Slavery and the church in the Stellenbosch district during the eighteenth century
Two of the many consequences of the expansion of Europe during the early modern period were the spread of Christianity to areas outside of the Mediterranean world and the large-scale forced migration of enslaved people to work in European colonies. How did the institution of slavery impact on the practice of Christianity in a Protestant colony such as the Cape? This article investigates this question with a study of how the larger context of church practice and dogma infl uence the reality of a slave-owning society in the district of Stellenbosch during the VOC era. It shows that although a few slave individuals were baptised in the Dutch Reformed Church, only a very small number of them became actual members of the Church. This, it is argued, was related to the inherent contradiction between the requirements of the Church – that its members be knowledgeable and lead moral lives – and the reality of a slave’s existence – which allowed little opportunity for free time and study and made relationships between men and women technically illegal by not allowing formal marriage. It is for these reasons that so few slaves could be Christians – at least in the eyes of the offi cial Church – in eighteenth-century Stellenbosch.
Keywords: baptism; Cape Colony; church censure; Dutch East India Company (DEIC); Dutch Reformed Church; religious ministers; slavery; Stellenbosch