- A Tale of Two Johannas:Gatekeeping, Mobilities, and Marriage in Cochin and Amsterdam
In the mid-eighteenth century, on different sides of the globe, two women attempted to escape their husbands. One of them lived in Amsterdam in the Dutch Republic and the other lived in Cochin, which was controlled by the United East India Company (VOC), in southwest India, on the Malabar Coast. In these different social and institutional contexts, both women were subject to "gatekeeping" by authorities who intervened to restrict the extent of their mobility. Although considerable research has been done on how marriage influenced early modern women's opportunities and life in general, less attention has been paid to the impact of marriage on a woman's mobility, especially when marital desertion was the motivation behind that mobility.1 The literature on marital desertion generally focuses on husbands who deserted their wives; however, in the two cases discussed here, we find not only that women's mobility was affected by marriage, but also that women's mobility could be seen as a threat to the institution of marriage.2 [End Page 131]
A Tale of Two Johannas
On 26 May 1739, sixteen-year-old Johanna Schildhouwer was drinking deep into the night in VOC-controlled Cochin. Cochin was the most important VOC possession on the Malabar Coast. Conquered from the Portuguese in 1663, the VOC's main interests in the region were the pepper and cinnamon trade, over which they claimed a monopoly. Three European sailors, who had been in the woods (probably drinking), decided to continue their evening at the inn owned by Johanna's husband, Claas van der Laan. The sailors also drank until late into the night, joined by Johanna, even after Claas went to bed at nine. A free woman who worked for Claas, Maria Rosa, served them drinks. After Maria Rosa went to bed, Johanna took a gold necklace, some fanums (the local currency), and her clothes, and left the inn. According to Claas, Johanna had already admitted to him that "she did not want to live with him anymore, as he had offered her a bad life and that she would leave him."3 Unfortunately, Johanna's attempt to run away with the three sailors was not successful. After leaving the inn, the four travelled to the house of the toepas (a local Catholic of mixed Portuguese and Asian descent) Bernardo Rebello. As they were hungry, they asked him if he could sell them a pig, to which he responded that he could offer them some chickens and rice. Then the four inquired if he had a boat with which they could sail down the river, but Bernardo refused. While Bernardo's mother prepared them a meal, the four exhausted (and probably inebriated) runaways fell asleep on Bernardo's porch. They awoke to find four armed lascorins (Christian soldiers) standing over them, and they were promptly arrested.4
The prosecutor branded the three sailors as deserters, drunkards, and vagabonds. He labeled Johanna as a woman who "roamed the land with loose people, and who exhibits her honor as an easy prey for the whole world, embarrassing her husband and guardian."5 Claas, hoping to be allowed to divorce her, brought the case to the prosecutor himself, claiming that she was guilty of infidelity, thievery, [End Page 132] and desertion. However, in the end, the prosecutor concluded that she must have been insane and she was returned to her husband without penalty, while the sailors received corporal punishment.6
A few years later, on the other side of the world, on 30 August 1742, Johanna Meijers returned to the Fransstaalsteeg on the Zeedijk in Amsterdam, the street where she had once lived. Her former neighbors, a porter and his wife, had invited her for tea. Together with their child, they all sat on the street in front of their door with a cup of tea when Johanna's husband Laurens van Lintel appeared. She greeted him, but he scornfully silenced her as he returned the greeting by saying, "Yes mother whore, here I am."7 He demanded liquor, drank it, and left, only to...