Sara Magdalena, my husband’s 6th great-grandmother, was not the daughter of Andreas OELOFSE, the husband of her mother Sara JANSZ, but a man whose name was given as “unknown” on the child’s May 1709 baptism record. However, as detailed in a previous post, the child was listed as Sara MEURS in her mother’s 1713 estate inventory. Only one person in the available online records carries that name: Samuel Martini DE MEURS. I agree with other researchers who are reasonably certain that he was Sara Magdalena’s father.
No known image of DE MEURS exists, but he may well have looked like the man in the above drawing, enjoying his pipe at the end of a day of conducting business. “A Dutchman without a pipe is a national impossibility. If a Dutchman were deprived of his pipe and tobacco, he would not even enter Paradise with a glad heart.”
My speculation that Sara Magdalena’s un-named father was a person of importance proved to be correct. In April 1707, DE MEURS was appointed to the post of landdrost, or chief magistrate, of the District of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein. He was effectively the chief legal officer of the district as well as the appointed representative of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) Council of Policy which governed the colony.
On the face of it, his previous occupation would not have qualified him to serve as landdrost. In his VOC employment document, he’s listed as a bosschieter, or ship’s gunner, who arrived at the Cape on 26 Jul 1706. His final destination is shown as Batavia (present-day Jakarta), but the record does not indicate why he remained at the Cape. Although we are not concerned here with his term as landdrost, it does appear from various Council of Policy records that he executed his duties conscientiously.
How DE MEURS would have come to know Sara JANSZ is not as puzzling. Five years before OELOFSE married Sara in 1690, he had purchased a farm near Stellenbosch. Although founded in 1679, at the time DE MEURS was resident there Stellenbosch was still a small village, as can be seen in the drawing below made in 1710; in that year, the muster roll for the town and the surrounding district lists 113 free men. It seems likely that everyone who lived in the area would have known everyone else.
In the absence of a definite death date for Sara’s husband, it is difficult to determine whether he was still alive during her relationship with DE MEURS. However, according to well-respected South African researcher Mansell UPHAM, Sara was “censured by the Stellenbosch Church Council for giving birth to an illegitimate daughter…possibly either fathered or adopted by Stellenbosch Landdrost Samuel Martini de Meurs …”. It is not clear from this quote whether DE MEURS was cited by name in the censure document; I hope to determine this once the church archive is open again.
This is the first reference I’ve seen to the possibility that DE MEURS adopted the child and may be based solely on Sara JANSZ’s estate inventory. Certainly, the will drawn up by DE MEURS and his wife Aletta BECK less than a month after their 29 Dec 1709 marriage does not support such a relationship. In that document, he stated that he had no living antecedents or descendants and named his wife as the sole inheritor of his estate. It seems unlikely that DE MEURS would have adopted Sara Magdalena and then left her out of his will. If he had made some other provision for her, it would have made sense to include this fact in the will to invalidate any future claim she might bring against his estate.
The will indicates that DE MEURS was ill in bed although his wife was healthy and both were “in full command of their senses.” He was only 30 years old at the time, but his illness must have become a serious one. Records show that he was absent from the post of landdrost starting in March 1710 during which time the senior heemraad (councilman) acted as head of the council, and the secretary collected the revenue and conducted the correspondence. No replacement was named to his post, so it seems likely that he and his wife continued to live in the drostdy, or government office and residence.
It was there on the night of 17 Dec 1710 that DE MEURS sent his slave out to the courtyard to fetch a smoldering coal with which to light his pipe. A strong south-easterly wind blew sparks onto the thatched roof of the residence. From there, the fire spread quickly and destroyed all but two or three of the houses, including all of the VOC’s properties and the church, which was situated next to the drostdy.
Although one history of Stellenbosch blames the fire on “the heedlessness of a slave,” the Council of Policy held his master DE MEURS responsible and relieved him of his duties. He died a month later on 19 Jan 1711.
Legend blames the disastrous 1871 fire in Chicago on a cow who kicked over a lantern in the barn. However, DE MEURS is the first human I’ve found in anyone’s tree who was responsible for burning down a whole town!
This act leads me to dub Samuel Martini DE MEURS as the “black sheep” of the family.
The quote about “A Dutchman without a pipe …” appears on most sites about clay pipes. Only https://www.ramshornstudio.com/pipes3.htm gives the single name Schotel as the source of the quote. There is a family of painters in Dordrecht with that surname. However, an historian and biographer named Gilles Denijs Jacob SCHOTEL seems more likely to be the source.
Accounts of the 1710 fire differ, making it difficult to ascertain where DE MEURS and his wife were living at the time. One even makes it sound like the landdrost himself, who had been unable to fulfill his duties for many months, was out in the courtyard in a gale trying to light his pipe. The Stellenbosch University Theology Faculty site states that the drostdy “…apparently was quite large, because Van der Stel and his entourage often lodged here.” http://www.sun.ac.za/english/faculty/theology/Pages/About.aspx Based on this and other accounts, it seems logical to assume that DE MEURS and his wife were living in the drostdy at the time of the fire.
1) Search for a title deed for the farm said to have been purchased from freed slave Evert of Guinea by Andreas OELOFSE in 1685. It is variously cited as Weltevreden or Welgelegen. The 1709 inventory for the OELOFSE estate does not give the farm’s name, but lists it as a piece of land with a building in the Bottelary Hills, which are just outside Stellenbosch.
2) Once the Stellenbosch Church Archive has re-opened, obtain a copy of the document censuring Sara JANSZ as immoral for having an illegitimate child.