"We are free, you are slaves. Come on, let's run away": Escape from Constantia, 1712.

28 July 2014

Slaves were imported to the Cape from 1658 to 1808. The majority of the captives lived in Cape Town and many other slaves lived on farms. Added to this captive population were political exiles. In 1712, 23 slaves and exiles gathered at Constantia, a renowned wine farm, to run away. Since the holding was an important homestead, one would expect that this escape would have been reconstructed in the histories of the farm and slavery at the Cape. At the time, the escape raised sufficient alarm among authorities to warrant a copy of the judicial record be entered into the daybook of the Dutch East India Company (hereafter referred to as the Company).1 However, it would appear that the non-participation of the farm’s captives lessened the apparent significance of the desertion and distracted historians from engaging with the dynamics surrounding the plot and with the escapers’ eventual dash to freedom. Carefully planned to succeed, the escape failed and the trial of the runaways who were captured brought the desertion into the historical record. To date, the brave hopefuls, their risky strike at liberty, and the disruption they caused at Constantia one spring day have received minimal scholarly attention.2 To address this oversight, the following account will provide as full details of the escape as possible.