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History and Culture  

The first major land baron in the Overberg

From the early 1600s Dutch settlers ventured over the Hottentots Holland Mountains into the Overberg. Farming activities expanded and cattle posts were established. This brought more trading and more settlers.

One such settler was a man called Johannes Jacobus Tesselaar. Born in 1748, he was a lieutenant in the Cape cavalry who received as payment for his services two farms. These were called Hartebeestrivier and Steenboksrivier. He married Alida (Aaltjie) van der Heyde in 1775 but he and his wife remained childless. By 1797 he was a wealthy land baron.

Their will stipulated that the farm Steenboksrivier and their money be left to relatives. The farm Hartbeestrivier and all movables were left to their slaves. Tesselaar died in 1801. Aaltjie continued farming until her death in 1832. In her will she stipulated that all their slaves be freed and that those under the age of 15 be educated.

What makes Tesselaarsdal socio-politically unique?

The land bequeathed by the Tesselaars was informally exchanged or transferred among the freed slave families and their descendants. In the 1800s people of mixed race owning and working land was unheard of. Tesselaarsdal became a thriving farming community hidden from and untouched by the apartheid laws that were to come. It was the only town in South Africa that was unaffected by what was happening in the rest of the country. During the 20th century an Anglican Church and Primary School were established.

It was, and in some instances still is, customary for the local people to provide for their own daily needs. They’ve lived off the land and relied on travelling peddlers from nearby districts for tea, coffee, sugar, spices, and fabric. A lively community, they’ve danced and played cards, worked hard and lived in harmony. If they needed to go to Caledon they went by horse and cart – not an uncommon practice still today.

It was only recently (in 1992) that the town received piped water and electricity.

Audio clips

Resident, Milli Pieterson, shares childhood and family memories, and what her grandfather told her about Tesselaarsdal origins. She also recalls memories of well-known South African artist, Peter Clarke.
Peter Clarke, provides anecdotal insight and talks about how the village received this strange young man who sketched everything he saw.
Jordan Gardener recounts his childhood suspicion of the young artist, Peter Clarke.


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