Many are unaware that Canada participated in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and had slavery between the early 1600s and 1833. But slowly and surely, that history is coming to light. One such victim of the era was a Black slave by the name of Marie-Joseph Angélique (1705-1734).
Ms. Angelique who has come to be known as a symbol of Black resistance, was a freedom fighter in a very literal sense. As a slave in North America, she wanted nothing more than to be free of bondage and return to her home of Portugal. She is said to have complained daily about her condition and threatened to burn her owners’ property if she was not given her freedom. The night of April 10, 1734, 46 buildings in Montréal’s merchants’ quarters burned to the ground. Ms. Angélique was subsequently captured, tried, tortured, convicted and hung for the crime though no evidence was ever found connecting her. However, everyone who knows her story tends to believe that she was a woman of her word.
“Give me my freedom or I will burn this m*therf*cker down.” – Marie-Joseph Angélique
Not much is known of Ms. Angelique’s first 20 years of life other than the fact that she was born in Portugal and eventually became the property of French businessman François Poulin de Francheville who brought her to Montréal. While in her new home, she was expected to carry out the duties (horrors) that come with being a female slave such as providing sexual favors for her master(s) and breeding with male slaves. Naturally, she opposed these duties and made her objections and arson threats known. Often. She also carried on an affair with a white indentured servant and felt that she had the right to love who she wanted to love despite the apparent difference in their skin color.
When she learned that her master planned to sell her, it is believed that she set the fire that gutted the merchants’ quarters. Upon capture, however, she denied any wrongdoing until torture forced her to confess. She was publicly paraded around as an arsonist and hung before her body was burned at the stake.
Though Ms. Angélique met her demise long ago, I appreciate that her story has not been forgotten and continues to live on as an inspiration to others to not settle for any raw deal in life… even if it means death.