History is a valuable tool for us to learn and not repeat what shouldn't be repeated.
New France, Canada
Everyone knows or has heard of the Underground Railroad, a haven for the hundreds of enslaved people escaping the South. But few know that Canada had thousands of enslaved people for over 200 years. No slave ship ever arrived in Canada. Instead, the enslaved people came from neighboring British colonies and the French Caribbean. Merchants that traveled to Louisianna and the Caribbean on business brought enslaved people back to Canada. Then In 1834, the British abolished slavery.
Angelique's Early Years
Marie-Josephe Angelique was born about 1705 in Maderia, Portugal. She was sold to a Flemish man, Nichus Block, who took her to the New World, where she was again sold to a French businessman, Francois Francheville. Francois died in 1733, and Angelique became the property of his widow, Theresa Francheville. Angelique was a troublesome enslaved person, and friction arose between Theresa and Angelique. And, because she was stubborn and difficult, Theresa decided to sell her to a wealthy man in Quebec.
At this time, Angelique was in a relationship with an indentured slave of the Francheville household, Claude Thibault. Together they decided to run away to New England. Unfortunately, they were soon captured and returned to Montreal. Thibault was imprisoned but later released the day before the fire. Angelique was returned to Theresa but remained stubborn, rebelling, and vengeful, apparently making statements about burning the Francheville house.
The Montreal Fire of April 10, 1734
On Saturday, April 10, 1734, the town ended their evening prayer. The shout rang out FIRE. The winds were strong that evening, and fire engulfed homes, shops, warehouses, the hospital, and the convent were ablaze. A total of 46 buildings were lost forever.
The town was in shock, having lost their homes and city, and demanded someone would be held accountable.
French law at this time allowed a suspect to be arrested purely on "public knowledge." Accusers were naming Angelique for setting the fire. The prosecutor called some twenty witnesses who relayed Angelique had a lousy character believing her guilty even though no one saw her lighting the fire. The prosecutor, with no objective evidence, asked the judge and the four commissioners to allow torture to the prisoner to admit her guilt and to name any accomplishers.
Court cases were held behind closed doors with a single judge with the defendants not allowed lawyers. Angelique repeatedly maintained her innocence.
It was determined by the judge and commissioners that Angelique did set the fire, destroying Montreal. Accordingly, she was to have a noose around her neck, carrying a flaming torch, and be led to the church where her hands were to be severed and placed on stakes. She was then to be paraded on a tumbrel(garbage cart) and burned alive at the stake with her ashes cast to the wind.
An automatic appeal to Superior Court was required, and weeks later, the Appeals Court affirmed the verdict. However, they reduced the savagery and eliminated having her hands cut off and burning her alive. Instead, she was hanged, her body burned with the ashes scattered. The sentence was carried on on June 21, 1734. Her corpse was left hanging for two hours for all to see,
The Torture Of Angelique
In a rush to obtain a confession and any accomplishes, the torture called the "boot" would be applied by the Master Torturer. The" boot" was painful torture often used in medieval Europe consisting of wood planks tied to the knees and legs with four hammer strokes driving a wedge between the planks crushing the legs. Angelique almost immediately confessed to setting the fire but refused to name an accomplice.
The Aftermath Of The Verdict
Historians disagree about the guilt or innocence of Angelique. Was she guilty or simply a scapegoat needed by authorities to blame. The people demanded justice, and in a race to appease them, Angelique paid the price.
Historiann Afua Cooper believes Angelique was guilty and explains her reasons in her book, The Hanging Of Angelique. Another historian, Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne, believed in her innocence and was a scapegoat. Her book, Le Proces, describes her reasoning.
Several books, poems, and plays have been written about Angelique's struggles. Angelique only wanted to be free and never be sold and resold again.
In 2012, a public square in Montreal facing City Hall was named Place Marie-Joseph Martinique. Then in 2021, the House of Commons officially designated August 2nd as Emancipation Day.
Angelique's story shows her courage even during torture only seeking freedom.