Port Elizabeth of Yore: Captain Jacob Glen Cuyler

Jacob Glen Cuyler

Spare a thought for explorers, adventurers and soldiers of the nineteenth century. Nothing today comes close to their sense of isolation from their family and friends as these intrepid souls departed from their hometowns. It is reasonable to assume that the departing spouse was non-contactable the moment that they were out of view. 

One such character was Jacob Glen Cuyler who would arrive in South Africa via an extremely circuitous route & who would become an important character and played a prominent role in the settlement of the British Settlers in the Eastern Cape. 

His assistance to the arriving settlers is commemorated in a street adjacent to Fort  Frederick, known as Cuyler Crescent.  

Main picture: Captain Jacob Glen Cuyler

Surprisingly, in Cuyler’s case, he was American by birth but of Dutch origin, hence his Dutch name and surname but he was transferred to the Cape Colony as part of a British Regiment.

Early life

Jacob Glen Cuyler was born in 1773 to Abraham Cuyler and Jannetje Glen in Albany, New York, USA.  Jacob’s father was the last British-appointed mayor of Albany. Abraham Cuyler remained loyal to the crown, but was banished from New York by the revolutionaries, and lost all of his substantial land holdings in Albany.

Built as a homestead for General Jacob Glen Cuyler, Landdrost of Uitenhage from 1806 to 1827, this Cape Dutch style house has been restored and furnished in the style of its day

Built as a homestead for General Jacob Glen Cuyler, Landdrost of Uitenhage from 1806 to 1827, this Cape Dutch style house has been restored and furnished in the style of its day

At the start of the American War of Independence, Jacob Glen Cuyler’s father was incarcerated and the family went from exile in New York City to Canada where Abraham Cuyler died in 1810. The story of that escape by Abraham with his infant child, Jacob bears repeating.

In 1778, soon after a number of men in the North American colonies had revolted against their allegiance to King George III, one of their neighbours declined to be implicated in the acts of rebellion and remained loyal to King George and the British connection. Living in those rebel colonies was a young married man, Abraham Cuyler, a descendant of some early settlers from Holland.

American War of Independence

American War of Independence

Because of this attitude of aloofness to the men who declared independence, young Cuyler was detained under surveillance and had to frequently report to an American official. Furthermore, in terms of his parole, he had to assure the authorities that he would not seek to gain freedom from such custody. Hearing that some British prisoners of war had fared badly at the hands of their American captors, he withdrew parole and speedily put a safe distance between himself and those who bore no sympathy for his loyalist convictions. Not long after, taking his wife and four children, including an infant son of only a few weeks, he made his escape in a small boat under cover of darkness in a small boat under cover of darkness and reached comparative safety.

The details of this intrepid escape from loyalist troops and supporters is clearly set out on the back of a water-colour portrait of Cuyler and his wife painted by Major John Andre.

In 1789, Abraham was among several family members compensated for their American losses by the British with land in Canada. Abraham Cuyler was able to purchase commissions as officers for his sons in the British army in 1799.

Arrival in South Africa

Upon the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars in 1806, Jacob Glen Cuyler was a captain in the 59th Regiment of Foot when it sailed from England to Cape Town in the Cape Colony. The British again took possession of the Colony. Captain Cuyler was despatched from Cape Town to Algoa Bay in order to take over control of Fort Frederick from a Regiment of German Mercenaries known as the Waldeck Regiment.

Port Elizabeth in 1823

Port Elizabeth in 1823

 

Their Garrison Commander was a certain Captain Ludwig Alberti who had written a book containing the first panoramic view of the settlement and a plan of it. This book bore the politically incorrect title of “The Kafirs[sic].”

Captain Cuyler boarded ship in Cape Town on what was supposed to be a five day journey. Instead with mountainous seas & treacherous conditions, the journey ultimately took twenty-one days.

The Batavian troops including the final Batavian Governor Janssens departed from the Cape. In their stead, Captain Cuyler assumed responsibility for both of Captain Alberti’s responsibilities. On 14th February 1806 Cuyler was appointed Provisional Landdrost of Uitenhage while of the 6th March 1806, he took charge of Fort Frederick from Alberti.

Map of Fort Frederick Cuyler Crescent area in Port Elizabeth

Map of Fort Frederick Cuyler Crescent area in Port Elizabeth

In October 1808 he married a South African, Maria Elizabeth Hartman. They had two daughters and three sons; none of the sons had issue. Of all the three to four dozen residents in the Port Elizabeth area at the time, only half a dozen were of Dutch extraction. One of those was a farmer in the Richmond Hill area by the name of Hartman. Presumably Maria Hartman was his daughter or else related to him.

It is speculated that one of the reasons why Cuyler was transferred to the Cape Colony was due to his command of the English language.

Slagters Nek Monument

Slagters Nek Rebellion Monument

Slagtersnek Rebellion

In 1815, a farmer from the eastern border of the Cape Colony, Frederik Bezuidenhout, was summoned to appear before a magistrate’s court after repeated allegations of his mistreating one of his Khoi labourers. Bezuidenhout resisted arrest and fled to a cave near his home where he defended himself against the soldiers sent to capture him. When he refused to surrender he was shot dead by one of the soldiers.

Bezuidenhout’s brother, Hans, swore revenge. Together with a neighbour Hendrik Prinsloo, Hans Bezuidenhout organised an uprising against the British colonial power, believed by them to be hostile towards the Afrikaner farmers. On 18 November 1815, a commando of rebels met an armed force led by Jacob Glen Cuyler at Slachter’s Nek [Original spelling]. Negotiations failed but 20 rebels surrendered, followed by several more over the following days. However, some of the leaders, among whom was Hans Bezuidenhout, refused to surrender to Cuyler.

Slagtersnek

Slagtersnek

On 29 November 1815, they were attacked by colonial troops. Everybody but Bezuidenhout surrendered and, like his brother, Hans died while resisting arrest.

The rebels were finally charged at Uitenhage. Some were cleared, others imprisoned or banished, six were sentenced to death but one of these was pardoned by the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset.

On 9 March 1816 the remaining five were hanged in public at Van Aardtspos. Four of the nooses broke during the execution due to old ropes being used. The four, whose ropes broke, as well as the public, pleaded for their lives but Cuyler ordered that they be hanged a second time and they were hanged one by one. The names of the five who were hanged were Hendrik Prinsloo, Stephanus Bothma, Abraham Bothma, Cornelius Faber and Theunis de Klerk.

The hanging of these five caused deep resentment towards the British by the Boers.

slagtersnek3

Later life

Cuyler was to retain both of his positions until 1817 when on the 4th April of that year, Captain Francis Evatt replaced Cuyler as Barracks Commander at which time Cuyler became the Landdrost at Uitenhage.

On 15th October 1817, Cuyler was offered eighteen plots along the Zwartkops River at Redhouse on a 10 year lease. The farm Fishwater Flats was granted to JG Cuyler and continued in family ownership after his death.

The courtyard of the Commisiarat Building

The courtyard of the Commissariat Building

Together with Lord Charles Somerset, Cuyler persuaded the British Parliament to vote funds to finance the settlement of parties of British settlers in order to strengthen the frontier. In 1820 numbers of English and Scots arrived. The Scots were settled in the Baviaans River Mountains, on land confiscated from the Slagtersnek rebels while the English were settled in the Albany district to the south. The Irish were initially settled in Clanwilliam but within a year, the majority had been relocated to the Eastern Border as well.

Cuyler settled on a large farm in the Uitenhage area and was one of the founders of this town which today forms part of the Greater Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Council. The farm museum survives today.

Redhouse on the Zwartkops River

Redhouse on the Zwartkops River

Commemorations

According to a newspaper obituary, “General Jacob Glen Cuyler died at his residence, Cuyler Manor, near Uitenhage, on Friday, the 14th April  1854

Toposcope, Bathurst

Toposcope, Bathurst

Cuyler’s role in both proposing the settling of the Eastern Fronteir as a bulwark against attacks by the local black tribes and as well as the assistance provided to the settlers as they landed, were recognised in several ways. Firstly the village of Cuyerville was established by British settlers in 1820. They named it in honour of Cuyler, then military commander at Fort Frederick, in recognition of the assistance he rendered them. Furthermore a Cuyler Street in the city of Grahamstown and a Cuyler Crescent in Port Elizabeth were named after him.

A toposcope and commemorative cairn in Bathhurst mark the spot where Cuyler made his camp while supervising the placing of the 1820 Settlers on their locations. While camped here at the same time, Sir Rufane Donkin chose the site for the administrative centre to be named Bathurst. The beacon was erected by Captain W. Bailey as an observing station during his survey of the eastern districts, during the period 1855 to 1859.

Bathurst toposcope plaque for Cuyler

Bathurst toposcope plaque for Cuyler

Cuyler’s granddaughter, Maria Elizabeth Holland, became a botanist and botanical illustrator.

Sources:

Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (1996, E H Walton Packaging Pty Ltd, Port Elizabeth)

Port Elizabeth in Bygone Days by J.J. Redgrave (1947, Rustica Press)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Cuyler

https://www.geni.com/people/Jacob-Glen-Cuyler-SV-PROG/6000000015608529782

 

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