Book vindicates hanged slave
Arson myth has endured for 270 years; Work contends Marie-Josephe-
Angelique didn't set notorious Hotel Dieu fire in 1734
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
CREDIT: PHIL CARPENTER, THE GAZETTE
Author Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne (left) speaks to Maryse Alcindor
at the launch of her new book called The Trial of Marie-Josephe-
Angelique, a black slave who was hanged in Montreal in the 18th
century, for allegedly setting fire to Hotel Dieu Hospital.
Tortured and hanged in 1734 for setting a fire that burned down one-
10th of Montreal, Marie-Josephe-Angelique has been embraced as
either a feminist icon rebelling against the bonds of slavery, or a
beautiful black woman whose only crime was the colour of her skin.
In a new book, Le Proces de Marie-Josephe-Angelique, author and
historical archivist Denyse Beaugrand-Champagne attempts to set the
record straight on the notorious crime and blow holes in a myth that
has captivated Montreal for 270 years.
Angelique was forced to endure a painful interrogation where wood
planks were placed between her legs, her knees and ankles were bound
and a mallet was used to pound a wood peg between the boards to
exert pressure on her inner leg.
"The woman was tortured to confess. I tried the method of torture on
myself and I would have admitted to setting the fire," Beaugrand-
Champagne said at her book launch last night.
"Angelique stayed to help her mistress rescue furniture and items
from the fire. The fact she never ran is the proof" she didn't set
On April 10, 1734, fire gutted 45 houses and Hotel Dieu Hospital,
then located on St. Paul St. in what is now Old Montreal.
It was theorized the fire started when hot embers were left on a
roof at the home of Angelique's mistress, this being the favoured
method of arson before matches.
There were no witnesses to the fire's origin, yet the finger of
blame was pointed again and again at two people, the black slave
from Portugal and her white, ex-convict lover.
The lover, Claude Thibault, ran away the day after the fire and was
never caught. On June 21, 1734, Angelique, 29, was hanged by the
neck until dead, then burned on a pyre.
Beaugrand-Champagne's book is a blow-by-blow account of the trial,
which was held in true kangaroo-court style.
With court records, torture reports, old street maps and reportage
of the hanging and burning obtained from the Archives Nationales du
Quebec, Beaugrand-Champagne has pieced together a compelling
argument for the slave's innocence.
She didn't set out to write the definitive tome on l'Affaire
Angelique, but came across the the trial and sentencing documents
while doing research for the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
"I worked on this, off and on, for about 10 years," Beaugrand-
"What struck me was there were 22 witnesses, one who even admitted
he wasn't from Montreal and didn't see the fire, but was certain
that the 'negress' did it."
The main contention of all the witnesses was that Angelique started
the fire as a diversion for her escape with Thibault to New England.
But documents show the two had run away in February,
10 weeks before the fire. After her capture, Angelique worked hard
to dissuade her mistress, Therese de Couagne, from selling her.
"The victim was condemned because she was a woman, she was
beautiful, she was black and she was a slave," said Andre Bastien,
of Libre Expression, the book's publisher.
Online Extra: To read more about Marie-Josephe- Angelique, go to our
Web site: www.montrealgazette.com.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2004