The Trekboers were semi-nomadic subsistence farmers who began trekking eastwards into the interior in order to find better pastures/farm lands to graze as well as to escape the autocratic rule of the Dutch East India Company (or VOC), which administered the Cape. Trekboers tended to live in the wagons in which they traveled, rarely remaining in one location for an extended period of time. A number of Trekboers settled and establish themselves in the eastern Cape where their descendants were soon known as Grensboere (Border Farmers), or later simply known as Boers (which is an old-fashioned Dutch word for "farmers") and spoke a language which was called "die taal"—though later classified as Eastern Border Afrikaans or East Cape Afrikaans.
This language originated from Dutch dialects but became a distinct language over time with a number of words also having non-Dutch origins, mainly words taken from French, German, Portuguese, Malay, Khoi, and later English.
Due to the autocratic nature of the VOC a group of Boers—descended from Trekboers who settled and established themselves on the eastern Cape frontier—resisted Dutch rule and set up independent republics in the towns of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet in 1795. This was later reversed by the British in 1796 upon their acquisition of the Cape as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. A generation later another group of Boers descended from Trekboers resist the administration of British legislation in 1815 which led to a rebellion at Slagters Nek in which the British executed some of the Boer leaders of the rebellion. After experiencing further British encroachments and constant border wars with the Xhosa to the east as well as growing land shortages, a large number of the established Boer inhabitants of the eastern Cape of Trekboer origin become Voortrekkers.
While a number of Trekboers settled down to become Border Farmers for a few generations and later Voortrekkers, Trekboers continued to exist well into the 20th century as an economic class of nomadic pastoralists.
Some Trekboers crossed the Orange River at least a decade before the Voortrekkers did. Voortrekkers often encountered Trekboers in Transorangia during the Great Trek. In 1815 a possible Trekboer named Coenraad (Du) Buys (a surname of French Huguenot origin) was accused of cattle theft and fled from the British and became the first white inhabitant of the (western) Transvaal, where he settled. He disappeared while travelling along the Limpopo River. His descendants 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.
During the late nineteenth century both Trekboers (proto-Afrikaans speakers who had trekked into the eastern frontiers largely for economic reasons as well as to escape the authoritarian rule of the VOC in the 1600s and 1700s) and Voortrekkers (Afrikaans speaking pioneers who trekked into the interior during the 1830s and 1840s largely for political reasons as well as to escape the constant border wars) were collectively called Boers.
During the twentieth 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 Northern European (Dutch, Frisian, German, French Huguenot) ancestry. The term would later sometimes include non-White Afrikaans speakers (largely those who became known as Coloureds in the Cape Province) as well. In recent times, however, many of the descendents of the Trekboers have preferred to be known as the Boerevolk.