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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X


GROENEWALD, Gerald. Een Spoorloos Vrouwspersoon: Unmarried mothers, moral regulation and the church at the Cape of Good Hope, circa 1652-1795. Historia [online]. 2008, vol.53, n.2, pp.5-32. ISSN 2309-8392.

This article explores the treatment of unmarried mothers by the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) at the Cape of Good Hope during the VOC period (1652-1795) in the belief that by concentrating on this exceptional group of people, much is revealed of normative practices. For most of its history at the Cape during this period, the DRC was not overly biased against unmarried mothers and their illegitimate children, continuing to baptise such children and never acting against the mothers. This changed in the 1780s when the Church started to deny access to its two sacraments - baptism and Holy Communion - to illegitimate children and their parents. Through a detailed exploration of baptismal petitions for illegitimate children and censure cases involving unmarried mothers, this article reveals the growing obsession with regulating the conduct of single women. It is suggested that the origins of this movement lie both in local Cape developments, namely the socio-economic upheavals caused by the revolutionary wars, and - perhaps primarily - in changing attitudes towards motherhood created by Enlightenment ideas and Pietistic religion. At the Cape this new ideology was disseminated by the DRC minister H.R. van Lier, who used existing Reformed dogma about the sacraments to regulate the morals of unmarried mothers.

Keywords : Baptism; Cape Town (1652-1795); church discipline; concubinage; Dutch Reformed Church; Enlightenment; Fourth Anglo-Dutch War; free blacks; gender; H.R. van Lier; Holy Communion; illegitimacy; marriage; moral regulation; morality; motherhood; Pietism; privacy; race; single women; slavery; Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC).

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