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Jan Robbertsz, 1704-1758

Richard Ball

originally printed in 2006, vol. 26, no. 3 of 2006 the February 2007 issue of Familia, the quarterly journal of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.

If the marriage of Sophia Schalks van der Merwe to Pieter Robbertsz was childless, as seems likely from my research, who then was Jan Robberts, generally held to be their son?

Going through various documentary sources in search of the facts concerning the children of Willem Schalks van der Merwe and his wife Elsje Jacobs Cloeten, it became apparent to me that these sources suggest that the second marriage of their daughter Sophia van der Merwe to Pieter Robbertsz was childless. I wondered, therefore, what the origin might be of the son, Jan Robberts, ascribed to this couple, originally in CC de Villiers's Geslacht-register, and still so in its modern manifestation, the South African Genealogies [1]

I have based my arguments on documentary records from the relevant period, preserved in the South African Archives Repository in Cape Town. There may well be other relevant documents that I have not come across. I shall be only too pleased to hear of them. The arguments below are based on those documents I have been able to find and consult.

All documents are liable to contain mistakes. People like you and me wrote them and we are all too aware of how easy it is to make mistakes when writing up or copying. A great many of the documents that survive from this period are neat copies of originals that have not themselves survived, and sometimes copies of copies, so the scope for mistakes is increased. Although the scribes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were more experienced and skilled at writing and copying than most of us are today, they still suffered from the common human failings and they too made mistakes. Unfortunately the mistakes are not always obvious.

But, generally these faults were few, and despite any failings they may have, these documents are all we have from which to derive our interpretation of the past, and it is these documents I have consulted when trying to sort out the puzzles that follow. I have tried, wherever possible; to gather evidence for each fact from more than one document, so as to help eliminate such errors.

My very grateful thanks to Jenni Ball, Leon Endemann, Malan Jacobs, André Kellerman, Keith Meintjes, Janet Melville and Barend Venter who all helped me in different ways to gain access to documents or reference works not available to me here in Norfolk.


Proposition: That the marriage of Pieter Robbertsz and Sophia van der Merwe was childless.

In the documents Sophia van der Merwe appears named in several different ways. Here I have standardised her name as Sophia van der Merwe, but she is most likely to have been known in her time as Fijtie Schalks, Juffrouw Robberts or Widow Robberts.

Her first marriage was to Roelof Pasman on 12 November 1684 [2] and together they baptised four daughters before his death in 1695, some time before September of that year. [3]

His surviving children are given in the inventory drawn up after his death as ‘the four minor children named Grietjen aged 6, Trijntjen 4, Sybilla 2, and Roelofjen 1/6 years (ie one sixth of a year or two months)’ thus accounting for all four baptisms. [4,5] When, therefore, Sophia van der Merwe married for the second time to Pieter Robberts on 25 January 1696 at Stellenbosch,6 she brought to the marriage four daughters. She and her second husband were married for seventeen years, until his death in 1713, and during that time or before; there are no baptisms to be found in the extant church registers of any children of this couple. [7]

I have consulted the various opgaaf returns between 1695 (when Pieter Robberts first appears in the rolls) and 1712 (when he last appears). [8] In 1695 Pieter Robbertsz and Sophia van der Merwe are recorded as having three daughters, no sons, and in 1705, 1709 and 1712 four daughters and no sons. Even allowing for mistakes in the transcription and computerisation this is pretty consistent and convincing.

This is confirmed by the muster rolls of 1701 (the last to contain numbers of children) where the couple is listed having four children in their family [9 ] and in 1709, when they drew up their joint will, the four children are named as the four daughters of her first husband, Roelof Pasman, all still living at that date. [10]

No children by Pieter Robberts are mentioned in this will but that is not unusual. Although there are exceptions, the children of the couple making the will are usually referred to as ‘any children, existing or yet to be’ and not named.

Pieter Robbertsz died during 1713, most probably during the smallpox epidemic of that year, as also did his stepdaughter Margareta (Grietje) Pasman and most probably also Roelophina (Roelofje) Pasman. [11] Since he and his wife had drawn up a joint will in 1709 there was no requirement for an inventory or any estate accounts after his death, so we do not have either of these documents to indicate his heirs.

Sophia Schalks van der Merwe drew up several wills. The one mentioned above jointly with her second husband, Pieter Robbertsz, and three more as a widow. Only the last of her wills as a widow, dated 5 February 1732 (1/STB 18/8, 35) mentions the names of her children.

In this will she leaves various legacies to her grandchildren, all of them children of her two daughters Catharina Pasman and Sibilla Pasman, including the farm Rustenburg, that had belonged to her husband, Pieter Robberts, which she left to her grandson, Pieter Laubser, son of the latter daughter.

Then she specifically names as the only heirs of the residue of her estate her two daughters Catharina Pasman and Sibilla Pasman to share her estate equally between them. Had she had a son Jan Robbertsz, we would have expected him too, by right of the law, [12] to have been named as one of the heirs of her estate, apart from any motherly feelings she may have or may not have had for him.


Question: Jan Robbertsz – who then was he?

On 6 August 1730, at Cape Town, Jan Robbertsz married Anna Sophia Horsel. According to the marriage register entry both were single and both had been born at the Cape. [13]

Between 1731 and 1745 they baptised nine children, the first three in Drakenstein, and the rest, from 1737, in Cape Town. This is confirmed by the opgaaf returns according to which they were living in Drakenstein in 1731 but in the Cape District from 1741 to 1757, probably in Cape Town itself since in 1751 Jan Robberts was granted a freehold building plot in a newly laid out section of that town. [14]

When, on 18 February 1758, the inventory was drawn up of the goods left by the deceased Anna Sophia Horsel, the couple was living in a rented house, place not stated, and their belongings were few but sufficient, including three slaves, the total valuation coming to 330 rixdalers after deduction of debts. Jan Robbertsz, presumably unable to write his name, signed the valuation by adding his mark to the document.

He died at the end of the same year, and the couple left only two of their children still living, Anna Catharina Robbertsz married to the burger Daniel Rooden, and Johannes Hendrik Robbertsz aged fourteen years. [15]

CC de Villiers, in his Geslacht-Register [1] assumed that Jan Robbertsz was a son of Pieter Robbertsz and Sophia van der Merwe whom we have examined above. There is, however, no baptism of a Jan Robbertsz to be found in the extant church registers of the period, Cape Town, Stellenbosch or Drakenstein. All three of these registers have faults, lacunae and errors; those for Cape Town, for instance, have lost most of the year 1698, and that of Drakenstein is largely defective or missing before 1714, [16] so this lack may not be significant. We must, therefore, look for other clues.

It was the convention then, and much later too, for baptisms of children to be witnessed by close relatives. Thus the witnesses at the baptism of a first child were often the grandparents, for later children often the uncles and aunts. There was no hard and fast rule, however, and relatives were not obligatory as witnesses; sometimes apparently unrelated individuals appear as witnesses, or the parents double as witnesses, or sometimes there were no witnesses.

The baptisms of the nine children of Jan Robbertsz and Anna Sophia Horsel are recorded in the Drakenstein and Cape Town church registers. Not one of the baptismal witnesses came from the family of Sophia van der Merwe, widow of Pieter Robberts. All of the children seem to have been named in honour of relations on the mother’s side (Horsel and Meijntjes van den Berg), with baptismal witnesses also drawn, in almost every case, from the mother’s side of the family.

Of the only two exceptions, the first was the daughter, Johanna Magdalena, baptised on 8 May 1735 at Drakenstein [17] and the second exception was the baptism of a pair of twins, Franciscus and Pieter Robberts, on 6 June 1745 at Cape Town. [18]

In the baptismal entry of 1735 the witnesses are named as ‘the father and his sister Johanna Robberts’. In that of 1745 the witness who was not one of the mother’s relations, was one Pieternella Boere.

The first of these baptisms tell us that he had a sister named Johanna. I looked, therefore, through my transcriptions of the church records of the period for Johanna Robberts to see if I could find any connections. I found a woman called Johanna Elisabeth Robberts, the wife of Pieter Burée, more usually known as Johanna Elisabeth van Hoorn. [19] Upon checking, I found that she had a daughter named Pieternella Burée.

This is slim evidence indeed – that the only two baptismal witnesses to his children not from his wife’s side of the family seem to have been Johanna Elisabeth Robberts van Hoorn, wife of Peter Bury, and her daughter Pieternella, but it is all the evidence I have been able to find. It may be that further searches will reveal another Johanna Robberts and Pieternella Boere, but so far I have not found them and this is the only positive proof I have been able to find which indicates his origin.

Who were these latter people? Johanna Elisabeth was the daughter of Robbert Jansz van Hoorn and his wife Catarina Cornelisz [20] who lived in Stellenbosch and baptised six children there between 1700 and 1712, including a son baptised 3 August 1704 and named Jan [21] and four daughters, including Johanna Elisabeth. [22]

Robbert Jansz van Hoorn (the Jansz in his name is not a baptismal name but a patronym) [23] lived at Stellenbosch with his wife Catharina Cornelisz (another patronym) and is listed there in the opgaaf return in 1705 with a wife, one son and one daughter and in 1723 without a wife, but with one son and two daughters. In neither entry does he have any livestock, vines or crops, so one must presume that he was not a farmer.

I can find no evidence from the few documents that mention Robbert Jansz van Hoorn, as to whether he himself regarded the ‘van Hoorn’ as a surname or whether it was just a location name added to distinguish him from all the other men of the time with the patronym Jansz, and adopted later by his children as a surname.

In the church register entries for the baptisms of his six children, he is twice entered as Robert Jansz van Hoorn, and four times as plain Robbert Jansz. Similarly his daughters: Metje is refereed to in one case as Metie van Hoorn [24], and in another as Metje Robberts [25] and Johanna Elisabeth is occasionally given the surname Robberts [26] but is most often called Van Hoorn, although just once she is referred to as Johanna Elizabet Robberts van Hoorn. [27]

The evidence of the only two opgaaf returns for Robbert Jansz van Hoorn [28] strongly suggests that the son baptised in 1704 survived and reached adulthood. This son, with patronymic added, would have been called Jan Robbertsz van Hoorn, like his sisters.

Jan Robbertsz appears for the first time independently in the muster rolls in the year 1723, under the District of Cape Town, at the end of the list, where the mostly young, unmarried men generally appear. It was common for a young man to start out by working as a knecht (hired hand), for an established burger and this is probably what he was doing in the Cape Town district. Unfortunately I do not have access to the muster rolls beyond 1725, but here are his appearances up to that date:

Muster Rolls, Cape District (VC 49)
1723 page 486 Jan Robbertsz
1724 page 517 Jan Robbertsz van Hoorn
1725 page 546 Jan Robbertsz

Among the opgaaf returns we find only the name Jan Robbertsz, no Jan Robbertsz van Hoorn, or Jan van Hoorn, first in 1725 as a single man with no possessions but his rifle and his knife and later as a married man.

It seems that, for some reason, Jan Robbertsz chose to retain his patronym as his surname, rather than to adopt the name Van Hoorn as did his sisters, and possibly his father too.


Summing up

There is no baptism recorded of any child born to Sophia van der Merwe and Pieter Robberts.

No children other than the four Pasman daughters are recorded for this couple in the four opgaaf returns between 1696 and 1713.

Sophia van der Merwe does not name Jan Robberts with her two daughters, as heirs in her will.

No members of Sophia van der Merwe’s family feature as witnesses to the baptisms of the children of Jan Robberts.

The only baptismal witnesses of the Jan Robberts children not belonging to the mother’s side of the family belong to the family of Robbert Jansz van Hoorn.

Robbert Jansz van Hoorn had a son named Jan who, to judge from the evidence of the opgaaf returns, survived into adulthood. This son, if given his full name including patronym, would have been called Jan Robbertsz van Hoorn.

In the muster rolls of 1723-1725 appears a Jan Robberts/Jan Robbertsz van Hoorn.

On 6 August 1730, at Cape Town, Jan Robbertsz married Anna Sophia Horsel.



I believe that the documentary evidence I have presented here indicates that Pieter Robberts and Sophia van der Merwe had no children, or at least none that survived to inherit from them, [29] and that Jan Robberts, who married Anna Sophia Horsel, was most probably the son of Robbert Jansz van Hoorn and his wife Catharina Cornelisz.

For a genealogical tables of the Jan Robbertz family, see: http://www.ballfamilyrecords.co.uk/robberts/I001.html

For that of Sophia van der Merwe, see: http://www.ballfamilyrecords.co.uk/burger/I480.html



Notes and References.  All document references are to documents in the Cape Town repository of the South African Archives.

[1] Christoffel Coetzee de Villiers, Geslacht-Register der Oude Kaapsche Familien, published posthumously 1892-95 by GM Theal

Geslagregisters van die Ou Kaapse Families, CC de Villiers, revised C Pama, AA Balkema, 1966

South African Genealogies, published by the Genealogical Institute of South Africa, Stellenbosch, in current publication

[2] VC 603, Cape Town Congregation, marriages, 1684

[3] Palmkroniek 1, Stellenbosch Congregation, baptisms, page 11, Roelofje dogter van Roelof Pasman Za[liger] en de moe[der] fitie Zchalks js gedoopt den 7 Septemb[er] 1695 als getuijge

[4] MOOC 8/1,15, dated 6th December 1695

TANAP Inventories of the Orphan Chamber of the Cape of Good Hope

[5] CC de Villiers in his Geslacht-register (see note 1 above) listed in addition a son named Roelof (no baptism, supposed date of birth around 1694, source not stated) and De Villiers/Pama followed suit, but I have found no evidence for the existence of such a son. I conjecture that the son, Roelof, born ca 1694 was probably a misreading of the above inventory, mistaking Roelofjen (one of the female forms of the male name Roelof) for Roelof and reading 1/6 jaaren as one and a half years (as one contemporary researcher I corresponded with had read it)

[6] Palmkroniek 1, Stellenbosch Congregation, marriages: den 25 Januarij 1696 Pitter Rooberts: jongman sergiant in dienst van d: E Companie met Fitie Schalck gebooren aen de Caap weduwe van Roelif Pasman

[7] It has been suggested that an entry in the Drakenstein (later Paarl) baptismal register, dated 28 May 1696, is his. It reads (in my translation from the French):

1696. The 28 May was baptized a child of the son-in-law of Willem Escalk van den Merven.

Obviously, on the face of it, this could refer to the baptism of a son of Sophia van der Merwe and Pieter Robberts, but it would need some other corroborating evidence particularly since there was one other son-in-law of Willem Schalks van der Merwe at that date, Barend Burger married to Marritie Willemsdr Schalk [van der Merwe] a couple whom we do know to have had several children over the period 1691 to 1700 for whom no baptisms are to be found either.

In addition, on 6 December 1695, the youngest daughter of Sophia van der Merwe, Roelofje (or Roelophina) Pasman was stated to be two months old (see note 4 above). She had been baptised on 27 September 1695 at Stellenbosch. These two facts together give September 1695 as a reasonable birth date for her. On 28 May 1696, at the time of the above baptism, she would have been eight months old. I suppose it would have been possible for another child to have been conceived and born within those eight months but, to me, it seems very unlikely

[8] I wonder about this date of 1695. Pieter Robbertsz and Sophia van der Merwe were not married until January 1696. Perhaps the opgaaf returns for 1695 were done in the early part of the following year?

The Opgaaf (Tax) returns were lists of Free persons at the Cape with their belongings and their yearly produce, crops and animals, upon which their tax contribution was based. What has been consulted here are printouts from the computerised version of this information as produced at the University of the Western Cape, housed at the Genealogical Institute of South Africa, Stellenbosch. This is the only form in which I have access to these opgaaf returns. They contain returns only for certain years. I do not know if the reason for this is that these are the only returns surviving, or if they have been selected on some other basis.

Here is an example of the information for this couple:

1705 (Pieter Robbertsz & Sophia van der Merwe), 1 man 1 wife 0 sons 4 daughters, 0 knegts, 11 male slaves, 2 female slaves, 14,000 vines, 150 cattle, 1200 sheep, district Stellenbosch

[9] The Muster Rolls (monsterollen) were lists of the inhabitants at the Cape of Good Hope, drawn up separately for Company officials and Free persons, and dispatched to the Netherlands, where copies are preserved in the Ryksarchief, S'Gravenhage. What has been consulted here are the so-called ‘Verbatim Copies’ kept, and which are copies of those in the Ryksarchief.

VC 49, Monsterrol van de vrije luijden opgemaakt 23 Januarij 1702, page 3, Pieter Robberts & Sophia Schalck 4 k.

[10] Will – Robbertsz, Pieter and Sophia Schalk van der Merwen – 1709. 1 STB 18/3, 4 and MOOC 7/1/2, 24, dated 2 May 1709: de vier kinderen, door de testatrice bij wijlen Roelof Pasman, geprocre-eerd als namentlijk Margareta oud 20 jaren, Catrijntie oud 17 jaren, Sibilla oud 15 jaren en Roelofphina oud 13 jaren

[11] Muster Rolls, VC 49, page 249, Stellenbosch district, 31 December 1712, Pieter Robbertsz & Sophia Willemsz Schalk, page 273, 31 December 1713, Sophia van der Merwe, wede. Pieter Robberts.

CJ 2876, 62 Contract - Van der Merwe, Sophia - dated 16th October 1713. She is named in the contract as the ‘de weduwe Pieter Robbertsze’

[12] Under Roman Dutch Law as in force at the Cape under the VOC, all children were entitled to an equal share of the children’s portion of a deceased parent (usually half to the children and half to the surviving spouse). No child could be disinherited and cases were brought to the Weeskamer by children who had been left out of the wills of their parents

[13] VC 621, Cape Town Congregation, marriages, page 20, 1730: Den 6 August, Jan Robbertz van Cabo de Goede Hoop burger alhier jongman met Anna Sophia Horsel van Cabo voorn' jonge doghter

[14] C.129, pp. 238-259. 16 November 1751, grant of a building plot to Jan Robberts in a newly laid out block in Cape Town. TANAP Resolutions of the Council of Policy of the Cape of Good Hope

[15] MOOC 8/8.39, Anna Sophia Horsel, 18 Februarij 1758

MOOC 8/9.46, Jan Robbertsz, 7 November 1758

TANAP Inventories of the Orphan Chamber of the Cape of Good Hope

[16] See: http://www.ballfamilyrecords.co.uk/notes/Drakenstein_registers.htm

[17] VC 644, Drakenstein Congregation, baptisms, page 131, 1735: 8 dito (Maij)

Johanna Magdalena, ouders: Jan Robbers, Anna Sophia Horsel, getuijgen: de vader en syne suster Johanna Robbers

[18] VC 606, Cape Town Congregation, 6.6.1745: Franciscus [&] Pieter, tweelingen, de Ouders Jan Robbertsz, en Anna Sophia Horsel, de Getuýgen Johannes en Johanna Elisabeth van den berg: mitsgaaders Pieter van den Berg en Pieternella Boere

[19] VC 605, Cape Town Congregation, baptisms, page 42, 1727: 30 9br (November), Alida, d'Vader Isaak Nieuwout, d'Moeder Anna van Wyck, get[uijgen] Pieter Burée en Johanna Elisabeth Robberts

VC 605, Cape Town Congregation, baptisms, page 29, 1725: 15.do. (April), Pieter, Onegt. geEcht(different writing), Ouders: de zo genaamde vader is Pieter Buureij, en Johanna Elizabet Robberts van Hoorn, Getuijgen: de moeder

See also De Villiers/Pama, Geslagsregister, 1961, page 124

[20] For the parentage of Catharina Cornelisz see the article by Mansell Upham, The Soetkoek Syndrome: the dangers of ‘wishful linking’ & perpetuating genealogical myths when sharing ancestors and genealogical data, in: Capensis 2/2001: 27-30

[21] Palmkroniek 1, Stellenbosch Congregation, baptisms, page 18: 3e Aug[ustus] 1704, Jan, soon van Robbert Jansz van Hoorn en Catharina Cornelisz, getuijgen Andries Voormeester en Catryn van Bengalen. (There was, in fact, an earlier son baptised Johannes in 1701, but I think it can safely be assumed that the earlier one had died before his brother was born)

[22] Palmkroniek 1, Stellenbosch Congregation, baptisms, page 50, 1708:

Johanna Elisabeth, de Vader Robbert Janse, de Moeder Katrina Cornelis, getuygen Jan Barents Siechard, en Anna Cornelis, den 29 April

[23] Patronyms. Before surnames come into use (a very variable date throughout Europe), children would bear their fathers’ name as a second name. Pieter would be called Pieter Jansz (Pieter the son of Jan) to distinguish him from all the other Pieters in his area. When the Cape was first settled, from the mid 17th century onwards, the use of the patronym was normal in the Netherlands, although surnames had gradually been adopted by the better off since the early 1500s, particularly in the south of the area. So some settlers arrived at the Cape already using a surname (Mostert, Visser, Van Staden), whereas others were using a patronym (Jansz[oon], Pietersz[oon]).

It seems that those Cape settlers still using patronyms usually adopted a surname sooner rather than later. This surname might be their patronym (Jansen, Pieters, Hendrickse) or their place of origin (Van Deventer, Van Nieuwkerk) or a name whose origin we are not aware of (Meijburgh, Louw)



[24] VC 644, Drakenstein Congregation, baptisms, page 42, 1715

[25] Palmkroniek 1, Stellenbosch Congregation, baptisms, page 87, 1718

[26] VC 605, Cape Town Congregation, baptisms, pages 40 and 42, 1727

[27] VC 605, Church Registers Congregation, baptisms, page 29, 1725

[28] VC 49, Opgaaf returns:

1705 (Robbert JZ van Hoorn and Catharina Cornelisz), 1 man, 1 wife, 1 son, 1 daughter, no cattle, no crops, District Stellenbosch

1723 (Robbert van Hoorn), 1 man, 0 wife 1 son, 2 daughters, no cattle, no crops, 1 gun, 1 rapier, District Stellenbosch

[29] During the course of my research, I was referred to an article in Familia entitled Genealogy and Hereditary Diseases, a précis of an article in the South African Medical Journal (Familia 17 (3/4) 1980, p 79-81.), as having relevance to this family. I have since examined the doctoral thesis, Huntington’s chorea in South Africa, Michael R Hayden, University of Cape Town, 1979, to which the SA Med Journal article referred. It does not affect the above research since, so far as I can judge, the thesis has taken its information on the marriages and children of Sophia van der Merwe from either the CC de Villiers Geslacht-Register, or from the later C Pama revision of that work. At all events, it merely assumes that Jan Robertsz was the son of Sophia Schalks van der Merwe and presents no source or evidence for that assumption.

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