Historians of Tomorrow


April 10, 1734. At seven in the evening, a cry of fire rings out. Flames engulf the roof of the widow Francheville’s house. In three hours, the blaze destroys 45 houses of wood and stone as well as the newly rebuilt Hôtel-Dieu hospital. Hundreds of Montrealers, rich and poor, lose their homes. Who set the fire? Suspicion falls on Madame Francheville’s Black slave, Marie-Josèphe-Angélique, and her lover, Claude Thibault, a convict exiled in Canada. Arrested and jailed, Angélique maintains her innocence. Thibault, meanwhile, disappears without a trace. After more than six weeks on trial, Angélique confesses under torture. Late testimony from a five-year-old girl seals her fate. She is publicly hung on June 21, 1734, and her remains are thrown on a pyre, consistent with the ways of justice in New France.

Angélique’s story remains a matter of debate. Was she guilty or innocent? Could someone else have set the fire? Was it accidental? Or an act of rebellion by Angélique against her status as a slave? The trial documents leave many questions unanswered. This tragedy sheds light on the little-known history of slavery in New France. Over a period of more than a century, some 1,525 men, women and children were bought to work in Montreal, mostly as domestic servants. Of these, 518 were Black and 1,007 were Panis, Aboriginals captured by rival nations to be sold to Europeans. The slaves are usually assigned the worst jobs. They empty the chamber pots, carry buckets of drinking water several times a day from the Little Saint Pierre River, chop and transport wood for the many chimneys, wash the floors, beat the rugs, wash the dishes in the river, care for the animals and spend long periods turning a spit to cook the meat. The practice faded out in the late 1700s. In 1834, slavery was abolished in all British colonies.

Angélique was a black slave from Portugal, born in Madeira, near Lisbon. She arrived in Montréal in 1729, aged 24. She had been bought by François Poulin de Francheville and his wife Thérèse de Couagne from Nicolas Bleck, a Flemish man from the English colonies. Her new owners had her baptized Marie-Josèphe, but nicknamed her Angélique, perhaps to remind themselves of the little girl they had lost. Despite her status as a slave, Angélique was vivacious, loving, quarrelsome, at times even impertinent with her mistress, something that made many people suspicious of her during the trial. In 1731 and 1732, Angélique gave birth to children, the fruit of her relationship with another slave. All died young.


Links to other interesting websites about Marie-Josèphe-Angélique

• Great Unsolved mysteries in Canadian History. Torture and Truth. Angélique and the Burning of Montreal:

• Émission De remarquables oubliés sur le site de Radio-Canada (in French):

Complimentary information about this person's era (for the post-visit activity in class)

• Montréal, 500 Years of History in Archives:

• Le patrimoine du Vieux-Montréal en détail sur le site officiel du Vieux-Montréal (in French):
Then click on "Synthèse historique de la période".


Image source: 2006. Detail of a fresco depicting key figures in the trial of Marie-Josèphe-Angélique, sentenced to death for arson in Montreal in 1734: Panis slave Marie-Manon, French day labourer Claude Thibault, Marie-Josèphe-Angélique, Thérèse de Couagne (widow of François Poulin de Francheville) and young witness Amable Lemoine Monière, by Marie-Denise Douyon. Centre d’histoire de Montréal.


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