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South African Slave Owners

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South African Slave Owners

In South Africa under Dutch settlement, there was a shortage of labour, especially on the wheat and wine farms.

The Dutch, who were already involved in the Atlantic slave trade, imported slaves as the cheapest labour option. Slaves were imported from a variety of places, including the east coast of Africa (Mozambique and Madagascar), but the majority came from East Africa and Asia, especially the Indonesian Islands, which were controlled by the Dutch at the time.

All slaves were initially owned by the VOC, but later farmers could also own slaves. The work of slaves included working in the warehouses, workshops and stores of the VOC, as well as in the hospital, in administration, and on farms or as domestic servants in private homes. Some slaves were craftsmen, bringing skills from their home countries to the Cape, while others were fishermen, hawkers and even auxiliary police. The economy of the Cape depended heavily on slave labour.

The lives of the slaves were harsh, as they worked very long hours under poor conditions. They were often not given enough healthy food and lived in overcrowded and dirty conditions. Slaves had no freedom at all — they were locked up at night, and had to have a pass to leave their place of employment. As they were regarded as possessions, they were unable to marry, and if they had children, the children belonged to the slave’s owner and were also slaves. They also had little chance of education.

The Inventories of the Orphan Chamber Cape Town Archives Repository, South Africa made available at TANAP (Towards a New Age of Partnership) are very interesting documents listing the possessions of deceased people. Amongst these are often extensive lists of the slaves owned by the deceased.

Of particular Interest

Comprehensive list giving chronological list of transactions - Information where available includes Date; Slave name; sex; Origin; age; Seller; Buyer; Price.

There were four kinds of slave ownership at the Cape;

  • The Dutch East India Company - VOC - itself.
  • VOC Company Officer in their private capacity
  • Burghers
  • Free Blacks

Company Slaves

The Company Slaves were mostly housed together in the Slave Lodge. They were mostly urban slaves and not used in the agricultural industry. The slaves worked as labourers in Company gardens and the Docks where they provided both labour and skilled work in constructing public buildings and roads etc. Their roll was also often of a domestic, clerical or caring (hospital) nature. They would need to carry water from nearby streams and wells to service Cape Town as there was no reticulated water.
The Company was the main supplier of slaves - they had special customised slave ships which regularly visited Madagascar where the company had established a source for slaves. Sometimes the supply included "undesirables" that the Malgasy Princes wanted rid of. These included unwanted wives and the women of conquered enemy factions. Consequently there were often more women than men imported and the Slave lodge was frequented by men who used it as a brothel. For a period the lodge was apparently open for an hour in the even and freely used as a brothel. This and the fact that the imported women were often accompanied by their children meant that there was a high percentage of children resident at the lodge.

Slaves owned by Company Officials

Company officials were banned from farming by the VOC, although many farmed surreptitiously using agents. For this reason the records don't always show the true slave ownership by officials.
The privileged position held by the officials at the Cape meant that they were in a position to be slave traders, primarily obtaining their slaves from the officers and crew of VOC ships returning to the Netherlands where slaves were banned. The slaves bought in this way were often older, having already been owned as slaves in Batavia. Many officials bought female slaves for companionship and some married the slaves they bought.

Slaves owned by Burghers

This is the largest group of slaves at the Cape. The Burghers were a quickly expanding group of people who were wealthy farmers steadily acquiring more land. They relied on slave trading to boost their labour force. Most of their slaves came from Company Officials returning from the East where the proportion of males to females was as high as 7:1. A consequence of this was that there was often violence amongst the slaves.

Slaves owned by free blacks

This was the smallest group of slaves. Unlike the custom in America there wasn't a rigid racial division between black slaves and white owners. At the Cape it was possible for a free blacks* (see below for definition), Indonesian and Indian political prisoners to own slaves.
Slaves owned by free blacks were usually purchased at local sales. Some were purchased for slavery and were no different from slaves owned by the other groups, but many were relatives of the free blacks and were bought in order to free them.

'Free Blacks'* (vrijzwarten) were a small group of people separately registered on the census. They were mainly manumitted slaves or convicted prisoners or their descendants from the East (mainly Indonesia) who had served their sentences and elected to stay on at the Cape. There were also "prize negroes" who were Africans taken by the British from Slave ships after the slave trade was banned in 1808. This group of people were either government employees or serving apprentices to burghers. About 2000 prize negroes were taken to Cape Town and Simon's Town between 1808 and 1816.

The only people who did not own slaves at the Cape were the Indigenous people.

Pieter van Meerhoff was killed whilst on a slaving expedition to Madagascar in 1668.

Examples of Slave Owners on GENi

(Please add those who owned larger numbers as you come across them).


  • Jan van MACASSAR on 2.3.1671
  • Thomas van BENGALE 2.3.7671

Louis van Bengale

Lijsbeth Sanders
Lijsbeth Louisz (his daughter)
Maria Louisz (his daughter)

Hendrick Hendricksz Boom

Lijsbeth Arabus van Abyssinia

Adriaan van Brakel

Lijsbeth Sanders

Maria de Bucquoij

Catharina van Malabar

Johannes Albertus Myburg

He owned 101 skilled slaves - wagon makers, builders, masons and tradesmen: 19 born at the Cape, 12 in Malabar, 9 in Bengal, 3 in Boegies, 1 from Ternate (Indonesian island,1 from Batavia, 1 from Mangamsany, 1 from Boaton, 8 from Mozambique, 12 from Madagascar. Also 14 slave women, 7 boys and 13 girls.

Willem den Damme

29 slaves on MOOC8/2.117.

Matthijs Greef

24 slaves listed on MOOC8/2.63

Abraham Adehan/de Haan (1731 - c. 1798)

The grandson of the exiled Albubasi Sultan who was exiled to the Cape for rebelling against the Dutch and plotting against the King of Dompo and arranging the queens murder.
27 slaves are listed in Abraham de Haan Inventory MOOC8/22.40 (available from his profile page) on 16 Jul 1798.

Wouter Mostert

Lijsbeth Arabus van Abyssinia

Tobias Mostert (Tobias zoon)

Tobias Mosterd Jansz See Reference no.: MOOC8/19.40 Total slaves 9 and

  • Joseph van de Caab
  • Galant van Madagascar
  • Mentor van Madagascar
  • La Fleur van Madagascar
  • Slammat van Madagascar
  • Jonathan van Mosambique
  • Salomon van Mosambique
  • Mey van Bougies
  • Regina van Ternate

Maria de la Queillerie

Lijsbeth Arabus van Abyssinia

Hans Kasper Geringer

Anna Groothenning van Bengale

Gerrit Jansz van Aart

Anna van Bengaalen

Jan van Riebeeck

Anna van Guinea

Johan Martin Vogel

35 slaves on MOOC8/20.51 <[Maria Wilhelmina de Waal]

Ferdinand August Keuler


  • Regina born at the Cape circa 1814

Slave owners with no GENi profile
























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