If you wander the streets of Old Montreal, you will find a small public square that faces city hall named Place Marie-Joseph Angélique. You may pass by without a thought—but you walk on the very place that she was accused of setting on fire.
Marie-Joseph Angélique’s bravery was lost to history, she was born in Maderia, Portugal, a city that was an important hub for the Atlantic Slave market. At the age of 15 she was sold into slavery and brought to the New-World.
Angelique lived in Montreal and was owned by Therese de Couagne de Francheville in Montreal. On April 10, 1734 Angelique was charged with arson after attempting to escape her bondage. It was alleged that she burned down not only her Masters house, but the entire Montreal merchant quarter.
Her trial was a long ordeal. Twenty-two persons – rich and poor, men and women – testified against her. All admitted that they did not see Angélique start the fire, but they were unanimously convinced of her guilt.
Sadly, she was convicted and cruely tortued, and hanged. It isn’t known for sure whether Angélique set the fire but she became a symbol of Black resistance and liberation in Canada.
Not everyone buys into the narrative set by Angélique’s prosecutors. Historians such as Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne, author of the Le Procès de Marie-Josèphe Angélique (Beaugrand-champagne, 2004), believe that Angélique did not start the fire. They argue that she was just the unfortunate victim of incriminating circumstances, rumors and discrimination.
Some choose to see in Angélique's fate a struggle towards liberation. Historian and poet Afua Cooper, who wrote The Hanging of Angélique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal (University of Georgia Press, 2007)has dedicated 15 years of her professional life to research on Angélique and believe that the woman started the fires in a gesture of rebellion and her actions were a cry for the freedom of African American slaves.
This Queen dared to stand for freedom
Celebrate her and hear the stories of other amazing women at the Red Ribbon Gala on November 28, 2015 at the TransAlta Arts Barn, Edmonton Alberta.