by Maria Vann
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.
On 6 March 1663, Altjen Sybrants appeared before the Honorable Council of War and the Honorable Court at Wildwyck, New Netherland in search of vindication from accusations of slander. Schout Swarthout, a member of the council, lodged the complaint after a previous visitation to Sybrants’ home to notify her about a new order from the Council of War. Upon hearing the order prohibiting strong drink to be sold to militia or Indians, a frustrated Sybrants suggested the Schout “might cleanse his anus!” Such slanderous words from anyone- no less a woman in New Netherland was a serious matter for the courts and Schout wanted restitution for his honor. Denying the accusation, Sybrants challenged male authority by arguing that, “he [the Schout] must prove this.” The case continued on subsequent days as witnesses were brought to testify in support of the defendant’s guilt. Throughout the process, Sybrants never confirmed she had said such slanderous words; instead she declared that Schout treated her “in a manner out of spite,” for what is not clear. Eventually, after several testimonies against her, the defendant was sentenced and condemned as a public example for her “vile and foul language.” Altejen Sybrants was ordered to pay a fine of one hundred Caroulus guilders of which two-thirds was to be paid to the prosecutor Schout and one-third to the Church at Wildwyck. Though Sybrandts lost her defense, much can be gleaned from her testimony, or lack thereof. She demonstrated a bold and unwavering will, capable of confronting the male establishment, signifying she knew full well her rights as a citizen with a voice in the Dutch Empire.