Potgieter, Hendrik


Potgieter, Hendrik

▪ Boer leader
born Dec. 19, 1792, Graaff-Reinet district, Cape Colony
died Dec. 16, 1852, Schoemansdal, Transvaal

      Boer leader in the Great Trek; (Great Trek) he took his party from the Cape Colony to settle the Transvaal and became a prominent figure in the early history of that state.

      He was a well-to-do sheep farmer until the vacillating frontier policy of the British caused him to opt for leaving the colony. Others joined Potgieter and elected him commandant as they moved toward the Vaal River. Potgieter's gifts as a military leader were demonstrated in his battles with the Ndebele (Matabele) and other native peoples. His victory at Marico River (November 1837) opened the high veld beyond the Vaal to the Boers.

      When trek leader Piet Retief and his men were massacred by King Dingane's Zulus (February 1838) in Natal, Potgieter led an unsuccessful commando raid against the Zulus. Returning to his settlement in Winburg north of the Orange River (May 1838), he was convinced that the future of the Boers was north in the Transvaal rather than east in Natal. He founded other settlements in the Transvaal: Potchefstroom (1838), Andries-Ohrigstad (1845), and, to the far north, Soutpansberg (1848).

      In those early days the Transvaal settlements were torn by internal dissensions. Potgieter, as head commandant and leader of the military party, supported local autonomy rather than centralized authority. (Potgieter's behaviour at this time is still a matter of controversy.) When the Sand River Convention, in which Britain recognized Transvaal independence, was negotiated by his Boer rival Andries Pretorius in January 1852, Potgieter remained aloof and refused to ratify the treaty until March. During an arduous campaign against a Pedi chief, Potgieter died from overexertion.

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