffin. There is no direct evidence of when the older Petronella died, but the estate papers indicate that it would have been some time from late 1682 to early 1683. 15

We can now focus on Christoffel who was recognised as the sole surviving heir in 1690 and paid ƒ997, the residue of the estate. By this time he had moved to Drakenstein and married Marguerite-Thérèse (Margo) de Savoye, the daughter of the aristocratic Huguenot, Jacques de Savoye, a merchant from Ghent in Belgium who had arrived at the Cape in 1688. The marriage record was lost in a fire at the Drakenstein church so the exact date is unknown, but is generally accepted to have been in 1689. The literature contains a lot of discussion as to how a mixed-race son of a slave came to marry an aristocratic woman like Margo. The commentary generally ignores Christoffel’s financial standing and connections.

Anna de Koningh
Cape Archives

After his parents’ deaths, Christoffel had been taken in by his godmother, Angela van Bengale, and her husband Arnoldus Willemsz Basson. They were wealthy property owners in Table Valley and the Drakenstein Valley. They were well connected. Angela’s daughter, Anna de Koningh, for instance, was the daughter of a Companje official at the Fort. She married Olaf Bergh, a wealthy and influential senior Companje official and confidante of Governor Simon van der Stel, and she went on to own the Groot Constantia estate. Christoffel was educated. He had the benefits of his mother’s, step-father’s and Angela’s connections. His solid inheritance would also have placed him in good standing, but there could have been more. Both Christoffel and Margo were underage so would have required permission to marry. Christoffel would have required the permission of the MOOC who would have wanted solid justification. Perhaps Margo was already pregnant? The fact that their first child, Jacobus Christoffel, was baptised on 10 December 1690 at Stellenbosch, would support this proposition, especially when we consider that the couple had, in fact, tried to baptise the child weeks earlier at the Huguenot church at Drakenstein.

This had resulted in a vociferous, and well recorded altercation at the baptismal ceremony with the resident minister, Pierre Simond. 16   Christoffel notified the church of the baptism in early November 1690, but when the couple presented their son for baptism on 19 November 1690 with grandfather, Jacques, as proposed godfather, there were problems. Simond informed the congregation that he was willing to baptise the child, but would not accept Jacques as godfather, undoubtedly due to a well-publicised dispute between the two men over Jacques’s prior business dealings in Belgium. The baptismal party abused Simond and left. Christoffel and Margo then joined the Stellenbosch congregation where Margo’s step-mother witnessed the baptism.

Christoffel purchased the farm Zandvliet in 1692. This was adjacent to the farm Nuwedorp/Nieuwendorp which was owned by Angela and Arnoldus Willemsz Basson and a short distance from Vrede en Lust which was owned by Margo’s father. The ruin of Christoffel’s and Margo’s house is still visible today on the farm which is now called Solms Delta (Smuts 2012). That year Christoffel and Margo also baptised their second child and first daughter named Catharina after Christoffel’s mother.

Panorama of Drakenstein Valley
Google Earth

The farm was clearly a going concern because the tax roll for 1692 shows: (Upham 2014a, 110)

Christoffel Snijman, 1 wife
1 son, 1 daughter
24 cattle, 250 sheep
300 vines
4 muids grain sown, 40 muids grain harvested.

They baptised their third child, Maria, in 1693 at Stellenbosch. One of the witnesses was Angela’s son, Willem Basson. By 1695, when their fourth child, Christina, was baptised, the family had returned to the Drakenstein church and Christina was baptised by Pierre Simond! The witnesses were Angela’s son, Jacobus van As, and daughter-in-law, Helena (Lena) Clements, Willem Basson’s wife, so the family connections were strong (Upham 2014a, 116).

In March 1696 Christoffel was involved in an event that further connects our various ancestral lines. He was a corporal in the burgher militia and was required to pursue a certain Jan Hendricksz Schoonheek. Schoonheek was a Companje soldier minding cattle at Bottelary, who had murdered his companion and then fled. He went to a farmhouse and took the occupants hostage, firing ten or twelve shots to ensure they stayed in the house. This is the connection, because the occupants were none other than our 8th great-grandparents, Pierre Rousseau and his wife Anne Rétif, who owned the farm l’Arc d’Orléans. Fortunately, a slave boy escaped and went to Jacques de Savoye who then sent a knecht and Anne Rétif’s brother, François, to Christoffel. By the time Christoffel and his companions reached the Rousseau farm, Schoonheek had fled, but the next day Schoonheek surprised François Rétif at his farm. François managed to send a messenger to Christoffel who went to the farm with three others. There, they cornered Schoonheek, shot him in the neck and killed him. (Upham 2014a, 117)

The baptism of Christoffel’s and Margo’s fifth child by Pierre Simond in August 1697 reveals more ancestral interconnections. The child was named Elsje after her godmother, our 9th great-grandmother, Elsje Jacobs Cloete, who with her husband, Willem Schalk van der Merwe, farmed nearby at Kunnenberg, on the Berg River in the Simondium district. (Upham 2014a, 118, First Fifty Years: Cloete E.) The Snyman’s baptised three more children – Johanna in 1699, Phillipus in 1701 and Susanna in 1703. The witness for Susanna’s baptism was once again Angela van Bengale.

Christoffel and Margo were doing well at this time. The 1700 tax roll shows: (Upham 2014a, 121)

Christoffel Snijman, 1 wife
1 son, 5 daughters
1 knecht
2 adult male slaves, 1 adult female slave
2 horses, 41 cattle, 400 sheep
10,000 vines, 7 leaguers (leggers) wine – approximately 4,000 litres 17
7 muids grain sown, 25 muids grain harvested
1 flintlock, 1 rapier.

Christoffel died in 1705 and Margo baptised their last child, Elizabeth, alone in March 1706. The witnesses were Angela van Bengale’s son, Jacobus van As and his wife, Helena van der Merwe, daughter of Elsje Cloete and Willem Schalk van der Merwe.

Margo remarried in 1707. Her second husband was Henning Viljoen, ten years her junior and the brother of her eldest daughter, Catharina’s, husband. They had four children before Henning died in 1712. The smallpox epidemic of 1713 claimed Catharina Snyman and pretty much the whole Viljoen clan except Margo, her youngest son, also Henning, and her sister-in-law Cornelia Viljoen. The other Snymans also survived.

Margo lived until 1742. Her will lists an outstanding debt from a judgement she obtained in 1715 against Paul Heyns the husband of Maria Schalk, the illegitimate daughter of Willem Schalk van der Merwe and Koddo van Guinea. Heyns was already dead, but his second wife, Maria Lozee, was listed as the debtor. She, it turns out, attended to the graves of Catharina van Paliacatta and her daughter, Petronella. A small community so the connections just kept happening. Maria Lozee was also Megan’s 7th great-grandmother via the Van Eeden line to Megan’s Ouma.

Christoffel’s and Margo’s daughter, Elsje, married Jacobus Botha. They settled in the Swellendam region. Jacobus was a member of the Stellenbosch militia, a deacon of the Drakenstein church and Heemraad 18  for Swellendam. Their eldest daughter, Catharina, married Marthinus Jacobus van Staden.

Before closing this section, it is worth tying off some loose ends. Firstly, Groote Catharina’s eldest daughter, Catharina Wagenmakers. She had two children when she married Andries Bayers in March 1683 and they had six more children – although only six seem to have survived. Andries bought Jan Jansz van Eeden’s garden in 1684. Both Catharina and Andries died in 1700 on their farm Weltevreden at Bottelary. This farm also still exists and has been called Hartenberg since 1725.

Secondly, Maria/Marritie Pieters, Groote Catharina’s second daughter. She married Anna Hommes in 1689. They clearly prospered because Maria felt it necessary to draw up a will in 1717, just prior to her death. The will showed that she had substantial assets including three properties in Table Valley and a number of slaves.

Thirdly, the wider Snyman connections. Megan and I share only one connection via Elsje Snyman, but Megan has two other separate family lines to Elsje’s younger sisters, Johanna and Elizabeth. Johanna was the mother of Johannes Lombard who married Aletta Maria van Staden, another cousin marriage (see family tree), so links via the Bruwers and Van Eedens to Megan’s Ouma. Elizabeth’s daughter married into the Ackermann line and so links directly to Megan’s Oupa.

And, finally, Angela van Bengale, Christoffel’s godmother. I have no connection to her, but Megan does. Angela and Arnoldus Basson were Megan’s 7th great-grandparents. They link to Megan through their youngest son, Michiel, via the Croesers and Megan’s Oupa. Michiel farmed at Keesenbosch in the Zwartland.


6. Van der Merwe and Cloete ◄ ● ► 8. Reflections


©Alun Stevens 2019

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