The Hanging Of Angelique: The Untold Story Of Canadian Slavery And The Burning Of Old Montreal
Black people, then, throughout the length and breadth of British North America, were owned, bought, and sold by White colonists. The lives of the Black enslaved people and their offspring were regulated and circumscribed by those who owned them and the legal resources they could access.
Cooper exposes little-known truths about slavery in the colonial settlement of Canada, examining the unique characteristics of slavery in a colony where a fur-trade economy was the business of the day. In New France, slavery was patriarchal and primarily an “urban phenomenon.”
The basic fact that slavery, with all its attendant inhumanity and brutality, did exist in Canada is perhaps the most discomforting of truths for Canadians. While parts of the country did welcome escaped slaves travelling north on the Underground Railroad, Cooper challenges the venerable myth of Canada as a sanctuary at the end of the North Star: “Describing the Canadian form of enslavement as mild denies the humanity of the enslaved and further compounds their degradation.” Despite the existence of free black communities, thousands of ordinary African and Aboriginal women, men, and children were still robbed of their “freedom and labour.” Slaves in colonial Canada lived extraordinary lives of survival and resistance despite their bondage.
In the decisive language of an historian and with a sense of urgency befitting a poet, Cooper begins with the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a Portuguese-born black woman and slave, accused of arson and the burning of Old Montreal in 1734. For this infamous crime she was tried, tortured, and executed by public hanging according to the French law known as Code Noir. The story of Angelique is complex, its layers unfolding to reveal at the centre the oldest slave narrative in the New World. “Angelique’s story, of course, is part of the story of Portuguese trade, and particularly the trade in human flesh.” Hers is one of Canada’s stories and is part of the history of New World conquest, settlement, and Atlantic trade.
Cooper’s book will be of interest to historians and history buffs alike, to students and scholars of women’s studies, to anti-racism educators and activists, and to anyone interested in the truth of Canada’s history.mRb