The Hanging of Angelique flips the script on the idea of Canada as a haven from slavery.
During the night of April 10, 1734, Montreal burned. Marie-Joseph Angelique, a twenty-nine-year-old slave, was arrested, tried, and found guilty of starting the blaze that consumed forty-six buildings. Suspecting that she had not acted alone and angered that she had maintained her innocence, Angelique’s condemners tortured her after the trial. She confessed but named no accomplices. Before Angelique was hanged, she was paraded through the city. Afterward, her corpse was burned. Angelique, who had been born in Portugal, faded into the shadows of Canadian history, vaguely remembered as the alleged arsonist behind an early catastrophic fire.
The result of fifteen years of research, Afua Cooper—writer, historian and poet—tells the astonishing story of this strong-willed woman, Marie-Joseph Angélique. Afua Cooper draws on extensive trial records that offer, in Angelique’s own words, a detailed portrait of her life and a sense of what slavery was like in Canada at the time. Predating other first-person accounts by more than forty years, these records constitute what is arguably the oldest slave narrative in the New World.
Cooper brings an unknown chapter in Canadian history brilliantly to life with this narrative of a rebellious Portuguese-born Black woman who refused to accept her indentured lot. In a dramatic retelling of Angélique’s life, Cooper sheds new light on what might have compelled a young woman to commit such a crime. At the same time, she completely demolishes the myth of a benign, slave-free Canada, revealing a damning centuries-old record of legally and culturally endorsed slavery. Not simply a tale of “Black” history, or even of Canadian history, The Hanging of Angélique is a universal story that resonates with a strong and insistent voice.
“Cooper does a good job of re-humanizing an enslaved Black woman who was hung for arson and whose existence was always written in the margins of Canadian history. A smooth and casual read, The Hanging of Angelique will have you rethink you thought you knew about Canada.” –Urbanology Magazine, Mark Campbell
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