Ansela; the Slave, the Love Story and the Wine Farm

Friday, 21 September, 2018
Dave March CWM
There is a story from deep in South Africa’s winelands which is awe inspiring. It is that of a slave who’s strength, hard work and love carries her from the slave lodge to wealth and independence. It is that of Ansela Van die Kaap.

The story is woven through the fabric of one of our most charming Cape wine farms; Muratie, now owned by the Melck Trust, and MD Rijk Melck has done much to research and preserve Ansela’s legacy, and is determined that Ansela and her husband Laurens story will live forever on the farm.

It begins in the 1660’s when as a young girl Ansela lived with her mother who was brought as a slave from West Africa, and by 1679 they were living in the Cape slave lodge. Ansela probably worked in the Company’s and Fort gardens and as was usual at the time, was given the name ‘Van die Kaap’ (of the Cape). There were two other ladies with similar names so evidence relating to this Ansela is sketchy, but Rijk and others believe the picture is nearly complete.

Around this time a young soldier arrives at the Cape, Laurens Campher, and it is likely that the two met while Ansela was working in the gardens at the Fort in the 1680’s. One can imagine this courtship, a German soldier and a slave, and though it wasn’t frowned upon for a white man to fall for an African slave due to the shortage of females at that time, it still must have been exciting and romantic.

By 1693 Ansela is recorded as being a ‘labouring slave’ with 3 children, the first, Cornelis, was born in 1686. It is likely that they were all Lauren’s children and also that Lauren was busy establishing himself as a man with trade skills. Just prior to this, in 1685, Laurens was living on a farm outside Stellenbosch called De Driesprong, began working the land by 1695 and was given the title to the farm in 1699 by Governor Simon van der Stel;  he is recorded as single and living on the farm between 1688 and 1693.

Ansela, now in her late twenties or early thirties, obviously had sole responsibility – whilst working in the gardens and living in the slave lodge - for raising all three children (the third was born in 1692). Her strength of spirit and their love must have been strong to survive, in fact, their courtship lasted 14 years!

Laurens may have intended the farm to be their future home, though he was quite poor in the early days. He probably helped plant vines amongst other crops, so wine has been important on the farm, which we now know as Muratie, since 1685, and the property’s title deed is the first thing visitors see entering the old buildings to dine or taste wine today.

Laurens' taxes, in cereal crop as payment, were paid in Cape Town, and Laurens would make this three day, around 32 kilometre each way trip, across marsh and difficult terrain, regularly, on foot or by cart. He would take wine with him and of course, see his beloved Ansela and their children. Imagine walking for three days to see your loved ones, perhaps for just a few hours.

Ansela’s story now sees another remarkable woman enter it. Ansela had possibly been ‘owned’ by Christina Does, an influential and affluent socialite in the Cape at the time, and Ansela was perhaps a favourite of Christina’s. It seems likely that Christina taught Ansela to read and write and helped her conversion to Christianity – or at least enabled it.  Ansela’s baptism, or ‘manumission’ and emancipation happened in 1695, Christina was present. It seems likely, though much is uncertain, that Christina took pity on the pair and raised Ansela up so the two could marry and be independent, Ansela’s education perhaps enabled their union as Laurens was illiterate.

Within three months, Ansela had travelled to Stellenbosch with the children and the two married. Laurens is recorded as no longer single in the 1695 return.

From a captured slave mother and herself thirty-odd years a slave, with three children between three and nine years of age, Ansela marries the man she loves and arrives at her own cottage, built by Laurens, surrounded by trees, mountains, animals, a stream, and crops in the fields. It must have been emotional.

Ansela plants a tree near their home – it is there today, standing proud and strong – you pass it on your way in. It is across from their single story cottage with bedroom and living room and stable all attached. It is also still there today and Rijk will gladly point out the wall cut-outs used as chicken’s nests and the path to the stream where Ansela would collect water.

After 34 years together on the farm, Laurens dies, Ansela sells and becomes wealthy, estimates are that the sale is the equivalent of 23 years’ worth of an average salary at the time. She moves and lives with one of her children.

It is a spellbinding story and you can tell Rijk has it in his heart, as we stroll a few metres, yet some 325 years from Ansela’s simple cottage, Rijk slows, “You know,” he says, “sometimes when I come and sit here of an evening, as the sun sets, there is an amazing energy, you can feel it, it is very special.”

Ansela 's manumission
Ansela 's manumission

more news