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Black History Month in Canada… Marie-Josephe Angelique

Marie-Joseph Angelique 1705-1734, was Portugese-born and sold into slavery as a young teen, ending up in Montreal, New France. She is a symbol of Black resistance.

Marie-Josephe Angelique

Marie-Josephe Angelique: Symbol of Black resistance in Canada

Marie-Joseph Angélique (born circa 1705 in Madeira, Portugal; died 21 June 1734 in Montréal, QC). Angélique was an enslaved Black woman owned by Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville in Montréal. In 1734, she was charged with arson after a fire leveled Montréal’s merchants’ quarter. It was alleged that Angélique committed the act while attempting to flee her bondage. She was convicted, tortured and hanged. While it remains unknown whether or not she set the fire, Angélique’s story has come to symbolize Black resistance and freedom.

Angélique was born in Madeira, Portugal, around 1705. Little is known of the first 20 years of her life. She may have been first enslaved in Portugal, an active port of the Atlantic slave trade. It was likely there that Angélique was sold to the Flemish merchant Nichus Block when she was in her early teens. Angélique was taken by boat to North America, possibly stopping in Flanders (what is now northern Belgium), which had close trading ties with Portugal. Angélique arrived in New England, where she was purchased at age 20 by the French merchant François Poulin de Francheville in 1725. Francheville brought Angélique back to his hometown of Montréal to work as a domestic slave. (Between the time Angélique left Europe and arrived in Montréal, she had been sold at least twice.)

When Francheville died in 1733, ownership of Angélique passed to his widow, Therese de Couagne, who is thought to have renamed the enslaved woman from Marie-Joseph to “Angélique,” after her deceased daughter. While enslaved for nine years at the Francheville home, Angélique had three children, none of whom lived beyond infancy. Birth records indicate that the father was Jacques César, a Madagascar-born slave owned by a Francheville family friend. Some researchers believe that the couple was forced by their owners to produce offspring. Angélique also had a lover, an indentured white laborer from France named Claude Thibault, with whom she tried to flee from enslavement and who was believed to have helped her set fire to Montréal.

In December 1733, Angélique asked her mistress for her freedom, a request that Madame de Francheville denied. This infuriated Angélique, who “went on a small reign of terror in the household.” She talked back to her owner, threatened her with death by “roasting,” quarreled with the other servants in the house, threatened them, too, with “burning,” and made life so unbearable for her fellow servant Marie-Louise Poirier that she quit her job. (The Hanging of Angélique, 2006)

In early 1734, Francheville sold Angélique to François-Étienne Cugnet of Québec City for 600 pounds of gunpowder. She was waiting for the ice to thaw on the St. Lawrence River in order to send Angélique by boat. It was rumored that Cugnet would, in turn, sell Angélique into enslavement in the West Indies. Upon hearing news of her sale, Angélique threatened to burn down Francheville’s house with her in it.

Soon after, Angélique ran away with Thibault. Her intent was to return to Portugal, the land of her birth. The couple set fire to Angélique’s bed at Alexis Monière’s home — where Francheville had chosen to move them temporarily — and fled in the direction of New England, where they hoped to catch a ship bound for Europe. Two weeks later, Angélique and Thibault were tracked down by the police in nearby Chambly. Angélique was returned to her owner to await transportation to Québec City, and Thibault was sent to jail. Once she returned to Montréal, Angélique continued to state that she would burn down her mistress’ house because she wanted to be free.

On the evening of Saturday 10 April 1734, a large portion of Montréal — the merchants’ quarter — was destroyed by fire. At least 46 buildings, mainly homes, were burnt, plus the convent and hospital of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal. Angélique was accused of starting the fire and arrested by police on 11 April. She was taken to court the following morning, where she was charged with arson, a capital crime punishable by death, torture or banishment. In the French legal system of the 18th century, the accused was presumed guilty, and in New France, there were no trials by jury, only inquisitorial tribunals in which the defendant was meant to prove her innocence. Lawyers were banned from practicing in the colony by Louis XIV.

So began one of the most spectacular trials to come out of 18th-century Canada. Over 24 witnesses were called, 23 of whom— including a five-year-old girl — stated that they believed Angélique had set the fire because, at one point or another, she had told them that she would. One witness said that she saw Angélique carrying a pot of live coals up to the roof minutes before the fire started. The court felt that she had intended to flee enslavement, and had set the fire in order to cover her tracks.

After a six week tribunal, Angélique was found guilty and sentenced to death. She was to have her hands cut off and be burned alive. The sentence was appealed to the superior court in Québec City, where the death penalty was upheld and the gruesome aspects of the sentencing lessened. Angélique would be tortured, hanged, and then her body burned. She returned to Montréal to await her death. Throughout her trial, at both the lower court in Montréal and the upper court in Québec, she denied setting the fire.

After the torture, Angélique, dressed in a white chemise and holding a burning torch in her hand (the symbol of her crime), was placed in a garbage cart and taken to the portal of the Notre-Dame Basilica, where she confessed to her crime, and begged pardon of God, the king and the people. She was then hanged. The hangman and torturer was Mathieu Léveillé, an enslaved Black man employed as royal executioner. Angélique’s body was displayed on a gibbet for two hours. At 7:00 p.m., her body was placed on a pyre and burnt, her ashes gathered and cast to the four winds.

The burning of Montréal, as well as the arrest and subsequent trial of Angélique, reveals much about the nature of enslavement in Canada, a legal institution that existed for over two hundred years. It is possible that Angélique did not set the fire. But she made an ideal scapegoat for the crime: she was Black, enslaved, poor, and a foreigner, and so in every aspect was a social outcast. As a slave, Angélique had no rights that New France or white society would respect.

On the other hand, Angélique may have set the fire. She had many grievances against white society in Montréal. Whites had enslaved her, stripped her of her freedom and human rights, and taken her from a homeland that she clearly loved. In Montréal, she had attempted at least once to escape from enslavement but was thwarted. Arson had played a role in that earlier escape. Centuries later, Marie-Joseph Angélique has become a symbol of Black resistance and freedom.

Marie-Joseph Angélique was an enslaved Black woman in Montréal.
Marie-Joseph Angélique was an enslaved Black woman in Montréal. (kentakepage.com)

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

36 thoughts on “Black History Month in Canada… Marie-Josephe Angelique”

  1. In answer to your side question about animals, I can give you two personal examples of both sides of the equation. First is a thoroughbred horse we own. She used to race for us, and after she retired herself (she just quit trying to win one year), we put her out to pasture. After a year we decided to breed her (kinda like Marie-Joseph was bred, but in the thoroughbred industry it is impossible to let a mare pick her stud, the industry is just not set up for that. Besides, a steed will gather as many mares to him as he can defend from other steeds, without caring if a mare wants to be part of his harem or not.) I can say that the stud we ended up choosing for our mare was totally acceptable to her, which is not always the case. Most breedings are basically rape, with the stud forcing himself upon the mare. Our girl was more than receptive, as many times as she could convince the stud to cover her. But pregnancy was tough on her, the birth was not the easiest, and though she knew the resultant colt was hers, she never really accepted that she should have to mother it. Unfortunately the colt died of internal complications after only 30 days of life. Our mare did not seem to mourn his passing.
    But not being a good mother did not mean she is a bad horse. She had three owners before we bought her, and all they were interested in was how fast she could run. We treated her as a horse and friend first, and a racing machine second. We discovered that she only liked to try her best when she was put in with other mares she felt superior to. She wasn’t queen bitch, but she wasn’t gun fodder either. Some races she would not even try to win, no matter what the jockey asked her to do, while other times she was not about to lose, and she would run on sheer determination to win. Those races were thrilling to see. We don’t see her as often as we used to, she stays 1400 kms down south of our present home, but every time she sees us walking into the pasture, she comes running, agitated until she finds the carrots and apples hidden in our pockets.
    Horses are highly intelligent, especially when you give them the opportunity to be themselves. But as for family loyalty, we’ll, I guess some have it and some don’t.
    This story got a little longer than expected, but I promised you two examples of animal breeding situations. My spouse and I are cat people, and have been all our lives. My spouse was never allowed to have new-born kittens, so 10 years ago I set up a situation so that she could experience kitten-birth-by-proxy, and we brought home two unrelated kittens, one male, one female, and let nature take its course. Eventually the female went into heat, and the male obligingly (and ecstatically) fulfilled her needs. The odd thing about this match, even for me who had a lot of experience with queans giving birth, was for the first time in my life the father was living with the mother. This became a complete revelation. When Diabolo had her four kittens, and cleaned them up, Smoky came to visit her and admire his creations. We were very apprehensive, having heard stories of toms who killed their male offspring. Smoky did not try to kill them, he began to wash them and cuddle them, and all around love them. I’ve never seen a father so proud of the babies he helped create. There were 4 kittens, 3 males, 1 female, and they of course tried to wander around, unable to see yet where they were going. Gail, my spouse was just incredulous, having seen three of the births as they happened, and now watching them try to become independent beings. But, to our surprise, Diabolo laid down half around the kittens, and Smoky laid down opposite her, with their front feet touching their hind feet, totally encircling the kittens. They spent hours together every day, guarding their babies from running away and getting lost. In all my years, I had never known a father cat could care for his kittens. To move this story ahead, Diabolo was the perfect mother, coddling and cuddling and breast-feeding her babies, and protecting them from us horrible people. Smoky, on the other hand, was the perfect father, bathing them, cleaning up their little poops, and generally always being there for them. As the kittens grew up, Smoky actually started taking more care of them than Diabolo did. She took care of the feeding; Smoky took care of everything else. He played with them, brought them back to the nest if they wandered away, and helped carry them to new nests whenever Diabolo decided they needed to move to safer places. And the older the kittens got, the more Smoky played with them, and the more they gravitated toward him, except at feeding time. At two months of age, of course, it was time to start searching for new homes for the kittens. First one moved, then 2 others, and finally the last one disappeared from our home. Diabolo had no problem with any of that, she had had enough of being a mother. Smoky, on the other hand, grew more agitated with each disappearance, and when the last one was gone, he spent days searching all over the house for his babies, screeching and calling to them, even though there was no one around to call back to him. He went into a depression that lasted almost a year. In the end we had to get him a kitten he could raise, and become friends with. They are still friends this many years later. Diabolo, for her part, wanted no part of Smoky ever again. If he got into a fight with one of our other cats, she ran to defend him, he was the father of her children. But as soon as the fight was over, if he tried to thank her, she beat the hell out of him herself. She never forgave him for knocking her up, and though she was the best mother ever, she never wanted kids again, and was completely happy when we had her spayed.
    In my opinion all animals are intelligent, if you take the time to get to know them on their terms, not yours. Just don’t expect them to be humans, why would they want to be like us!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow! I learned a great deal from these stories. What you’re saying about letting animals be themselves makes perfect sense. I’ve not had your experience, but I do know that every dog we’ve ever had in our family was a unique individual with his or her own preferences. I agree, why would they want to be like us? Thank you very much!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Why indeed. Animals can bring out the best in us, so why shouldn’t we learn to bring out the best in them. Tit for tat, and all that rot.
        Anyways , John, i’m glad you enjoyed my stories, both of them true. But I have ever more stories about animals, including a cat that tried to talk English, using the correct words and sentence structure. Another cat who chose where he wanted to live, not living with the person who originally took him home. A story of a mouse who begged me to save him. And a story of a dog who owned a two mile stretch of a busy city street, and covered his territory usually twice a day, covering both sides of the busy street. And I also have a story of a kid who could talk to horses, until one day a bad bad man told me it was impossible to talk to a horse. (One of the saddest days of my life.)

        Liked by 2 people

          1. The animal books would have to be children’s books, and I am not an illustrator, nor do I know one.
            Speaking of writing books, did I see somewhere you publish books? Only you’re own? Are you planning to expand?

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Thanks.
                Children are not yet set in what is possible and what is not, as in my experience in talking to horses. I mean, I was the one doing it. But as soon as an adult authority figure told me talking with horses was impossible, and that I was crazy if I continued to talk to horses, the ability vanished. I was robbed of my talent or ability or whatever you want to call it. I instantly went from being able to talk to horses (by mental telepathy, I guess you would have called it, not actual speaking and listening in English), to having a blank space in my mind.
                I cannot see ever getting an adult to talk directly to a horse, mind to mind. But if I could suggest it to a child, maybe someone else might discover such a talent within them. I’m sorry, John, but on topics like that, adults minds are generally already set in stone.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I absolutely agree about the adult mind. This reminds me of the belief that only children can see angels – likely for the same reason you cited.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Hey John, Can’t say as I ever saw an angel, but I saw a ghost once, and now even I don’t believe in ghosts, as strange as that seems.
                    My mother died when I was young, a victim of cancer. Before she died she always turned out all the lights, then awhile later she would take a flashlight and visit every bedroom to make sure we were all sleeping (and not hiding under the blankets with a flashlight of our own, and a book). One night, maybe a year after her death, I was reading a book by flashlight when I heard a silent swoosh in sound, and I peeked out of the blanket to see my mother standing looking at me. She ss wearing a billowy white see-through robe, unlike anything I had ever seen before, and in her hand she carried a lit candle in an old-fashioned candle holder. She stored st me a few seconds as if admonishing me for still being awake, then swept away towards my sisters’ room. I will never forget that night, and what I saw, but for some reason I cannot make myself believe in ghosts. I think of shat I saw as an apparition. A ghost, we’ll, that’s just fodder for a fiction tale…

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Wow! That’s a good story. It goes to illustrate the fact that we know so very little about what happens after death (if anything). I totally reject what the religions teach. Sigh.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Why the sigh? I for one am happy you reject what religions teach. Yes, it may make life easier if you could believe what they teach, but which one would you choose to follow? There are so many out there, and they all contradict each other in at least one significant way, but usually more. My best idea is if you need to believe in something, look inside yourself, and ask, what do I truly believe? There is your religion for you. It is a religion for 1. It does not need strength in numbers, it already contains the strongest number in the world, 1! It does not require anyone else to believe in it; anyone else is just going to contaminate it so it is not even yours anymore. Best of all, it does not require you to worship anyone but you, yourself. You are the most important being in your world. Worship yourself. You know what your truth is. You know what your love us worth, to you. And you know where you want this religion to go. So let it go there… The rest is up to you… 7

                      Liked by 2 people

                    3. I agree with you. The sigh was aimed at the reality of so many millions worldwide who still cling to some sort of organized religion for comfort, meaning, and courage. As you say, look inward and then live a moral life helping others where you can. We really don’t need religions to tell us right from wrong. Our heart tells us that.

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear John Fioravanti,

    What a compelling story. It is possible that she did the deed but if so, I can empathize as to why she did it. There is that equal possibility that the fire was set to make sure the police had an incentive to find Angelique who had escaped with her lover which they did. What a horrible ending and a reminder of how cruel the practice of slavery was on our fellow brothers and sisters. The way she was executed reflects poorly on those who ordered the execution to where they created a martyr.

    I’m glad her story is still shared.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree about slavery being evil – and I can’t help but think of the girls and women who have been snared by the sex slavery industry. Thanks, Gronda.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was struck by how young she was. Do you think she did it? Or was her confession just a matter of tradition when you found yourself in that situation? And why weren’t lawyers allowed to practice in Canada?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheryl, in this time period, France owned the territory and their law prevailed. I don’t know why there was a ban on lawyers. I do know they banned Protestants from settling in the colony – wanted to keep it purely Catholic and avoid the religious strife taking place in France. Thanks, Cheryl!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We’ve been up to Fort Louisbourg twice now. Five years in between visits. I was so amazed at how much they had done to it since the first time we were there. Arn and I both fell in love with the place. It’s so strange to think that it was sitting right on the water at the time they built it. Interesting how the land has changed since then.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Nova Scotia so I’ve never seen Louisbourg, but I’ve been to Quebec City and Montreal many times. I haven’t been to our west coast either – gotta get the lead out! Thanks, Cheryl!

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    February is Black History Month in both the U.S. and Canada. I have long been a student of black history in our own nation, but have, quite honestly, never studied the same in Canadian history. Since starting this blog a few years ago, I have made many wonderful friends in Canada, one of whom is author John Fioravanti. John is a former educator and an excellent writer, and he is writing a daily post highlighting a person or event from Canadian Black History Month. I thought it would be fun to learn some new things this month, about the history of our northern neighbors, so I am starting tonight by re-blogging John’s most recent post about a young woman, Marie-Josephe Angelique. Please take a moment to read John’s post, as it is a tragic, but fascinating tale. I am planning to share more of John’s stories this month, and I’m trying to talk him into writing a guest post, also. Thank you so much, John, for allowing me to share your excellent work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jill, thank you so much for the reblog and your beautiful introduction. I’m humbled and looking forward to sharing our Black History in Canada with you and your readers.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I guess the part of her story that really hit me hard was that her owner brought in a friend’s male slave to breed her. How revolting! After reading that, I hoped that she really did set that fire. Slavery is such an evil institution. Thanks, Jill!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, rather like hiring a stud to breed with your horse. But then, in many cases, at least here in the U.S. where most slavery was on plantations, the livestock was valued more than the slaves. What always breaks my heart is that owners would sell a woman’s child to somebody else, and she might never see her child again.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Sigh. We do the same thing to most domesticated animals assuming they are ‘dumb’ and aren’t capable of feelings. I wonder, considering how our housepets become attached to family members.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Agreed! We never refer to our Significant Seven (kitties) as ‘pets’, for they are family members. In truth, they actually fule the roost around here, as all are rescue kitties with unique emotional problems that we have had to create special solutions for. It’s a zoo around here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! We call them our furry family members.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Hats off to you, Jill! We have just one dog – a Maltese Terrier. We adopted her from our granddaughter who named the dog, “Princess Cinderella” – and she is extremely well-named! What a princess! I tell everyone Cinderella is my littlest princess. She hates to be alone, so she’s happier here where we are home most of the time. Cinderella goes nuts when our granddaughter, Lexi, is here and doesn’t leave her side. When we visit there, Cinderella beats us to the door – so she’s content to be with us.

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Opher's World and commented:
    I have never heard of this woman. I am left wondering if she did commit the crime or was set up and what were the tortures she endured?
    Apart from anything it illustrates the oppression, racism and horrors of slavery. It also illustrates the capricious nature and barbaric practices of the justice system. We have come a long way since the ritual torture and maiming of yore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Her tortures were described as medieval – one was to have her legs squeezed until they broke. She was originally sentenced to having her hands cut off before hanging but that was changed later. Truly barbaric ‘justice’. This occurred when Montreal was governed by France and it’s legal system. We’ll never know if she was guilty or not. Thanks for the reblog, Opher!

      Like

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