Marie-Joseph Angélique: A Story Untold

The Abuse and Unjust Execution of a Slave in Montreal

  • Graphic Joey Bruce.

On a summer morning, 1734, Marie-Joseph Angélique was in a chamber with a priest, a judge, a physician, a torturer, and several guards.

On a summer morning, 1734, Marie-Joseph Angélique was in a chamber with a priest, a judge, a physician, a torturer, and several guards.

She sat upright with planks of wood tightly placed on each side of her legs and felt the pressure on her knees as she gazed at a hammer and iron wedge. She maintained her innocence and swore she did not commit the crime.

Unhappy with the lack of confession and evidence, the accusers hammered down the iron wedge.

The medieval method of torture, known as the brodequins, crushes bones and knees and leaves the victim unable to stand. Going through horrible pain, and faced with her inevitable death under the unjust court, Angélique confessed.

The excruciating torture continued as the judge persevered for the name of an accomplice, but she insisted that she did it alone. Hours later, she was placed in a garbage cart and taken to St. Paul St., where a hangman and a noose awaited her.

The townspeople gathered, some prayed and some cursed. They watched as the rope tightened around her neck and as her body plunged when the hatch was released.

The sun set as her corpse hung high for two hours. Her body was then taken down and burnt to ashes, leaving nothing behind but an unresolved legacy.

Angélique—a Black, enslaved woman—was executed. There was no credible evidence or witness to tie her to the crime.

Angélique was originally from Portugal, but somewhere around 1725, she was sold to a French man named François Poulin de Francheville in New England.

Francheville took her to Montreal, where she worked as a domestic slave in his household. In the years she was enslaved, she was allegedly given the name Angélique by her mistress Thérèse de Couagne de Francheville and gave birth to three children—none of whom lived past infancy—with another slave named Jacques César.

The gradual process of stripping Angélique of her humanity was amplified by the fact that some historians believe that she and César were forced to reproduce. Couagne whipped her on a regular basis and some speculate that Francheville sexually assaulted her.

And although today some might consider Angélique brave, her masters branded her as defiant. She cursed, threatened, and fought back.

An embodiment of determination, she did not quietly ask for her freedom. Having her rights denied, she caused an uproar and lashed out at Couagne and the other servants. She even threatened to burn her mistress.

Despite all the efforts to belittle and control Angélique, she had a lover, Claude Thibault, a French white indentured labourer. His name was what the judge wanted to hear when he asked Angélique for an accomplice later.

It was rumoured that Angélique and Thibault were accomplices in an act of rebellion that would lead to the former’s torture and execution.

It wouldn’t be the first time they had conspired together—they ran away a couple of months before that. Their escape was provoked when Angélique learned that Couagne sold her to a man in Quebec City.

Graphic Joey Bruce.

Apart from her loud and rebellious attitude, she was also sold to be separated from her lover.

Couagne sought to break down Angélique out of fear. Infuriated, the lovers wanted to leave for Portugal. As Angélique was temporarily placed in the house of Alexis Monière, the brother-in-law of Couagne, until her planned departure to Quebec City, she and Thibault set her bed on fire and fled.

For two short weeks, they tasted freedom. They were hunted down and sent back—Thibault to jail and Angélique to her original owner. Upon her return, she kept stating that she would burn the house down.

About 10 weeks prior to the day of Angélique’s execution, Montreal exploded into chaos and anger.

It was April 1734—thick clouds of smoke, the stench of burnt wood, and grey ashes, filled the streets and riddled Montreal with anger.

Overall, 46 buildings, and the convent and hospital of the Hôtel-Dieu de Montréal, were burnt. No one died during the incident.

The rage spread as fast as the fire burnt the houses and an overwhelming need to find a scapegoat transpired.

When the April fire occurred, suspicion around Angélique arose quickly. An enslaved Black woman that was appalled and angry by having rights and freedoms taken away?

It had to be her. Who else would burn down homes and sacred buildings in a foreign land whilst tyrannizing the locals? When the court convicted her, 23 witnesses helped prosecute her without definitive proof. There was little to no testimony in which anyone actually saw Angélique set the fire, it was all based on what they believed had happened.

The witnesses themselves were questionable. Amongst them were Couagne, her 10-year-old niece along with her playmate who had seen Angélique earlier in the day, Couagne’s former servant, and a five-year-old girl.

Some witnesses claimed that they saw Angélique on the roof of the house bringing up coal or heard her threatening to burn her mistress and her house down. Angélique’s alibi wasn’t that strong either; she was on the roof that day and she was in the house around the time the fire started.

With each accusation, the court became more confident that she had started the fire. However, the judge also believed that Thibault was involved. He managed to escape, but his troubles were simpler. He was a white man and the court believed that Angélique manipulated him into helping her.

History has yet to decide on whether Angélique started the fire or not. For centuries, she was blindly accused of the of starting the fire.

If Angélique did start it, she had the right to do so after years of abuse and enslavement.

She can be praised for her rebellious act of bravery if she really did burn the city.

The lack of evidence and the utterly corrupt way the court convicted her is enough to incite outrage.

Anyone can be convicted if no evidence, strong witness testimony, or neutral investigation is needed.

Angélique’s struggle pierces through Canada’s darker side of history where slavery, unjust courts, and racism lie among the silenced chapters of oppression. She was bold, loud, and brave—feared by the people around her for those qualities.

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