The Trekboers were nomadic pastoralists descended from almost equal numbers of Dutch colonists, French Huguenots and German Protestants. The Trekboere began migrating from the areas surrounding what is now Cape Town (such as Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek) during the 17th century throughout the 18th century.
The Trekboere were semi-nomadic pastoralists, subsistence farmers who began trekking both northwards and eastwards into the interior to find better pastures/farm lands for their livestock to graze as well as to escape the autocratic rule of the Dutch East India Company (or VOC), which administered the Cape, and who they saw as tainted with corruption and unconcerned with the interests of the free burghers, a social class from which most of the Trekboers came.:26
Trekboere also traded with indigenous people. This meant that their herds were of hardy local stock. They formed a vital link between the pool of animals in the interior and the providers of shipping provisions at the Cape. Trekboere tended to live in the wagons in which they traveled, and rarely remained in one location for an extended period of time. A number of Trekboere settled in the eastern Cape, where their descendants were soon known as Grensboere (Border Farmers), or later called simply Boers (which is a Dutch word for "farmers").
Despite the VOC's attempts to prevent settler expansion beyond the western Cape the frontier of the Colony remained open as the authorities in Cape Town lacked the means to police the colonies borders.:24 By the 1740s the first of the Trekboers had entered the Little Karoo. By the 1760s they reached the deep interior of the Great Karoo.:24
Due to the collapse of the VOC and inspired by the French Revolution and American Revolution, a group of Boers rebelled against Dutch rule and set up independent republics in the towns of Graaff-Reinet, and four months later, in Swellendam in 1795. A few months later the VOC was taken over by the Dutch state that was itself under threat from the new post-revolution French government.:26
The Trekboers independence efforts were reversed by the British in 1796 upon their acquisition of the Cape as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars. A generation later another group of Boers resisted the administration of British legislation in 1815. This led to a rebellion at Slagters Nek in which the British executed some of the Boer leaders of the rebellion. Because of further British encroachments, constant border wars with the Xhosa to the east, as well as growing land shortages, a large number of the Boer settlers of the eastern Cape became Voortrekkers.
While numerous trekboere settled down to become border farmers for a few generations and later voortrekkers, trekboere continued to exist well into the 20th century as an economic class of nomadic pastoralists.
Many Trekboere crossed the Orange River decades before the Voortrekkers did. Voortrekkers often encountered Trekboere in Transorangia during the Great Trek. In 1815 a Trekboer/trader named Coenraad (Du) Buys (a surname of French Huguenot origin) was accused of cattle theft and fled from the British. He settled in the (western) Transvaal. He was said to have polygamous marriages to hundreds of indigenous women, with his descendants' populating the town of Buysplaas in the Gourits River valley. He continued his rich marriage life after leaving the colony. Descendants of this second marriage series still live in the small town of Buysville, near the mission station of Mara, 20 km to the west of Louis Trichardt in the modern Limpopo province. Buys eventually disappeared while traveling along the Limpopo River.
During the late 19th century, both the Trekboere and the Voortrekkers were collectively called Boers.
During the 20th century, both Boers and the Cape Dutch—those who did not trek eastward and remained in the Western Cape—would become known as Afrikaners, a term that was applied to all Afrikaans speakers of Western and Central European (Dutch, German, French Huguenot) ancestry. The term later sometimes included non-White Afrikaans speakers (chiefly those who became known as Coloureds in the Cape Province) as well. In recent times, however, many of the descendants of the Trekboers have preferred to be called the boerevolk.
The Trekboers spoke a language which was called die taal (lit. 'the language')—though later it was classified as Eastern Border Afrikaans or East Cape Afrikaans. This language originated from 17th and 18th century Dutch dialects, but over time it became a distinct language, with numerous words having non-Dutch origins, mainly words taken from French, German, Portuguese, Malay, Khoi, and later English.