From Slavery to Freedom 

Freedom of slaves

A free black or vrijgelaten swarte was a former slave who had been released from slavery, or ‘manumitted’. The first slave to gain freedom, was Catharina Anthonis, who was born in Bengal, and liberated because Jan Woutersz from Middelburg wished to marry her, this was in 1656. Soon after the wedding, Woutersz was promoted to the position of supervisor on Robben Island. This was not due to merit, but was rather a way of putting the couple out of sight, for he was later found ‘unsatisfactory’ and sent to Batavia. A few years later, Jan Stael from Amsterdam married Maria van Bengalen, a union found more acceptable as Maria could speak Dutch and had some knowledge of Christianity.

When a Company official, Abraham Gabbema, was promoted to Batavia, he freed Angela van Bengalen and her three children. She requested, and was granted, a plot of land in what is now Cape Town’s Adderley Street. She married the free burgher Arnoldus Basson, by whom she had three sons. Left widowed in 1689 with an in­heritance of 6495 guilders, Angela managed her affairs well, when she died in 1720, her own estate was valued at 14808 guilders, and she also owned a small farm.

In 1807, shortly after Britain occupied the Cape for the second time, the slave trade was banned. Slaves could still be sold within the colony, but no more slaves were to be imported. Slaves removed from visiting ships were landed at Simon’s Town and housed in an area, which came to be known as ‘BlackTown’ before being ‘apprenticed’ for a number of years to approved employers. The British settlers of 1820 were not permitted to own slaves, and slavery at the Cape was formally abolished on 1 December 1834, although the former slaves were obliged to work for their ex-owners for a further period of four years.

Now that you have an in-depth understanding of Slavery at the Cape, read the events that followed, the celebrations, joy, song and dance on a massive scale by the ex slaves through the streets of Cape Town. The celebrations culminated into the Coon Carnival, an annual event that is still taking place today. 

To Coon Carnival Celebrations


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