Slave rebellion at the Cape led by Louis of Mauritius. Over 300 slaves and Khoi Khoi servants from outlying farms marched on Cape Town demanding their freedom

An image of Greenmarket Square in 1764 with a slave in chains been driven by his master. Drawing by Johannes Rach. Image source

Thursday, 27 October 1808

This was the first such 'mass movement" against slavery and oppression at the Cape, and suggests a deep awareness around issues of abolition and freedom held by slaves and servants throughout the Cape Colony.  The timing of the Cape uprising was surely influenced by stories arriving in the Cape about uprisings in America, Ireland and the Caribbean, as well as the recent abolition of the slave trade on the high seas.  News of these events inspired the ethnically mixed band of conspirators: a slave tailor by the name of Louis of Mauritius, two Irishmen, James Hooper and Michael Kelly; another slave, Jeptha of Batavia, two more slaves Abraham and Adonis. Another Indian slave and two Khoi men later joined them.

Their plan was to march from the rural districts gathering slaves on the way and then to enter Cape Town, seize the Amsterdam Battery, turn the guns on the Castle and then negotiate a peace which would involve establishing a free state and freedom for all slaves.

On the evening of 27 October 1808, on the farm of Gerhardus Louw, Vogelgezang, just north of Malmesbury, Louis arrived on horseback dressed as a visiting Spanish sea captain. Hooper and Kelly rode up by his side, disguised as British officers. They managed to convince the absentee farmer's wife to hand over all their slaves into the hands of the 'military' party. They even charmed the farmer's wife into supplying them with a good meal and a place to rest for the night. The next morning the party proceeded from farm to farm, persuading slaves and Khoi servants to join them. Only in one instance did the march encounter resistance.  In fact, overall there was surprisingly little violence given the magnitude of the insurrection.

Even though all appeared to be going according to plan, a march of some 300 mutinous slaves and servants is a difficult secret to keep. News soon reached the Governor of the Cape, who ordered Infantry and Cavalry to lay in wait for the insurrectionists at Salt River just outside the city.  Here the trap was sprung.  The participants quickly scattered in the face of superior forces. The dragoons rounded up and captured 326 of the marchers. Of these 47 were put on trial including the leadership group of Hooper, Kelly, Louis and the two Khoi leaders. Nine were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, including Louis of Mauritius and James Hooper. Another 11 were sentenced to death as well, for 'active particpation'. Many others were given lessor sentences including imprisonment on Robben Island.

References:
• Iziko Museums of Cape Town,'1808: The day Cape Town was turned Upside Down',From: Iziko Museums of Cape Town, [online]. Available at: media1.mweb.co.za,[Accessed : 15 October 2013]
• Art link,'1808: The day Cape Town was turned Upside Down',From: Art link, [online]. Available at: www.artlink.co.za,[Accessed : 15 October 2013]

Last updated : 25-Oct-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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