Friday, January 17, 2014
Divorce Dutch Style
My eighth great grandmother on the Gallison side, one Anneke Adriaens, was divorced in 1664. One seldom heard of such things in those days. But her first husband, Aert Pietersen Tack, was something of a hound and a wastrel. A scholar named Tyler Holman has taken the time to translate a big pile of court papers out of the Dutch so that I might see for myself all the people he owed money to back in New Amsterdam, mostly in beaver pelt equivalents, bushels of wheat, and peas, and all the hired men he cheated out of their pay. Anneke herself was no milktoast. At different times she was brought up on charges for physically attacking one of her neighbors and calling another a whore. The judge always let her off with a stern lecture to stop disturbing the peace.
But one day it came to light that Aert was keeping another wife.
About that time he took off for parts unknown, leaving so many debts that Anneke was forced to sell the farm and all the cows and horses. She turned for comfort to Jacobus Jansen VanEtten, the hired man, my eighth great grandfather. They wanted to be married. She went to court and applied for a divorce. Here's the judgement:
…Anneke Adriaens, his lawful wife, has requested of your honors letters of divorce and permission to marry another person, whereupon, before consenting thereto, the fiscal was ordered on July 31st last to have the aforesaid Aert Pietersen Tack summoned three times by the ringing of the bell to appear in person to hear and to answer, if he can, such complaint and demand as the injured party and the fiscal as her attorney shall make, which summons not only was proclaimed by the beating of the drum in the village of New Haerlem, and whereas nevertheless Aert Pietersen Tack failed to appear and remains contumacious, finding himself unable to defend, justify or purge himself…
(All that beating of drums and ringing of bells failed to cause Aert to appear. Nobody knew where he was. Some said he had gone back to Holland.)
…therefore, the fiscal, nomine offiocii, concludes that the first wife, Anneke Adriaens, must be granted letters of divorce and permission to marry another man, and furthermore that the fiscal and all other officers of justice should be authorized to arrest the defendant, Aert Pietersen Tack, and to confine him here in a proper place of detention, to be taken to the place where it is customary to execute justice, in order to be severely flogged with rods, having two distaffs above his head, and further to be branded with two marks on his back and to be banished from this province. Done at Fort Amsterdam, the 21st of August, 1664.
How do you like them apples? Severely flogged with rods. Branded with marks on his back. Needless to say, Aert declined to turn up and accept his Dutch divorce, preferring to stay in the old country with his new wife. He was never seen again in New Amsterdam. But, I don't know, there's something oddly satisfying about the old Dutch way of doing things. Forget your restraining orders. Forget your alimony awards. Forget your custody agreements. Just keep those flogging rods ready, keep those branding irons hot. That's a divorce a woman could live with.
© 2014 Kate Gallison