by Dawn Gould

08 / armoysan – a strong slave women:

Armoysyn van der Kaap was born in 1661, the daughter of a slave.  A baptismal certificate indicates she was baptised in 1687. However not a great deal is known of her very early years although it is thought that her maternal ancestry was either from Angola or Guinea.  The word Armoysyn is believed to have been a type of material.

Slave Lodge

Slave Lodge
© National Library of South Africa, Cape Town

This was a strong woman and despite the cultural disadvantages of the political ideology of the time – late seventeenth century/early eighteenth century, she somehow managed not only to survive but to carve out a position for herself at the Cape.

For a number of years she worked at the Slave Lodge, Cape Town with the title of Matron. She bore four children and their names are known from her will dated 4 June 1728. They were Mary Stuart, Manda Gratia, Claas Jonasz and Machteld (also referred to as Magdalena) Ley.

Sometime during the first few years of the 1700s Armoysyn must have been given her freedom, possibly during the governorship of Willem Adriaan van der Stel. This time frame has been suggested because a Deed Office document shows that in 1708 she was granted 31 square roods 41 square feet in what is today’s Parliament Street. Incidentally the Deeds Office is in Plein Street, Cape Town so her property would have been a very short distance from this future important institution. The Slave Lodge where she had lived and worked for a number of years is, with tremendous irony, an equally a short distance from the Houses of Parliament where, in 1994, her descendants were legally entitled to the franchise. Something she had never had.

Further Deeds Office information suggests that she had held legal title to the grant of 1708 and may even have built a home there. No information has been found as to how she earned a living but one could theorise that maybe she laboured as a domestic worker or perhaps she was able to sew or took in the washing of others. In 1720, transfer of her property was taken by Hermanus Combrinck who had married her daughter Machteld Ley.

In 1733 Armoysyn van der Kaap died. It is interesting to note that in the middle to late 1700s two granddaughters, via marriage and inheritance, would own well known early Cape Peninsula farms. Coornhoop would be owned by the granddaughters and a grandson would own Raapenburg. Both properties were near the Liesbeeck, between the suburbs of Observatory and Mowbray.