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The remarkable wealth of the Dutch Cape Colony: measurements from eighteenth-century probate inventories

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Abstract

How comfortable was the life of the average settler in the Dutch Cape Colony of the eighteenth century? The generally accepted view is of a poor, subsistence economy, with little progress being made in the 143 years of Dutch rule (1652–1795). This article shows that new evidence from probate inventory and auction roll records contradicts earlier historical accounts. These documents bear witness to a relatively affluent settler society, comparable to some of the most prosperous regions of eighteenth-century England and Holland. This detailed picture of the material wealth of the Colony should inspire a revision of the standard accounts. The causes and consequences of this prosperity are also considered briefly.

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