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*The birth of Marie-Joseph Angélique is celebrated on this date in c 1705. She was an enslaved Black person whose attempted escape from servitude led to a fire in Montreal, Quebec.
Marie-Joseph Angélique was born in Portugal to practitioners in the Middle Passage Atlantic slave trade and sold to a Flemish man who brought her to the New World. She lived in New England before being sold in 1725 to a French businessman from Montreal named François Poulin de Francheville. She was baptized on June 28, 1730, in Montreal. She was a mistress with a son in January 1731 and twin boys in May 1732. Angélique was expected to breed with other enslaved people. She opposed this and devoted herself to a white servant named Claude Thibault.
Slavery in New England and New France was a domestic indentured servitude affair. Angélique worked in the Francheville home in Montreal and on the family's small farm to produce supplies for her masters' trading expeditions. Her later trial testimony revealed De Couagne had repeatedly beaten her for years. Shortly after de Francheville died in 1733, his widow de Couagne sold Angélique to François-Étienne Cugnet, a government official living in Quebec City, for 600 pounds of gunpowder and shipping expenses to send Angélique to the colonial capital. However, Angélique demanded that de Couagne grant her liberty and became enraged when she was refused, promising her owner that she would "make her burn ."
In March, de Couagne, fearing for her safety, sent Angélique to live with her in Alexis Monière until the ice broke on the river. It was possible to ship Angélique to Cugnet, who likely intended to send her to the West Indies. Monière also took Thibault into his employ. Shortly after, Thibault and Angélique set their beds on fire and attempted to escape New England. The officers of the constabulary found them two weeks later. Thibault was imprisoned and released. After Thibault's discharge, he visited de Couagne and confirmed that Angélique had been sold and shipped to Quebec City as soon as the ice cleared. Thibault visited Angélique while de Couagne was not home, informing her of her sale.
The St. Lawrence River would soon be passable to ships in early April, and Angélique would not be in Montreal much longer. Angélique told a servant she intended to run away again, setting another fire to cover their escape. On the evening of April 10, 1734, while her owner was at church, Angélique was seen running from the door of her house, crying, "fire!" Neighbors attempted to put out the blaze, but it spread quickly, and within three hours, forty-six buildings were destroyed, including much of the merchant sector along rue Saint-Paul, as well as the hospital and convent Hôtel-Dieu. No one was injured in the blaze. As Angélique and Thibault helped save goods from the burning houses, many residents accused her of setting the fire, although she denied it.
When the fire had gone out, community opinion held that Angélique had set the fire, and she was arrested the following morning. Thibault had disappeared during the fire and was never seen again in New France. Angélique was charged and tried. French law then allowed suspects to be found guilty by "public knowledge." No other witnesses or evidence was found when the community agreed on their guilt. The prosecution called many witnesses, none of who claimed to have seen Angélique set the fire but who were certain that she had done it. They also testified at length to Angélique's character as a badly behaved enslaved person who often confronted her owners.
The prosecution hoped to find compelling evidence that Angélique would admit her guilt and produced Alexis Monière's five-year-old daughter Amable. She claimed to have seen Angélique start the fire. The prosecution closed their case with this witness, and Angélique was convicted. Part of her sentence included torture before being executed to make her denounce accomplices and ask for forgiveness. She was beaten by the colony's executioner, an enslaved Black person named Mathieu Leveille, and her legs were crushed. After torture, she confessed to the crime but claimed to have done it alone.
Court documents said: "MARIE-JOSEPH ANGÉLIQUE, negress, slave woman of Thérèse de Couagne, widow of the late François Poulin de Francheville, you are condemned to die, to make honorable amends, to have your hand cut off, be burned alive, and your ashes cast to the winds." — Judge Pierre Raimbault, June 4, 1734. Angélique was to be burnt alive and cut her hand off, but the Superior Council in Quebec City altered her death sentence to hanging in a public ceremony.
She was driven through town tied in the back of a cart wearing a sign reading "arsonist"; the drive included a stop at the church where she was made to kneel and beg for forgiveness from God, the King of France, and her fellow subjects (a process known as "amende honorable"). She was hanged, and once dead, her body was burned, and her ashes scattered.
Image by Kit-Lang, 2012