From Moscow to the Voc Cape: Family Links Between Residents of Russia and Southern Africa in the Early Modern Period


Boris Gorelik, Gerrit Jan Schutte


The Swellengrebel family is known in South Africa in connection with Hendrik Swellengrebel, the only local-born governor of the Cape Colony. Using Russian and Dutch archival sources as well as comprehensive studies of the Dutch merchant communities in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Moscow and Archangel, we traced the transformation of this family from Pomeranian clothiers into leading Russian arms importers and Cape agriculturalists. The earliest-known correspondence between residents of Russia and the Cape, the letters from Heinrich Swellengrebel in Moscow to his son in Cape Town, was also studied. We established that the Amsterdam burgomaster and friend of Peter I, Nicolaes Witsen, was a patron of Johannes Swellengrebel, a native of Russia and the first Swellengrebel who settled at the Cape. Having achieved a high social status in Russia and at the Cape, members of Swellengrebel family gravitated towards Western Europe, their ancestral homeland. The history of this family reveals “the hidden thread” of human interaction that connected Russia with southern Africa long before the establishment of formal trade and political relations.


Russian-South African contacts, Russian-Dutch trade, VOC Cape, social identity, seventeenth century, eighteenth century, Nicolaes Witsen, Hendrik Swellengrebel, Swellengrebel family




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