The Story of Anje Jans

The year is 1745.

Jean Jacques Rousseau is 33 years old, Voltaire is 51, Carl Linnaeus 38 and Benjamin Franklin 39.  The author of Gulliver’s travels, Jonathan Swift died.  In England king George II ruled. Bonnie Prince Charley came to Scotland to claim the English throne, but was defeated at Culloden the year after. In France king Louis XV sat on the throne, in Austria empress Maria Theresia and in Germany the philosopher-king Fredrick II.  In the United Dutch Republics the people called for a prince of Orange-Nassau, who was invited to become the ‘stadtholder’ under the name of Willem IV in 1747.

The village of Meeden (about 800 inhabitants in that year) in the province of Groningen, is thrilled or appalled, depending on the attitude of the observers, by the continuing feud between the wife of the schoolteacher Margaretha Tiliking and her husband Pieter Clasens Hagenus with the church council and especially its chairman (‘kerkvoogd’) Tonko Ayolts.  Most of the time it concerns ‘disturbance of the peace’, public drunkenness of the schoolteacher and his wife and insults.  Not a good example for the youth of Meeden!  Their punishment is usually exclusion from the Lord’s Supper in the church.  A physical fight between Pieter Hagenus and Tonko Ayolts on the public road through the village is a temporary low.  Hagenus also comes in conflict with the pastor, because he refuses to start the school at 8.00 ‘o clock.

Tonko Ayolts officially accuses Pieter Hagenus in the church council of negligence in not closing the church door with as a result that candles have been stolen from the church, of buying a hook for retrieving coal from the ashes for his own use on the account of the church and for charging an exorbitant interest from the shoemaker Pieter Jans. For the loan of 15 guilders he asked for an interest of a pair of shoes, a pair of slippers and one day work in the service of the teacher.  Witnesses are called and the carpenter declares that he repaired the church door a year ago, the blacksmith confirms the making of the hook for the teacher and sending the bill to the church and the shoemaker says that he indeed provided the shoes and slippers and worked for one day bringing in the hay of the teacher. Now Pieter Hagenus can come in and speak in his defense.  He can prove that the carpenter indeed repaired the church door, but not immediately, so that the church could not be locked for some days.  The case with the hook dates from ten years ago and has been settled by the previous church council.  The shoemaker had suggested the described interest himself and never complained about it afterwards.  Pieter Hagenus is acquitted of all the accusations, to the chagrin of Tonko.

But things become worse!

Tonko Ayolts not only accused Pieter Hagenus, but also his wife Margaretha Tiliking.  She is said to have insulted Tonko in the school in the presence of other people and he demands satisfaction.  What happened?

The son of Tonko Ayolts had some time ago hung a block of peat on Margaretha’s door, which was an accusation of her having an extramarital affair.  Now (in 1745) she had told Tonko during a meeting of the farmers in the school building, where she had crashed in: “Your son hung a block of peat on my door, indicating that I was a whore, but now that has happened to you yourself.  I have hung on your door two blocks of peat for a double satisfaction!”

Tonko is furious.  He brings three witnesses in front of the church council who declare that they were there and that Margaretha indeed had accused Tonko of immorality.  The wife of the schoolteacher is reprimanded but not asked to withdraw her words and not punished.  This is strange.  Was there some truth in Margaretha’s words?

Tonko Ayolts was not satisfied with the decision.  He demands that Margaretha admits to lying and that it will be noted in the minutes of the meeting.  The council does not agree.  Two months later the case is opened again and Margaretha brings three witnesses in her favour, but again the case is not solved.  In the minutes of 6 March 1750 it can be read that ‘the case between the churchwarden Tonko Ayolts and the wife of the schoolteacher is closed due to the death of the latter.’  In the same year the schoolteacher Pieter Hagenus himself also died.

It is clear that Margaretha was accused of an extramarital affair.  She rejects the accusation and instead blames the son of Tonko of immoral behavior.  Twice even: ‘two blocks of peat for a double satisfaction’.  Which son of Tonko was involved?  Tonko had 8 sons of whom only Ayolt and Eenje Tonkes can be considered since the other ones are too young or died young.  Ayolt was 31 years old in 1745 and Eenje 28 years.  Both were unmarried.

In 1745 is Anje Jans 23 years old.  She comes from a poor family and has to earn an income as a maid in the large household of Tonko Ayolts, the richest and most powerful farmer in the district. She becomes pregnant by the son of Tonko, Eenje Tonkes.  She does not know what to do and confides in her mother and in the wife of the schoolteacher Margaretha Tiliking.  Her pregnancy will show soon and in the close-knit society of the village a scandal is unavoidable.  But Eenje Tonkes does not take his responsibility and a marriage is, of course, out of the question; the difference in social level is too great!  Margaretha cannot keep silent about it and when Eenje is stupid enough to accuse her of adultery, she strikes back at him.  Anje Jans gives birth to a twin, a boy and a girl.  A ‘double satisfaction’ to Margaretha.  Tonko Ayolts uses all his influence to cover up the role of his son.  He manages to prevent the registration of the births and their baptism in the church books and keeps the name of his son out of the quarrel he has with Margaretha.  The Tonkes family ignores Anje and does not support her financially either.  She must have had a very difficult time.  Usually, the poor of the village are supported by the church, but in this case the influence of Tonko Ayolts was big enough to prevent all but the most basic support.  Anje Jans received one bread per week from the church!

There was very little she could do against the powerful Tonkes family, but she does what a married woman would do: she names the children, not after her own parents, but after their father’s parents.  The girl receives the name Eetje Eenjes and the boy Tonko Eenjes.  Officially these names only appear in the books in 1772 (when Eetje Eenjes marries Folkert Hindriks) and in 1799 (when a son of Eetje and Folkert marries).  Tonko Eenjes pursues this even further when he takes the family name of Tonkes in 1811.  His descendents still exist under this name.  Eetje Eenjes marries Folkert Hindriks and they take the family name of Doddema.

When Anje Jans is 30 years old (her children are then 7), she marries a widower of 40 years with 4 children, Geert Claesens.  Together they have 5 sons.  They rent a house from the church and live there together from 1760 to 1771, when Geert dies.  Four of the sons take the family name Dodde or Doddema, the fifth son dies before 1811.  In 1774 Anje’s son Tonko buys the house so that his mother can stay there until she becomes too old to live alone.  Anje Jans dies in 1808, 88 years old.

Henk Doddema

With thanks to Henk Stuut, who investigated this history like a true genealogical detective!

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