Sunday, 21 June 2020

hommages posthumes

Born circa 1700 in Maderia and sold into a life of enslavement Marie-Josèphe dite Angélique (so named by her last owner) was tried and made a coerced confession under torture of setting fire to her master and mistress’ home, engulfing much of the old town of Montréal, and was executed by hanging on this day in 1734.
When the devastating fire had spread back in April, rumours circulated accusing Angélique of arson but there were no witnesses (other than a five-year old that took the stand by surprise, coming forward quite late in the proceedings) or corroborating evidence and prosecutors struggled to impose the sentence but the punishment was eventually meted out.
While until recent times, the court’s verdict was not re-examined, assuming that Angélique did in fact start the fire to exact revenge on her owners, closer inspection suggests it may have been accidentally and that Angélique was a convenient scapegoat—other historians do indeed find her culpable but in the larger context of the struggle for freedom and equal rights. There is of course no such thing as being a little bit owned and not one’s own person but conditions in New France were far different in other areas, there being a degree of civil protections for enslaved persons and rather a hierarchy of “unfreedoms” that restricted movement and liberty. In 2012, a public square facing the Montréal City Hall was designated Place Marie-Josèphe-Angélique in her honour and numerous adaptations of her life have been produced.