Rebels and Riches: Examining Social and Economic Consequences of Settler Protest in the Cape of Good Hope, 1775-1790

Jonathan Schoots, Stellenbosch University
Johan Fourie, Stellenbosch University
Leone Walters, Stellenbosch University

What are the social and economic consequences when political challengers confront the state, make themselves visible targets, and then fail to achieve political power or reform? This paper examines these questions in the context of settler protest against the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the Cape of Good Hope. In 1779, 404 settler farmers signed a petition demanding greater economic and political freedom. These calls emerged from an international milieu of settler and citizen demands for independence, following the American Independence movement and drawing on political strategies of Burghers in Holland. Despite the petition yielding no significant concessions from the government, those who participated in the protest gained significant wealth in the years that followed. This paper uses two large novel historical datasets to examine both the sources of political mobilization in the Cape and the economic and social consequences for opponent of the colonial state. Using detailed panel tax census data we examine the economic, class, and social positions of the petitioners, adjudicating between competing theories of political mobilization in this settler context. We then follow the economic consequences of dissent, using tax data to compare economic outcomes for petitioners and non-petitioners 10 years after the petition. We find that petitioners became wealthier than their peers in the years following the petition. Using public auctions, we examine social and economic networks as the mechanism of this economic divergence. We illustrate how the social and economic network structure of Cape farmer society transformed in response to public political challenge. This study offers new insights into the economic and social effects of failed political opposition, sheds new light on the dynamics of political action in settler colonial contexts, and examines how political identification shapes economic and social outcomes for communities well beyond the short durée moment of political mobilization.

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 Presented in Session 45. Social Movements and Political Power