Cornelia Arabus1

F, #6534, b. 1647
NoticeUnderstanding the origins of Lijsbeth and Cornelia Arabus

[Much of this information is summarised from Mansell Upham's Made or Marred by time - the Other Armozijn & two enslaved Arabian 'princesses' at the Cape of Good Hope (1656) which is essential reading for descendants of these individuals]:

Sometime in 1654 the French ship St. Georges had left Nantes enroute to the French settlement Fort Dauphin at Tolanhaer, Madagascar near St Lucy's Bay. The French had frequently made war on the people of the island, and had killed a king, a prince and many men. They had captured four 'royal' children who were kept on the St Georges with a view toward eventually taking them to France. The vessel remained at Fort Dauphin for eight months assembling a three-masted vessel intended for deployment in the Red Sea. The St. Georges and the other vessel proceeded to Monanboela for two months and then sailed for the Red Sea to "rob the Moors". They attempted to capture an English vessel believing it to be a "Moor" ship, but were beaten off, losing 60 men. They returned to Socatra where they acquired musk, civet and nine casks of aloes before returning to the Mascarenhas [Réunion] for tobacco and then sailing on via St Maria to Tolanhaer with suppllies, including rice, for the garrison. The St. Georges then sailed on to Saldanha Bay with a cargo of hides, wax, gum, minerals, the "four royal children" and a small box of great value where they awaited the arrival of Admiral Gilles de La Roche-Saint-André at the helm of La Duchesse and two other vessels, La Maréschale and La Erman. The French fleet sailed into Table Bay on 31 March 1656. Despite the concern of the Cape hierachy of possible evil intent on the part of the French, there was some back-and-forth socialising, culminating with the gifting of the two 'Abysinnian princesses', Lijsbeth Arabus and Cornelia Arabus, who had been captured on Madagascar to Maria de la Queillerie. A third, unnamed male slave was presented to Jan van Riebeeck. This unnamed "slave" may have been the third of the four 'royal' children, but in any event he died on 14 June 1656. It is tempting to think the royal children were full or half-siblings, however, this has not been revealed in the record and they may have been from different branches of the royal family who had been attacked.

The account of the Malagasy origins of the girls was told to Jan Woutersz: by Boudewyn van den Abele, a sailor from Brughes who had arrived with the St. Georges at Saldanha.

However, the French hierarchy in the person of Admiral de La Roche-Saint André seemed to have glossed over the St. Georges’ disastrous encounter with the English, relating it instead as ‘an English wine prize’. They also apparently described the girls as Abyssinian or from Arabia (Arabus). Why would they do so?

The French wanted sail material and other support from the VOC community at the Cape which was not readily forthcoming. So were the girls a ‘sweetener’ and did the French therefor want to increase their apparent value and make the gifts to the wife of the commander and her husband appear more substantial than they were in real terms? It is worth asking if the French (and the Dutch authorities at the Cape) would have attached more value to Abyssinian or Arabian royalty than they would to Malagasy royalty.

The next obvious question is would this subterfuge work, given that the girls were Malagasy and therefor likely to be darker skinned and have more African features including curlier hair?

Not necessarily.

It may be that the appearance of the royal children, especially the two girls, was more Asian or Arabic.

The Malagasy royal families, known as ZafaRaminia, traditionally believe themselves to have originated from Meulaboh in Ramini, Aceh whose people are described as Onjantsy or People of Atsy, that is, 'from Aceh'. The Ramini, in turn, are thought to be the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed whose daughter Fatima's husband left Arabia to rule in Mangadsini or an 'Islamised land' believed to be on Sumatra. Traditionally this couple are believed to have had a son Rahouraoud and a daughter Raminia who married each other who in turn produced two sons, Rahadsy or Rasty and Rakoub or Rakovatsy. Infighting in the dynasty saw them leave Mangadsini with their retinue and voyage to Ankoala on Madagascar ultimately resulting in the ZafaRaminia. They were Zaidi, a branch of Shi'a Islam.

Around 9 and 10 CE a deputy king from Aceh named Raden Anon ruled the royal court at Ankoala. His name became Randrianoy. His subordinates actively traded with Muslim communities along the East African coast such as Kilwa, Zanzibar and others.

In this time period, noble families known as ZafiKazimambo which is Swahili for 'descendants of the Queen' came into existence via matrimonial alliances and the influence of the Ismaili sect.

In the 10th century CE, conflict between Sunni and Shi'a in Arabia affected Muslim communities spread along the African coast, even affecting the Ankoala kingdom. The ZafiRaminia and the ZafiKazimambo retreated to Vohémar in the north east.

Fast forward to the 21st century

Recent DNA and linguistic research shows the population on Madagascar primarily has its roots in Africa and the Banjar region in Southeast Borneo. The latter population has a long history of trading with communities on Sumatra and Malaysia and may indeed have originated in that general area. This most likely accounts for the Malay influences on the Malagasy language. It also broadly supports the oral histories of the royal families.

Three descendants of Lijsbeth Sanders through her granddaughter Isabella Potgieter have tested positive for the mtDNA haplogroup L3b3. It is therefor fairly safe to assume that Lisjbeth Sanders was also L3b3. And if Lijsbeth Sanders was indeed the daughter of Lisjbeth Arabus, then Lijsbeth Arabus would also be L3b3.

L3b3 is a sub-clade of L3b which in highest frequency is found in both north and west Africa. The ancestral haplogroup L3 is an ancient group which evolved around 20-thousand years ago in the region of the Horn of Africa. As of August 2016, little is specifically known of the sub-clade L3b3.

In November 2015, the website reported that 17 women had been tested by The Genographic Project (Geno 2) for L3b3 - as follows:
born South Africa, maternal origin said to be South Africa: 3
born Haiti, maternal origin said to be Haiti: 1
born South Africa, maternal origin said to be United Kingdom: 1
born Peru, maternal origin said to be said to be Peru: 1
born Aruba, maternal origin said to be St Kitts and Nevis: 1
born US, maternal origin said to be US: 1
born unspecified, maternal origin unspecified: 9

This group may or may not include those referred to above who are all descended from Lisjberth Sanders through Isabella Potgieter. The direct maternal ancestry of the women referred to on is unknown ... clearly it would be very important to have documented maternal lines as far back as possible in order to know how or if they are connected to each other.

Whether the mtDNA sub-clade L3b3 turns out to have its origins in north Africa, around the Horn of Africa or even east or southern Africa, won't make any difference to the Malagasy roots of the 'princesses' which were recorded at the time. People from all of those regions ended up on the island over a very long period prior to 1656. If its origins turn out to be elsewhere (in my opinion unlikely), then the relationship between Isabella Potgieter and her grandmother Lisjbeth Sanders to Lijsbeth Arabus would come into question.2,3,4

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NGK (Cape Town) Baptisms 1665-1695NGK (Cape Town) Baptisms 1665-1695
Last Edited21/08/2016
Birth*Cornelia Arabus was born in 1647 in Madagascar.5
BaptismCornelia Arabus was baptized before 23 August 1665 de Caep de Goede Hoop.6 


  • Armosyn Claasz van de Caep+ b. c 1661, d. 1733; This candidate relationship is offered based on Mansell Uphams extensive research on the women of this period, and his process of elimination of other women who may qualify to be the mother. There was a very small pool of company owned slave women who could have been the mother.12
  • Claas Cornellisen van de Caep b. c 1663; candidate relationship, perhaps further evidence of this relationship will surface as I add records.13
(Slave) ShipVoyage On 25 March 1656 the St Georges, La Duchesse, La Maréschale and La Erman, ships of the French fleet arrived at arrived at Saldanha Bay under the overall command of Admiral Gilles de La Roche-Saint-André. Among those on board St Georges/St. Joris were three enslaved Malagasy royal children, including Cornelia Arabus and Lijsbeth Arabus and an unnamed male child who died 3 months later. The fleet had sailed from Nantes via Cap Vert, travelling around the Cape and visiting Madagascar, Ile de Bourbon, Socotra, and the Red Sea - returning via the same route.7 
Slave TransactionsOn 29 March 1656 Cornelia Arabus and Lijsbeth Arabus were gifted by Admiral Gilles de La Roche-Saint-André, to Maria de la Queillerie de Caep de Goede Hoop, however this transaction was revoked by the Visiting VOC Commissioner Ryckloff van Goens senior, and Lijsbeth and Cornelia then became the property of the Company who could be hired out to officials.5,8,9
Cornelia Arabus, a slave, was was placed on loan from the Company, in service to Hendrick Hendricksz Boom before 16 April 1657 de Caep de Goede Hoop.10,11


  1. [S418] Anna J. Böeseken, Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658-1700 (Cape Town: Tafelberg, 1977), p.8-9; . . . as did two slave children from Abyssinia. These two were little Arab girls, 10 and 12 years of age. . . . Their names were Cornelia and Lijsbeth.. Hereinafter cited as Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658-1700.
  2. [S658] Mansell Upham 'Made or Marred by Time - the Other Armozijn & two enslaved Arabian 'princesses' at the Cape of Good Hope (1656)', First Fifty Years, Uprooted Lives - Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope's Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), (, March 2012. "…."
  3. [S878] Nicolas Brucato and Pradiptajati Kusuma et al, "Malagasy genetic ancestry comes from an historical Malay trading post in Southeast Borneo", Molecular Biology and Evolution (MBE) ( (5 July 2016). Hereinafter cited as "Malagasy genetic ancestry in MBE."
  4. [S879] Website Haplogroup ( "Haplogroup L3b3 is a branch on the maternal tree of human kind. The woman who started this branch lived at some point between recent generations and 7,900 years ago (Behar et al. 2012b).
    Age: 3,700 ±4,200(Behar et al. 2012b)
    Origin: Undetermined
    Mutations: G185A A189G A6527G A9007G C13934T T14182C G16048A
    Parent Branch: L3b
    Descendant branch(s): -."
  5. [S418] Anna J. Böeseken, Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658-1700, p.8-9; . . . as did two slave children from Abyssinia. These two were little Arab girls, 10 and 12 years of age. They had also been a gift to Maria van Riebeeck from the French Admiral De La Roche St. André who had visited the Cape in March 1657. Their names were Cornelia and Lijsbeth.
  6. [S418] Anna J. Böeseken, Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658-1700, pg. 25, . . . in the Church Books which he started on the 23rd of August 1665, the Rev. Joan van Arckel with great foresight tried to record the names of the children who had been baptised before his arrival by visiting ministers.

    As for the slaves, the first entries were Cornelia and Lijsbeth Arabus. Then followed Heindrick, Pietertje, Reijntje, two Jacobs, an Annetje, Cathalisa, Mary and Lowijs, who had been baptised on the 8th April 1663. Another Mary and Jan Bruijn are registered as children of mixed marriages.
  7. [S815] Mansell G. Upham 'Documented Slave Arrivals at the Cape of Good Hope (1652-1677)', First Fifty Years, Uprooted Lives - Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope's Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), (Unpublished), 16 November 2014. "25 March 1656: St Georges (ex Nantes, Madagascar, Ile de Bourbon [Réunion], Socotra, Red Sea, Socotra, Ile de Bourbon, Madagascar & Saldanha Bay) – part of French fleet (La Duchesse, La Maréschale, Larman [La Erman] - ex Nantes & Cap-Vert with St. Georges [St. Joris]);brings 3 captured / enslaved Malagasy royal children likely originating from Ethiopia gifted by French Admiral De la Roche-St. André to Jan van Riebeeck:
    Cornelia Arabus van Abisinna
    Lijsbeth Arabus van Abisinna
    unnamed male slave (dies 14 June 1656).
  8. [S658] Mansell Upham 'UL03 Made or Marred by Time', Uprooted Lives - Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope's Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), "The French flotilla (4 ships) arrived at the Cape (25 March 1656): La Duchesse with Admiral de-la-Roche-St André (recorded also as La Roch, Laroche, La Ros, Lacos, and Laros) at the helm (400 men and 40 guns), La Maréchale (Vice-Admiral Colon, 300 men and 36 guns) La Erman (Captain Richmont, 200 men and 30 guns) and St. Joris [St Georges] (Captain Labriants, 100 men and 20 guns). They sailed into Table Bay (31 March 1656). ... Finally the admiral disembarked (29 March) to call on Van Riebeeck in person and was "festively and politely treated". ... Before departing, the admiral presented Maria de Queillerie with two of the captive Abysinnian princesses, Lijsbeth and Cornelia Arabus, captured on Madagascar."
  9. [S676] Attestation, C2391; Council of Policy, 4 September1652-6 February 1660, Western Cape Archives and Records Service as transcribed and annotated by Mansell Upham, Cornelia ende Lijsbeth van Abissina door den Fransen admiral Lacrox aen den Commande:[u]rs vrouw vereert.
  10. [S658] Mansell Upham 'UL03 Made or Marred by Time', Uprooted Lives - Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope's Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), "Muster of Private & Company Slaves (Rijckloff van Goens, 16 April 1657) ... 1 female slave [Cornelia Arabus van Abisinna] with the Junior Merchant [Roelof de Man (from Culemborg)]
    1 female slave [Lijsbeth Arabus van Abisinna] with the Gardener [Hendrick Hendricksz: Boom (from Amsterdam)] ..."
  11. [S418] Anna J. Böeseken, Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658-1700, p.9; Thus the widow of Frederick Verburgh was allowed to borrow the two Arab girls from Abyssinia from the Company, . . .
  12. [S658] Mansell Upham 'UL03 Made or Marred by Time', Uprooted Lives - Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope's Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), "Cornelia was possibly mother to at least the following two children:
    b1     Armozijn de Cleijne van de Caep (c. 1661-1733) heelslag born Cape c. 1661; Company slave possibly biologically fathered by either Paaij Claes van Guinea, Claes Kelder van Angola, Claes van Angola; baptized as adult (23 February 1687) becoming Company Slave Lodge matron (matres); being heelslag, manumitted (1701) in terms of Company regulations after 40 years enslavement; 3rd free-black woman granted property in Table Valley (June 1708); likely biological fathers of some of her 7 recorded children: free-black Jacqje Joij [later Gratias Maialas] van Angola, Company slave Jonas van de Cust & free-burgher Michiel Ley (from Basle [Switzerland]) ; dies Cape 1733."
  13. [S658] Mansell Upham 'UL03 Made or Marred by Time', Uprooted Lives - Unfurling the Cape of Good Hope's Earliest Colonial Inhabitants (1652-1713), "Cornelia was possibly mother to at least the following two children:
    b2     Claes [Cornelisz:] van de Caep Company mesties born c. 1663; baptized Cape [?] 16 September 1663; Church member & communicant (21 December 1689); appointed teacher of Company slave children (15 September 1687); manumitted at majority (25) in terms of white paternity (1688); 12 August 1701 granted property; deceased by 1709."

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