CANADA'S  FORGOTTEN  SLAVES


from  the  book  by  the  same  name

Crime and Punishment


Black and Amerindian slaves unwillingly found themselves in a society whose standards were foreign to them. Did they behave in ways that led to punishment? Were slaves punished more harshly than persons of a free condition? Was the very presence of slaves a threat for society?


In colonies with a high proportion of slaves, stringent measures were taken to protect masters. Under the Code Noir, slaves were forbidden from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks at the risk of being whipped; they were also forbidden from congregating, risking the same punishment, while repeat offenders could be punished with death; once recaptured, runaway slaves would have their ears cut off and the fleur de lys branded on one shoulder; runaways recaptured a second time would have their hamstring cut and be branded with a fleur de lys on the other shoulder; runaways recaptured a third time would be put to death. A slave who struck his master in the face or drew blood would be put to death; a slave caught stealing could be subject to public humiliation and even put to death; masters could chain slaves and have them beaten with rods or straps, but masters were forbidden from torturing slaves or mutilating any limb, since mutilation and the death penalty were the prerogative of royal justice alone.


There seems to have been very little humanity in these repressive measures, which were adopted at the time in the French West Indies, with a view to protecting the tiny population of white slave owners from the surrounding mass of black slaves. In New France, meanwhile, the Code Noir never came into force. How did masters keep their slaves working, and how did they punish them?


Rebellious Slaves


The airninal records of slaves contain some mild offences that were simply ignored or lightly punished. In 1712, a Panis was involved in a smuggling case. The Panis Joseph belonged to the fur trader Francois Lamoureux Ait Saint-Germain. The slave accompanied his master, along with Pierre and Nicolas Sarrazin, on a journey north of the island of Montreal to trade in prohibited goods. The four were arrested, and Saint-Germain and the Sarrazins were found guilty. Although the Panis was interrogated, his name appears neither in the guilty verdict nor in a later appeal to the Conseil superieur.140 The authorities may have considered that the Panis, as a slave, could not be held responsible for actions which he had not freely committed; no historical record suggests he received any punishment.


Guillaume Couillart's black slave also got off lightly, even though the offence he had committed - slander - could lead to serious consequences. During the first English occupation of Quebec from 1629 to 1632, Nicolas Marsolet entered the service of the Kirke brothers. Then in 1638, at a time when Marsolet had every interest in showing complete loyalty to France, which had regained possession of Quebec, the black slave Olivier claimed that Marsolet had received a message from a traitor named Le Baillif, the very man who had donated the slave to Guillaume Couillart. After a summary investigation, the black man admitted in the presence of Guillaume Couillart and Guillaume Hebert that he could not back up his statements; he was condemned to ask forgiveness and "to spend four hours in irons,"141 that is, with his feet in chains.


The Panis Charles was so rebellious that he actually raised an insurrection, and was deported to the Caribbean in 1730. While in service at Fort Niagara, he incited part of the garrison to revolt, either to avenge harsh punishments meted out by Nicolas-Blaise Bergeres de Rigauville or because of the food; the rebels planned to get rid of the commander and break out in revolt on July 26. Rigauville got wind of the plot in time, and sent a messenger to Montreal for help; Governor Beauharnois dispatched a detachment; the rebels including the Panis were arrested, sent to Montreal and put in irons. At the court martial the Panis was sentenced to be deported and the other rebels sentenced to execution by hanging, although they managed to escape with the connivance of the Recollet brothers; the Panis meanwhile was placed on board the Saint-Antoine and transported to Martinique, there to remain in servitude.142 It is worth noting that in this case of sedition, the slave got off with a lighter sentence than the soldiers. Were there extenuating circumstances? We do not know.


William Brown, printer of the Quebec Gazette, had all sorts of trouble with his black slave Joe, and could not get the upper hand. In August 1774, the printer put his slave (here mentioned for the first time) in prison: Joe had apparently stolen 4 pounds 15 shillings 3% pence from his master, a large sum at the time (one British pound, Quebec currency was worth four dollars at the time, and was made up of twenty shillings, each shilling being worth twelve pence); moreover, the master had to pay two shillings six pence to lock his slave up, then two pounds ten pence for his board in prison. In other words, the master was first robbed, and then had to defray the costs of his slave's punishment.


Once Joe returned home William Brown taught him the craft of pressman, but in April 1777, the slave ran away and it cost Brown seventeen shillings nine pence to find him. Joe escaped again in November that year: Brown paid a man named Davis two shillings nine pence to find Joe and the jailer Couture two pounds five shillings to lock him up, while the slave's board in prison cost the master another thirteen shillings four pence. On January 25, 1778, Joe fled again, and Brown offered ten shillings to whomever managed to bring the fugitive back. On December 22 of the same year, Joe escaped again: Brown had him jailed and whipped by the hangman, at a cost of one pound eight shillings ten pence. On April 30, Joe stole one pound three shillings four pence, and ran away; Brown paid five shillings to have the black man brought back. On September 16, 1779, Joe escaped his master again. He was found on board the ship Empress of Russia and the printer paid out an additional one pound thirteen shillings four pence. On October 13, 1781, Joe was sent to jail, where he remained until May 8,1782: Brown paid two pounds ten shillings, and tried unsuccessfully to sell him to someone about to leave for the Caribbean. At the end of 1785, Joe ran away again, and it cost Brown ten shillings to track him down; he was sent to prison, but on February 18, 1786, he bolted at dawn with the .criminal John Peters. The sheriff offered a reward first of five pounds for each fugitive, then of two; Brown offered a reward of three guineas (about four pounds) to whomever brought back his "printing pressman" - a reward that was still being offered in June 1786. Joe eventually returned home and even turned over a new leaf, because, on New Year's Day 1788, Brown made him a gift of six shillings five pence.


This situation could not last. On February 12, 1788, Joe laid his hands on a pitcher of brandy, which had cost his owner two shillings; on March 20, Brown paid four shillings to saw wood, owing to Joe's negligence; finally, the slave's behaviour improved and beginning in May 1788 his master gave him pocket money each week. Joe then became the property of Samuel Neilson, and ran away again in August 1789, before disappearing from the historical record altogether.


Here was a slave who caused his master a lot of grief. According to our calculations, between 1774 and 1789 Brown had suffered losses and paid out rewards and fees of nineteen pounds three shillings eleven and a halfpence, for Joe's robberies and escapes, his board in prison and the hangman's expenses. If we remember that a "Negro" at the time was worth forty or fifty pounds, it is clear that Joe's insubordination came at a heavy cost. Brown sought to protect his investment by tracking Joe down arid applying a combination of kindness and cruelty to reform him. If Joe had been subjected to the Code Noir, Brown could have had his hamstring cut after the second escape, and have him hanged after the third. (For more information on Brown's difficulties with Joe, see the article "Joe, negre de Brown" in the Dictionnaire.)


Brown's contemporary, Seigneur Chartier de Lotbiniere, spent far less in dealing with the misconduct of his Negro Michel-Henri: he simply booted him out the door.143


Sending Thieves to the Gallows


During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, criminal justice for thieves was extremely harsh: no matter what the value of goods stolen, once a theft was committed or even attempted at night, the thief warranted execution; with unlit streets and no night watch, residents were vulnerable, so the death penalty was liberally handed out in cases of breaking and entering.


In January 1757, the Panis Constant, slave of the officer Paul-Francois Raimbault de Simblin, started pilfering at night. He climbed a picket fence around the yard of Widow Saint-Pierre; using a ladder he found leaning against the roof, he broke the window of an attic room and entered. The widow was in the attic. Terrified by the intrusion, she broke "her arm as she dropped from the attic to the lower level of the house." Constant was duly arrested. Brought before the court of Montreal, the Panis was sentenced to two hours in the public pillory, on market day, and banned for life from the jurisdiction of Montreal.


This amounted to a slap on the wrist, while the crime the Panis Constant had committed - pilfering by night - normally deserved the death penalty. For example in 1758 Francois Rodrigue was found hiding in a private home, with mischievous intent. He was sentenced to the gallows and the Conseil superieur upheld the sentence. Why was the Panis treated with comparative indulgence, for the same offence? This is exactly what shocked the procureur du roi (Crown attorney), whose appeal to the Conseil superieur resulted in a harsher sentence on March 26. The culprit was banished from the colony in perpetuity, remaining in prison "until the first vessel leaves the port for France."144 The Panis Constant deserved to be sent to the gallows, but was simply banished from the colony: whereas slaves in the Caribbean were punished far more harshly than people of a free condition, slaves in New France often got off lightly.


In 1796, at a time when a person stealing a sheep could be hanged, the Panis Charlotte got a relatively mild sentence for stealing the sum of seventeen shillings six pence. As punishment she was branded on the hand with a hot iron and sentenced to five and a half months in prison.145


Sometimes a slave caught stealing was first sentenced to death, then pardoned. The most surprising case involved a black woman, Ann Wiley, who stole six guineas with a white man, Jean Coutencineau. On March 25, 1775, Philip Dejean, Justice of the Peace in Detroit, condemned them both to the gallows. But Detroit had no public executioner. So what should Dejean do? He ended up offering the black slave her life if she agreed to hang her white accomplice; she accepted with pleasure, hanged Coutencineau, then departed. This seems to be the first time in historical records that a female executioner executed a prisoner. The population of Detroit was very indignant that a Canadian should be hanged by a Negro. Justice Dejean was threatened with prosecution, and beat a hasty retreat to Illinois.


The black Alexander Webb did not get off so easily. He was arrested in 1785 for burglary, in the company of four other robbers, and the five men were condemned to the gallows. On the evening of June 15, the five were led to the gallows on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec. But at the last minute, just as the rope was slipped around their necks, the slave and two of the others were pardoned.146 The same thing happened to the mulatto Thomas, known as Tom. In the spring of 1795, he was sentenced to hang for burgling the sum of forty shillings, but Governor Dorchester granted him a pardon.147


This is not to say that all slaves found guilty of robbery were spared death by hanging. In 1735, the black Jean-Baptiste-Thomas, a slave belonging to Louise Lecompte-Dupre (widow of merchant Jean-Antoine Magnan-Lesperance) was arrested for burgling along with Francois Darles, who was found guilty of receiving stolen goods. On July 22, both were sentenced to hang. But the sentence handed down in Montreal called for the gallows to be set up in front of the widow's house - the same Madame Magnan-Lesperance who owned the black slave. She was not too thrilled with the idea of a public execution on her doorstep, and appealed to the Conseil superieur, which led to a new trial. Jean-Baptiste-Thomas and his accomplice Darles were then interrogated under torture, and the Conseil upheld the sentence handed down in Montreal, except that the gallows would be erected in the Market Square, which came as a relief to Madame Magnan-Lesperance.148


The Montagnais woman Marianne was also hanged for theft. She was caught at night pilfering the home of her master, the officer Alexandre Dagneau-Douville. On September 20, 1756 the court condemned her to be hanged in front of her master's home. Dagneau-Douville likely did not relish the prospect of a hanging so close to his residence any more than Madame Magnan-Lesperance had. But this time Marianne appealed to the Conseil superieur on the grounds that she was pregnant. The Montagnais woman was duly taken to Quebec City, where the Conseil reviewed the case and ultimately upheld the sentence, requesting that the chief surgeon at the Hotel-Dieu, accompanied by a midwife, ascertain whether Marianne was in fact pregnant: they concluded she had made up the whole story. On November 20, 1756, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the Montagnais slave died on the gallows in Quebec.149


On the night of October 28,1791, the black slave Josiah Cutan, co-owned by the merchant John Askin and the fur trader Arthur McCormick, was caught breaking and entering the Detroit house of Joseph Campeau, where he stole various items. He was arrested on the spot and taken to jail to await trial. In May 1792, John Askin bought McCormick's share and became the sole owner of the slave, who was still behind bars. On September 6, 1792, Josiah entered a. plea of not guilty. The following day, witnesses were heard, the prosecutor delivered his indictment and the jury found the slave guilty as charged. On September 10, the judge sentenced him to the gallows for burglary at night, reprimanding him sharply for his actions: "This Crime is so much more atrocious and alarming to society, as it is committed by night, when the world is at repose, and that it cannot be guarded against without the same precautions which are used against the wild beasts of the forest, who like you, go prowling about by night for their prey. A member so hurtful to the peace of society, no good Laws will permit to continue in it."150 So the black man was hanged: indeed this was the first legal execution in Upper Canada, where the history of the gallows begins with the hanging of a black slave.


We should add to this gruesome catalogue a hanging in 1827. The execution was a pittoresque affair, involving once again a black man, who was possibly still in bondage. A black Protestant, Robert Ellis, broke into the presbytery of Pointe-Levy, along with two Monarque brothers, William Ross and Benjamin Johnson (just eighteen years old)—they were all sentenced to the gallows, but the Monarque brothers managed to escape.:And so it was that on Saturday, April 21,1827, gallows were set up in front of the Quebec prison, and Ellis was led out with his two accomplices Ross and Johnson. It was customary to allow the condemned prisoner his last words. Ross addressed the crowd for ten to fifteen minutes, after which Ellis and young Johnson spoke. Unfortunately, the press did not record the black man's spiritual testament: we only know that he maintained his innocence to the end, accepting his fate with indifference.151


Slaves caught stealing had a better time of it when their masters took charge of punishment. This was the case for example of the black Joe, whose master William Brown caught him stealing, clapped him in prison for theft, and paid to have him whipped. Had Joe been brought to justice, he would likely have been hanged. Evidently, thieves were happier still when they managed to flee. Such was the case of the black man Bruce, slave of Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel Christie, a seigneur. Aged 35 years or so, Bruce was "tall and well built," and suspected of having stolen liquor, soap, sugar and other things in the basement of John Jones of Montreal, on the night of September 4-5,1777. He vanished without trace and does not seem to have been recaptured. Night burglars were generally led to the gallows. In 1794, Isaac, a black slave belonging to Azariah Pretchard of Richmond, in the Gaspe region, also fled after several burglaries; a reward of twenty piastres was offered for bringing in this six-foot-tall slave fluent in English, French and Mi'kmaq.152 This hefty reward suggests that once Isaac was captured, he would be heading to the gallows.


Sent to the Galleys for Raping a Girl In 1734, the Panis Jacques, aged about 40 years, was implicated in a criminal case. This Panis had belonged to several successive masters since childhood. He fled from his master Laperade apparently after repeated beatings, then wandered through the pays d'en haut, reaching Michilirnackinac, Illinois and later Acadia, where he married a Mi'kmaq. After she died, he married another Amerindian woman from Acadia and had five children with her: his family scattered, with two children settling at Lac des Deux-Montagnes, upstream from Montreal, while the three others remained in Acadia.


At the end of June 1734, this same Panis turned up in Cham-plain, just downstream- from Trois-Rivieres. On Midsummer Day (the feast day of St. John the Baptist), with everyone off at high mass, Rene Durand's daughter Marie-Joseph was staying at home to take care of the children. During the morning she went up to the woods, looking for a cow; the girl was heard screaming and then she vanished. On returning from Mass her family thought at first that Marie-Joseph Durand had been devoured by a bear, so they organized a beat, fanning out over the country. Her uncle Jean ran to the place where Marie-Joseph had been heard screaming, followed fresh tracks for one league, and finally found the Panis Jacques "adjusting his belt, with Marie-Joseph nearby wearing nothing but a blouse and her coat wide open"; she had scratches on her throat and stomach: clearly, this was a case of abduction and at least of attempted rape. The Panis was captured, and in his defence claimed to be part of a Mi'kmaq group sent by the English to take prisoners. He was willing to show where the Amerindians accompanying him were holding out. Nobody believed him, and he was taken to Trois-Rivieres where the trial began on July 7,1735.


Under questioning, the Panis denied having raped the girl; he claimed he had actually wanted to bring her back to Acadia as his wife, but he had had to grab her by the throat to prevent her from screaming. The judge noted the Panis already had a wife in Acadia, so how could he have two wives at the same time? The Panis apologized, saying the devil had made him do it.


The Panis Jacques must have been regularly tormented by the devil, because he was suspected of having attempted to kidnap another girl upstream, in the village of Berthier-en-Haut. The Panis was asked about this other case, and admitted that in Berthier-en-Haut he had met the daughter of a man named Pichion [?]. The girl's mother sent her to fetch corn on an island in the river; "as I was fishing there," the Panis continued, "the girl asked me to paddle her to the island and to wait for her there. That's what I did, but when I asked her to get out of the canoe and head home, she refused; seeing that I was getting ready to leave for Acadia, she decided to follow me; we went to Batiscan where she had relatives, but she refused to get out of the canoe; once we got to Ile-aux-Oies (below Quebec), I sent her to fetch bread from Monsieur de Fonville, but he kept her and wrote her father to come and get her." "Did you have sexual relations with this girl?" asked the judge, to which the Panis replied: "Yes, but she was the one taking the initiative."


We do not know if the judge believed this story of a girl deciding on the spur of the moment to wander off to Acadia with a Panis, instead of fetching corn as her mother had requested... In any case, it was hard to believe the explanation given by the Panis, given what had actually happened to the Durand girl. On July 14, the Crown attorney argued that the Panis had been found guilty of kidnapping and deserved to be publicly hanged in Trois-Rivieres. As no trace remains of the judge's sentence in Trois-Rivieres, we cannot say what punishment was meted out by the trial court. However, on August 2, the Panis appealed to the Conseil superieur de Quebec; unfortunately, the sentence is not reported in the trial record. According to the anonymous author of a monograph, the Panis Jacques was deported to serve in the king's galleys, which was the usual punishment for this sort of crime.153


Hanged for Stabbing His Mistress


In August 175 9, the Panis Marie tried to kill herself in Trois-Rivieres: this suicide attempt was duly noted by judicial authorities, because under French rule a person attempting or completing suicide was liable to be punished: the body of the "self-murdered" person was dragged face down through town, hung upside down, exposed for twenty-four hours, then thrown into the water. We know of only two suicide attempts among Canadian slaves. In November 1713, Governor Beauharnois' Fox slave Madelon was so distraught with homesickness or some other suffering that she sought to end her life. She hanged herself in the castle stables, but was "found choking, and brought [to the Hotel-Dieu] where she was cared for"; she was admitted to the hospital on November 21, and seems to have been restored to health by December 3; but we do not know whether the governor punished her for this suicide attempt. In the other case, it was not so much the Panis Marie's attempted suicide that caught the attention of the court, as the fact that the attempt followed her armed attack against her mistresses—hitting people in authority was an extremely serious crime for a slave!


The Panis Marie, also described as a Cree woman in documents of the time, belonged to Chevalier Joseph Boucher de Niverville, the husband of Marie-Josephte Chastelain. The Nivervilles lived under the same roof as Marie- Josephte's parents, Francois Chastelain and Marguerite Cardin, so the Panis Marie worked for the Chastelains as well. As a result of "some mistreatment and scolding," the Panis woman conceived a hatred for her two mistresses, Madame Chastelain, aged fifty-one, and Madame de Niverville, just twenty-two. It was about half past one in the afternoon on August 20,1759 that the incident occurred. Madame Chastelain gave an order to the Panis, who flatly refused and "angrily took a knife and struck the said woman with it, without intent to kill"; Madame Chastelain received a blow to the upper chest and another to the left shoulder. Madame de Niverville immediately intervened and the Panis woman hit her on the right shoulder and grazed her left shoulder. Blood was flowing by now, the two women screamed murder, and neighbours showed up. "While the two injured women were put to bed, the Panis woman went up to the attic, shut the door, and hanged herself from a beam. The officer Nicolas-Joseph Fleurimont de Noyelle arrived on the scene with four soldiers, went up to the attic and seeing her hanging there, cut her down immediately. The surgeon Charles Alavoine turned up shortly afterwards, and laid the Panis woman on a bed: after feeling her faint pulse and noting foam at the mouth, he decided to bleed her. Half an hour later, the Panis regained consciousness, by which time Mesdames Chastelain and de Niverville had recovered from their superficial injuries. One thing at least was clear: the Panis had escaped death and could now atone for her crime.


The case was heard the same day by Jean Leproust, a practitioner filling in as judge, in the absence of the civil and criminal lieutenant general. Over several days, many witnesses were called to testify, and were confronted with the accused. Marie was subject to questioning several times, with the gunsmith Joseph Chevalier acting as interpreter. This Amerindian woman did not know her age and claimed to have been born in a Cree village. She testified that she had struck the women to scare them, but without intent to kill, so she did not deserve punishment for mistreating her mistresses. Moreover, if she had tried to kill herself, it was neither out of regret nor of fear. In any case, the crime was clearly established.


On September 11, the deputy judge convicted the Amerindian woman of "striking with a knife, as mentioned during the trial, and of subsequently hanging herself." Accordingly, "the public executioner would beat and flog her naked in the usual crossroads and places in this city"; at one of these crossroads, she would be "branded with a fleur de lys on her right shoulder," and then, after paying a fine of three livres, banned for life from the jurisdiction of Trois-Rivieres.


Flogging, branding with a hot iron, banishment: given the serious crime this slave had committed, the sentence seemed disproportionately light. Perhaps people realized that under the Code Noir of the French West Indies and the equivalent code of Louisiana, a slave striking a master, mistress and children and drawing blood was punishable by death. Perhaps they felt that such serious rebellion could be expiated only by hanging. Whatever the case, the Crown attorney appealed Judge Proust's sentence. The Conseil superieur showed no mercy when it convened in Montreal. On December 29,1759, the Conseil ordered that the slave be sent to the gallows, her body to be exposed for two hours, then dumped in the public^ thoroughfare.154 With the rights of authority upheld, Mesdames Chastelain and de Niverville could recover from their injuries in peace.


Two Panis Homicides


Panis committed two voluntary and intentional homicides. The first, in 1710, was pretty much a slaughter. The Panis Nicolas was mentioned for the first time in historical documents in 1709, when Quebec was engulfed in panic over a rumoured attack by the English and this Panis Nicolas took advantage of the situation to commit a few robberies. In 1710, he was suspected of stealing martens from Mr. Brousse. That same year he committed murder. The public executioner Jacques Elie and his wife Marie-Joseph Marechal had grown weary of hearing the public's and especially the children of Quebec's continual jeers. The executioner and his wife considered emigrating, and the Panis Nicolas offered to lead them through the woods to New England. His pay was fixed at fifty livres and a coat. He stole a canoe, which Jacques Elie boarded along with his pregnant wife, a child of five years and another of fourteen months. The Panis paddled the group as far as the Duchesne River in the Deschaillons seigneurie, and there during the night of May 22-23, 1710, the journey came to a sudden end when he killed the executioner with an axe, dumping the body into the river; he also killed the eldest child, but only succeeded in seriously wounding the pregnant woman and the fourteen-month-old infant. The woman managed to escape, dragging herself and the infant to nearby houses, as the Panis fled. The criminal was tried in absentia, during the woman's recovery at the Hotel-Dieu de Quebec. At the end of the trial he was condemned to be broken alive. In the convict's absence, it was decreed that the punishment "shall be carried out in effigy, using a painting attached to the pole of the public square of the Lower. Town." On November 21,1710, the executioner depicted the Panis Nicolas on a canvas, showing him being broken alive with an iron bar; this painless punishment nonetheless amounted to a public humiliation. It does not seem the Panis ever fell into the' hands of justice.155


The other murder took place in 1762. The merchant Clapham came from Fort Pitt to Detroit to acquire a Panis man and woman. He left with them by canoe, stopping near Presqu'Isle, on the south shore of Lake Erie. He served rum to a party of visiting Amerindians. The two newly acquired slaves took advantage of the festivities, murdering their master, cutting of his head, looting his bags, burning his papers and then taking refuge in Amerindian country. The Amerindians nonetheless handed over the two Panis to Colonel Donald Campbell, commander at Detroit. The Amerindians offered to burn the criminals themselves. Campbell referred the matter to Colonel Henry Bouquet, who in turn referred it to William Johnson, Amerindian Superintendent. On October 1, 1762, Jeffery Amherst, Commander-in-Chief, finally decided the English garrison should mete out justice and not the Amerindians themselves. Major Gladwin of Detroit was ordered to bring the two accused before a court martial, but the Panis man managed to flee into the Illinois Country. The Panis woman was not so lucky: she remained under guard, was convicted and then hanged.156


The Burning of Montreal


The most spectacular crime by a slave in New France was surely the one committed by the black woman Angelique (also known as Marie-Joseph-Angelique). She was the slave of a Montreal merchant, Francois Poulin Francheville, and had been baptized on June 28, 1730 at about twenty years of age: by then, she was pregnant by Cesar, a black slave belonging to Ignace Gamelin. In January 1731, she gave birth to Eustache, and in May 1732, she had twins by Cesar. Angelique then seems to have dropped this first lover for a white man, Claude Thibault.


Yet a cloud hung over this romantic relationship: in 1734 she figured that her mistress, Therese Decouagne (Widow Francheville), was getting ready to sell her. Angelique therefore decided to flee to New England with her lover. On the evening of April 10 or 12,1734, she set fire to the house of her mistress in rue Saint-Paul, before fleeing, either to divert attention from her flight, or in a spirit of revenge. The house soon became a raging inferno. The neighbours realized their own homes were threatened by the advancing flames, so they rushed to move their furniture and effects to the nuns' residence at the Hotel-Dieu. But the flames leapt from one house to the next, finally reaching the Hotel-Dieu, and burning both church and convent. The nuns were unable to save much - this was the third fire to strike the Hotel-Dieu. The fire continued to spread through the city and by the time it stopped, forty-six houses had been destroyed. During the conflagration, Angelique had ample opportunity to flee with her beloved.


But the long arm of the law caught up with her. Angelique was apprehended by officers of the constabulary, although her lover escaped. She was jailed and tried by the court in the still-smouldering city of Montreal. Her sentence came down on June 4:


She shall make amends naked in her shirt, with a rope about her neck, holding in her hands a burning torch weighing two pounds in front of the main door and entrance to the parish church of the city of Montreal, where she shall be led and conducted by the hangman of the high court in a cart used to carry off refuse, bearing a sign both in front and behind marked with the word arsonist, and there, bareheaded and kneeling, shall declare that she maliciously set and caused the said fire for which she grievously repents and begs forgiveness from God, the king and justice, after which she shall have her hand cut off and raised on a post planted in front of said church, and then be conducted by said hangman in the refuse cart to the public square, there to be attached to the post with an iron chain and burned alive, her body reduced to ashes and scattered to the winds.


In the minds of the victims, this sentence was in proportion to the magnitude of the crime: the black woman would first be subjected to the most exacting and detailed interrogation under torture, then paraded in a refuse cart, compelled to make amends before the parish church, have her hand cut off, then be burned alive.


Angehque appealed to the Conseil superieur, which meant she had to be conveyed to Quebec City. On June 12, the Conseil upheld the death sentence, although it changed important aspects of her punishment: the black woman would still be conducted in a refuse cart to the door of the parish church, there to make amends, but her hand would not be cut off; in addition, on reaching the public square, she would be hanged before burning. The Conseil took account of the black woman's partial responsibility for the disaster in Montreal. And she was led back to Montreal for the execution of her sentence, at the scene of the crime and in full view of the indignant population.


On June 21, Angehque was tortured in prison in Montreal. She confessed her crime, but only after four bouts of torture, courageously refusing to denounce any accomplice. At three o'clock in the afternoon, the clerk reached the prison and read out her sentence; the Sulpician priest Navetier heard her confession, after which Angehque was handed over to the executioner, likely the black man Mathieu Leveille. She was conveyed on the refuse cart to the parish church, where she made amends; after this ritual ceremony, the refuse cart continued on to the public square, making a long ' detour past the burned houses in order to confront her with the magnitude of her crime. Once this funeral procession was over, the slave Angehque was hanged, her corpse burned, and the ashes thrown to the wind.157


Meanwhile, the search continued for her lover, Claude Thibault. On April 19, 1734, nine days after the conflagration, Intendant Hocquart ordered the captains of militia to arrest Thibault who was suspected of having set the fire in Montreal along with Angehque. But Thibault had a nine-day advance on the militia captains and could not be found. Two years later, in April 1736, the king authorized the intendant to stop looking for the alleged accomplice to avoid "incurring further costs related to the affair"; it should be considered "that the Negress who set the fire of Montreal avowed her guilt without identifying any accomplices. That there were only suspicions against the man named Thibault because he has fled and had some debauched relationship with this Negress, all investigation undertaken since then having turned up nothing against him."158


Slave Crimes Were Isolated Acts


This fire in Montreal, set by a black slave, was in no way a general revolt against society: it was an individual crime committed against a single person, Widow Francheville, in the interests of diverting attention so two lovers could escape. No massive slave revolt took place in Canada the way it had in other colonies, for example, in New Orleans in 1731, where a plot was hatched to organize an uprising. Blacks in New Orleans planned to break out in revolt during High Mass, burn houses and then flee, but the plot was revealed by a black woman. Among those found guilty, a woman was hanged and four men were broken alive.159 It is true that a petition presented to the House of Assembly in 1799 by Joseph Papineau, to ensure owners' rights over their slaves, mentioned that the previous year, after a black woman was freed, "Negroes in the city and district of Montreal threatened a general revolt."160 In fact, they did not threaten to revolt so much as to run away. The black woman mentioned was being sued by her master for running away. But as the presiding judge was firmly opposed to slavery, he refused to convict a person for just being a runaway slave. It seems that the other slaves were so impressed with the judge's ruling that they planned to run away themselves. At no time in our history, is there any mention of an armed insurrection led by the slave population, or even plans for one. Crimes were isolated acts directed against individuals.


Of the 4185 slaves in New France and Canada over a 200-year period, only eighteen were convicted of crimes. Yet these were slaves torn away from their native place, reduced to slavery a foreign society, and given only the rudiments of a Christian education. One would normally expect them to have offered fiery resistance to the ordinary laws of a society in which they had unwillingly been transplanted. Yet less than twenty of these close to 4200 slaves proved to be criminals.


We should also note that corporal punishments in New France were usually less severe than in the French West Indies and that slaves were punished less severely than people of a free condition. Slaves were deported whereas Canadians were hanged - for the very same offences. And when the law was rigorously applied, the slave received the same treatment as the free person: the slave appeared before the same judge, and could appeal to the Conseil superieur; punishment was meted out under the same conditions as for any other criminal. Surely, this can partly be explained by the fact slaves were not a particular threat to society. In any case, given the equality of slave and freeman before the law, as well as criminal convictions among slaves, it would appear that slaves were well integrated in our society.

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