The first expedition to the Riversdale region was led by Hieronymous Crüse in 1667 to barter for cattle. During the next expedition, twenty years later, expedition leader Izak Schryver befriended Goukou, the leader of the Hessequa, after which many barter expeditions followed. By the year 1772, five cattle posts had been established in the area then known as Overberg, and farmers had started to settle here, leasing farms from the VOC (Verenigtde Oost-Indiesche Companje). These included farms such as Plattekloof, Assegaaibosch, Welgevonden, Hollebak, Doornkraal and Zeekoegat.
As the population increased a need arose for a church, and the farm Doornkraal was bought to establish the first church farm.
The church authorities approached Sir Harry Rivers, Civil Commissioner of Swellendam, for his permission to name the town after him. They suggested the name Riversville, but he argued that the name Riversdale would be better suited.
The congregation was founded in 1839, and Reverend J C le Fabre Moorrees was appointed as the first minister. On 9th March 1848, Sir Harry Smith proclaimed Riversdale magistracy and a Major Barnes was appointed the first magistrate. On the 6th of June 1849, Riversdale was declared a Municipality and three commissioners were appointed. Again the Doornkraal Steyns featured prominently, this time in the governance of the town when Jacobus J Steyn, son of Hermanus Egbertus Steyn and Great-grandfather of the current owner of De Doornkraal Estate, was appointed one of the commissioners.