Pieter Mauritz Retief (12 November 1780 – 6 February 1838) was a Boer leader. Settling in 1814 in the frontier region of the Cape Colony, he assumed command of punitive expeditions in response to raiding parties from the adjacent Xhosa territory. He became a spokesperson for the frontier farmers who voiced their discontent, and wrote the Voortrekkers declaration at their departure from the colony.
Declaration by Piet Retief before leaving the Cape Colony
- We despair of saving the Colony from these evils which threaten it by the turbulent and dishonest conduct of vagrants, who are allowed to invest the country in every part: nor do we see any prospect of peace or happiness for our children in a country thus distracted by internal commotions.
- We complain of the severe losses which we have been forced to sustain by the emancipation of our slaves, and the vexatious laws which have been enacted respecting them.
- We complain of the continual system of plunder which we have for years endured from the Kaffirs and other coloured classes, and particularly by the last invasion of the Colony, which have desolated the frontier districts and ruined most of the inhabitants.
- We complain of the unjustifiable odium which has been cast upon us by interested and dishonest persons, under the name of Religion, whose testimony is believed in England to the exclusion of all evidence in our favour; and we can foresee, as the result of this prejudice, nothing but the total ruin of the country.
- We are resolved, wherever we go, that we will uphold the just principles of liberty; but, whilst we will take care that no one is brought by us into a condition of slavery, we will establish such regulations as may suppress crime and preserve proper regulations between master and servant.
- We solemnly declare that we leave this colony with a desire to enjoy a quitter life than we have hitherto had. We will not molest any people, nor deprive them of the smallest property; but if attacked, we shall consider ourselves fully justified in defending our persons and effects, to the utmost of our ability, against every enemy.
- We make known that when we shall have framed a code of laws for our guidance, copies shall be forwarded to this colony for general information; but we take the opportunity of stating that it is our firm resolve to make provision for the summary punishmenet, even with death, of all traitors, without exception, who may be found amongst us.
- We purpose, in the course of our journey and on arrival at the country in which we shall permanently reside, to make known to the native tribes our intentions and our desire to live in peace and friendly intercourse with them.
- We quit this colony under the full assurance that the English Government has nothing more to require of us, and will allow us to govern ourselves without its interference in future.
- We are now leaving the fruitful land of our birth, in which we have suffered enourmous losses and continual vexation, and are about to enter a strange and dangerous territory; but we go with a firm reliance on the all-seeing, just, and merciful God, whom we shall always fear and humbly endeavour to obey.
- By authority of the farmers who have quitted the Colony, P. RETIEF, Grahamstown 22nd January 1837.
- As quoted in the Graham's Town Journal of February 2, 1837. See also: History of the Emigrant Boers in South Africa, 2nd ed, G.M. Theal, London 1888.