The Bukowski Agency - The Hanging of Angélique - Excerpt
The Hanging of Angélique
The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal

by Afua Cooper

EXCERPT

"MARIE-JOSEPH ANGELIQUE, negress, slave woman of Thérèse de Couagne, widow of the late François Poulin de Francheville, you are condemned to die, to make honourable amends, to have your hand cut off, be burned alive, and your ashes cast to the winds." — Judge Pierre Raimbault, June 4, 1734

ON JUNE 21 1734, Marie-Joseph Angelique ended her life dangling from a hangman's noose in Montréal. It was an inglorious end.

She died because on April 10, a fire had devastated the town of Montréal. All fingers pointed to Angelique, the "recalcitrant" slave, the "incorrigible" slave. The authorities arrested her, cast her in jail, and charged her. Immediately a tribunal began investigating the fire, led by Pierre Raimbault, Lieutenant-General for civil and criminal matters for the jurisdiction of Montréal. During a series of interrogations Angelique told her life story.

When the judge rose to read the verdict in the trial of Angelique, everyone was certain that she would face death. She stood nervous and afraid, flanked by the four notaries who prepared her case, staring destiny in the face. She faced Raimbault and the seven other men who made up the King's court for the Montréal jurisdiction. The men were all white, free, and members of the ruling classes. And she, a lone black woman, was enslaved.

Under French law, anyone condemned to die had the right of appeal to the High Court, the Conseil Supérieur, housed in Québec City, the capital of the colony. Angelique appealed and traveled by boat with her defence counsel to Québec.

On June 12 the Conseil handed down its decision. It upheld the death penalty but modified the punishment: there was to be no bodily mutilation, nor would she be burnt alive, but she had to make honourable amends, then be hung and strangled until death, after which her body would be burnt and the ashes thrown to the winds.

Angelique returned to Montréal to await her death in prison. There was no doubt in the mind of the authorities that Angelique was guilty of setting the fire, even though throughout the trial she repeated that she had not done so. They were also convinced that she had an accomplice. They suspected that Claude Thibault, Angelique's alleged lover, a white indentured servant, was her partner-in-crime.

Pierre Raimbault continued his interrogations until 20 June, the day before the execution. On June 21, on the recommendation of the Superior Court, before she died Angelique was to undergo La question extraordinaire, that is, interrogation under torture, to force her to name her accomplice.

The 21st of June dawned — the first day of summer. This is the day when everything in the natural world reaches its peak and then begins to decline. The seeds of winter are sown on that day, the longest and brightest of the year. For a lone Black woman, sitting in a jail in a colonial town, it was indeed the day of her decline.

At 7.a.m. that day Father Navetier, a Sulpician priest, arrived at the jail to administer the last rites to Angelique. Though enslaved, she had been baptized in the Catholic faith and was eligible to partake in many of the rites of the Church. Angelique made her confession. It is private; we do not know what she confessed. Father Navetier prayed for her soul and departed.

 

 

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