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Who was Susanna Claasen?

Having seen a posting on one of the email newsgroups which asked for information about the baptism and parents of Susanna Claasz, the wife of Matthijs Greef, I  became interested in the problem.

De Villliers, revised Pama, Genealogies of Old South African Families, 1966, present her like this:

Quote from De Villiers / Pama - Genealogies of Old Cape Families

the K, an abbreviation, presumably meant to be discreet, implying that she was of non european origin. That made me check in Dr H.F. Heese's Groep Sonder Grense, 1984, and she is there (page 50) stated to have been Susanna Claasen v.d.K. (i.e. van de Kaap, or the usual form of name for Cape Born slaves and free blacks (vrijswarten). The source for this statement is given as J.A. Heese's boek, Die Herkoms van die Afrikaner, to which I do not have access, so I do not know the reasoning behind this assumption.

My curiosity pricked, I decided to do some investigation for myself.

I started with the church registers of the Cape Town congregation, checking first the marriage entry:

page 83, 1684 eodem dito (12 November) Mathys Greve, jonghman, vryborger en Susanna Claessen, jonge dochter van de Caep.

This told me that at her marriage she was a spinster and that she had been born at the Cape and that, since she used a patronymic form of last name, her father's first name was probably Claas, a form of the name Nicolaas.

Since baptisms of children were often witnessed by near relations, and the firstborn children often witnessed by grandparents, if such were still alive, I then checked tha baptisms of their children. The baptismal entries for their first two children are as follows:

page 30, 1685 den 7 October Antie ouwders: Matys Grove en Susanna Claesen getuijgen: Augie Rycks en Theunis van Schalckwyck

page 31, 1687 Den 25 dito (Maij) is een kint gedoopt ende genaamt mathys waar van Vader was Mathys Greven ende moeder Zusanna Claasz de getuijgen waaren Jacob Aarts Brouwer en Maria Lindenhovius

I knew that neither Theunis van Schalckwyk nor Maria Lindenhovius were her parents, but I knew nothing about Augie Rycks or Jacob Aarts Brouwer, nor cold I find them in De Villiers / Pama. so I moved backwards in the church registers to see if I could find the baptism of a daughter named Susanna around what might have been the appropriate period, perhaps 15 to 20 years before the date of her marriage, say 1665 - 1670. The population of Cape Town was very small at this time, so it did not seem a hopeless task.

I found not one child named Susanna until I reached the following entry:

page 6, Anno 1672 den 14 Febr een dochterke van Claas Jacobz van Meldorp en Aagje Rycks syn huysvr' wiert genaamt Susanna tot getuyge stont neeltje Roosen-daal huysvr' van Frans Gerritz

on the 14 February a daughter of Claas Jacobsz van Meldorp and Aagje Rycks his wife was named Susanna, as witness stood Neeltje Roosen-daal the wife of Frans Gerritsz

and here we have not only a father named Claas, but a mother named Aagje Rycks, which, give or take a littl spelling variation of the type one expects to find in documents of this period, is the same name as that of the woman who was a witness at the baptism of Susanna's first child.

The people in the above entry are most probably using patronyms rather tban surnames, as was the normal form in the Netherlands at this date, surnames being usually used only by the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie.

His name, assuming I am right about the patronymic, tells us that his father's name was Jacob. Because both Claas and Jacobsz were in common use, his place of birth, Meldorp, is used to distinguish him from other men called Claas Jacobsz. Her name indicates that her father's name was Rijk.

I checked furthr for Aagje Rijcks and found the following baptism:

page 20, 1676 Den 29 dito (April), Jacobus (ouders:) Jacob Hendricksz en Aafie Rijcks (getuijge:) Jelletie Hartmans

so I moved to marriages and found the following:

page 75, Anno 1671 Den juni (sic) Claas Jacobsz Meldorp en Aagje Rix jonged. van ter [..r]

page 79, 1675 Den 17 Maart Jacob Hendricksz geboortigh van Leyden en Aaghje Ricx van Middelburgh wede. van Borger Claas Jacobs van Meldorp

page 82, Anno 1677 Den 2.Maij. Jacob Aertsz Brouwer van Tiel J.M. vrijborger alhier met Aeghie Rijcks van der Veer Weduwe.

and in the muster rolls of free people, VC 39. (the k at the end of some of the entries is an abbreviation of kinderen, children)

1672, p. 46 Claes Jacobsz van Meldorp en Aefien Rijcks

1673, p. 48 Claas Jacobs en Aeltje Rijx 1 kind

1678, p. 59 Jacob Aarts Brouwer en Aechje Rijkx 2k.

1682. p. 67 Jacob Aartsz Brouwer en Aachie Rijckx

1685, p. 73 Jacob Aartsz Brouwer en Agie Rijck 2 k

So it seems that the two children of Aagje Rijks were both still alive in 1685, although I am not sure why there should be an overlap with Susanna's marriage in November 1684. She appears with her husband Matthijs Greef in the roll of 1685, and, in a baptismal entry of 4 February 1689 at Stellenbosch (but recorded in the Cape Town registers, VC 603 page 37) as one of the witnesses, named as Zuzanne Claasse Meldorp.

If Susanna Claasz, wife of Matthijs Greef, was indeed the Susanna baptismed in 1672, then the baptismal witnesses for her first two children would have been her mother and her step father, quite a good circumstantial case. But so far I had not found what I call proof positive, a statement in some contemporary document that she was indeed the daughter of Aagje Rijks.

I next check in Ad Biewenga's De Kaap de Goede Hoop and found references to both Jacob Aartsz Brouwer and Susanna Claasz, but nothing that related them to one another. Biewenga made reference to the prosecution of JA Brouwer for the attempted murder of his wife, with documentary references, so I first checked the Stellenbosch Notarial records for the period (1 STB 18/154) and found several declarations about the incident as well as declartions about the assault of JA Brouwer on the wife of Matthijs Greef, but still no statement of relationship.

Biewenga also made reference to Court of Justice records in the Netherlands National Archives, so I ordered a copy of those.

The relevant documents are contained in the VOC collections of the Netherlands National Archives which seem to consist of filed copies of all documents received from the Cape, year by year. What was sent were further copies of all the Stellenbosch declarations which I had already studied, plus a connected statement of the happenings based on the declarations, which was presented to the court for judgment. And in this statement (called Eijsch en Conclusie) was the evidence I was hoping for:

(speaking of JA Brouwer) den ged[aagte] ... zijn vrouws dogter de huijsvrouw van den oud heemraad Matthijs Greeve ...

his wife's daughter the wife of the ex heemraad Matthijs Greeve


Juffr[ouw] Greeve, des ged[aagte]s behuwd dogter ...

Mistress Greeve, the accused's daughter by marriage ...

Susanna Claasz, the wife of Matthijs Greef, we can now conclude, was baptised on 14th February 1672 at Cape Town, the daughter of Aagje Rijks, variously stated to have been born at Middelburg and Ter Veere, and of Claas Jacobsz, born at Meldorp.  (see my note below)

Claas Jacobsz van Meldorp had been at the Cape since at least 1662, working as a free sawyer, first as a hand but from 1664 as a master sawyer. (Muster rolls of the free settlers at the Cape, VC 39).

In the second section of this account, I give a paraphrase of the evidence presented at the trial on 4th April 1705 of Jacob Aartsz Brouwer at Cape Town, as contained in the documents in the Cape Archives and the Netherlands National Archives at the Hague.


In the case of Jacob Aartzen Brouwer, farmer of Stellenbosch, accused of attempting to murder his wife and beating up his step daughter. Heard by the Council of Justice at the Cape on 4th April 1705.

This account of the events is a summary of the presentation (Eijsch en Conclusie) of the evidence put before the Council of Justice at the Cape at the trial on Saturday 4th April 1705, presumably by the prosecutor. The summing up is based on seven sworn statements by participants and witnesses, made shortly after the event, before Jan Mahieu, secretary to the Stellenbosch acting Landdrost, Pieter Robbertsz.and his heemraden.

Jacob Aartsz Brouwer had been married for approximately 25 years to Aagje Rijks when, on the morning of the 2nd February, 1705, he asked her 'Where are the sheep?'. She replied that they were on the mountain and at once set out to look after them. Hardly had she arrive, however, when she heard her husbands gun fire a signal for her to come home again.

At once she returned home. As she got to the door he grabbed her by the arm, dragged her in and shut the door, saying 'Now I shall reward you, I am going to cut your throat!' but, not finding his knife, he took up his gun, pointed it to her breast, and pulled the trigger. By great good luck the firing powder burnt without setting off the charge and while he reached for his powder horn she fled out of the door.

Aagje Rijks testified, in a sworn statement, that over the years her husband had often mistreated her and issued many threats that he would kill her and that if she left him he would find her out and burn down any house she was sheltering in.

He also mistreated his wife's daughter, the wife of Matthys Greef. On the 2nd January of that year, she having just arrived at his house, he grabbed her and beat her up. The noise and screaming attracted the attention of the soldier, Pieter van der Linden, who entered the house to find her painfully beaten and mistreated and asked Jan Arentsz Brouwer how he could thus treat a woman who was unable to defend herself. He replied 'What business is it of yours!' and came forward with a half open razor in each hand. The soldier grabbed one of them whereupon Brouwer slashed at him with the other razor, but he managed to evade it as it passed just before his nose.

The prosecutor states that he learned all this from Aagje Rijks herself.

1STB-18-154 B-226

Aagie Rikx signs her sworn statement with her mark (1STB 18/154, page 226, 3 February 1705)

Twice messengers were sent requesting J A Brouwer to account for his behaviour in person before the acting Landdrost, Pieter Robbertsz, but he refused and abused the messenger and the Landdrost.

Brouwer was then arrested on the 5th February and taken to Cape Town, cursing the Landdrost and also the veldwagter who took him the whole way.

This summing up suggested that a separation was the usual solution to this typ of matrimonial strife (but there is no mention of such in the statement of punishment at the end of the document) and that Brouwer receive corporal punishment.

Brouwer was sentenced by the court to be taken to the usual place of execution, to be bound to a pole and severely beaten, after which he was to be banished to Mauritius for 25 years.


In December 1708 J A Brouwer was apparently confined on Robben Island, since an extract from a letter dated 12th December 1708, instructs Seargeant Hamerling on the island to send over the convict J.A.Brouwer to give evidence in a case. Leibbrandt, HCV, Precis of the Archives of the Cape of Good Hope: Letters Despatched 1696-1708, Cape Town, 1896, page 396.

Richard Ball © 2006 Norfolk, England


Netherlands National Archive, VOC 10907 Rechtsrolle 4 Apr 1705

Cape Archives, 1 STB 18/155, Verklaringen 1700-1705

Cape Archives, VC 603, photocopy of the Cape Town church registers 1665-1695

Cape Archives, VC 39, transcripts of muster rolls 1662-1700


After having written and published this article, I have now found that, unnoticed by me, that this information has already been published, in a form without the sources and evidence which I have provided above, by Lorna Newcomb in her notes to the membership register of the Stellenbosch Congregation which were published on the Stellenbosch Doopregister 1688-1732 (Palmkronieke No 1) produced and sold by the Moedergemeente Stellenbosch (available to purchase on the eGGSA web site in the Online Shop section.

She has added this additional information about Claas Jacobsz van Meldorp that his first wife was Dorothea Anna Margaretha Sperlings and that he was murdered by the Khoikhoi in 1673 at Moordkuil.

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