Dynasty building, family networks and social capital: alcohol pachters and the development of a colonial elite at the Cape of Good Hope, c. 1760-1790.

11 June 2012

A hallmark of colonisation was extensive social reconfiguration, leading to the development of local elites which differed from the metropolitan and indigenous patterns. Historians of the Cape of Good Hope during the VOC era have identified the development of a local elite during the eighteenth century. The Cape gentry, consisting of grain and wine farmers in the hinterland of Cape Town, consolidated their power and influence over several generations through capital accumulation in the form of land and slaves, and through contracting endogamous marriages. This article contributes to this scholarship by adding a missing dimension: urban entrepreneurs in the form of the alcohol pachters (lease-holders). It traces how kinship, entrepreneurship and social capital were used by these people to gain economic advancement, and how the use of these factors changed over time. The article argues that the 1770s present a change-over from an earlier era when alcohol entrepreneurs were largely immigrant-based and used their cultural identities to their advantage, to a system where the urban and rural elites increasingly contracted business and social alliances. As such this study argues that the foundations of the Cape gentry lay in more than the accumulation of land and slaves. The entrepreneurial activities of alcohol pachters in Cape Town and their increasing alliances with the rural elite played an important role in creating an intricate network of wealthy and influential elite families at the Cape of Good Hope by the end of the eighteenth century.