The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal
“Slavery is Canada’s best-kept secret, locked within the national closet. And because it is a secret it is written out of official history. But slavery was an institutionalized practice for over two hundred years. …Canada may not have been a slave society – that is, a society whose economy was based on slaves – but it was a society with slaves.”
Canadian slavery was certainly something I knew nothing about prior to reading this book. I was always taught that Canada was the promised land for slaves in the US, especially after the Fugitive Slave Act. Afua Cooper’s groundbreaking book dispels that myth.
She focuses her narrative on one young enslaved woman, christened Marie-Joseph Angelique, who was accused of setting her mistress’s house on fire and, as a result, burning down much of Old Montreal. Cooper is sure to put Angelique’s story in context, explaining how slavery was an integral part of Canada’s foundations.
Cooper does not shy away from placing blame on Angelique. In fact, the idea that this was a purposeful act, borne of the frustrations and chafing of the slave system, is central to her thesis.
“Did Angelique set the fire? Your guess is as good as mine. No one saw her light the spark that started the blaze. All the evidence was circumstantial. But I believe she did set it.”
When Angelique set the blaze, she acted willfully, deliberately. She was not a woman to sit idly by and quietly bear the harsh hand she was dealt. Throughout her life she rebelled, through acts large and small. Her final act of rebellion ended up even bigger than she had probably anticipated.
Want more like this? Try:
- Sojourner Truth, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Another slave narrative from a woman with Dutch ties.
- Assata Shakur, Assata. A 1987 autobiography from another resistor that clearly shows the struggle continues.
- Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace. The fictional retelling of a famous Canadian murder case. In this case, the accused is servant girl Grace Marks.