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Blacks in Montréal, 1628-1986: Essay on Urban Demographics. Dorothy W. Williams, 1998.


[...]The slave owners' mentality and the religious attitudes in New France were said to have differed greatly from those of the British colonies to the south. Those Canadian historians that have even chosen to mention slavery in Canada, often describe a romantic, or an idealized, slave regime in New France(i).


One recorded example is that of Marie Joseph Angelique, who in her bid for freedom destroyed almost half of Montréal by fire in 1734. Forty-six buildings, including the convent, the church, and the hospital, were consumed (Silent Minority n.d: 12). Yet, despite this incendiary disaster, there is no mention of this event in the recent literature on the history of Montréal. Is this because Montréal's early historians believed that the destruction of about half the city had no impact on its social and economic development? Or is this another example of the obfuscation of slavery or of the early Black presence on this island? Could it be that the actions of a recalcitrant slave were not worth noting? Angelique's hideous punishment is a testament to the fact that Montréal's citizens felt otherwise.

On the day of her execution, Angelique was first tortured until she confessed her crime. Then she was driven through the streets in the scavenger's wagon, with a burning torch placed in her hand. At the main door of the parish church in Place d'Armes, she was made to kneel... and her hand was cut off. Then, once again, she was placed in the scavenger's wagon and taken to the place of public execution and hanged. Afterward, her body was burned at the stake; her ashes were then scattered in the wind(ii).


In reality, the "benevolence" exhibited by slave owners in New France towards their African slaves was due to economic and social factors rather than any humanistic tendency. Panis, or Indian slaves, were a cheap source of labour used for agricultural and hard manual labour. The African, on the other hand, represented a superior type of slave labour in the towns and cities. African slaves were to be found in the houses of government officials, or of wealthy merchants and seigneurs.

i. F .X. Garneau, in Histoire du Canada français depuis sa découverte, claimed that "the peculiar institution never sullied the skies of Canada." And T. Watson Smith, in The Slave in Canada, mentioned that the prominent Canadian historians in 1889 had neglected this "sombre and unattractive chapter." Not much in Canadian historiography has changed since then. A sampling of contemporary college and university textbooks still confirms that the deliberate obfuscation of slavery within Canadian history continues. See: W. L. Morton (1963) The kingdom of Canada; E. McInnis (1969) Canada: A Political and Social History; R. C. Harris & J. Warkenton (1974) Canada Before Confederation. This attitude at the national level contrasts with the writings of Montréal's earliest historians, many of whom included the slave chronology in their texts. See: Terril, A Chronology of Montreal and of Canada A.D. 1752; Hector Berthelet, Montréal le Bon Vieux Temps; Atherton, Montréal 1535-1914; R. Winks (1971: 12) The Blacks in Canada: A History, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press).

ii. For an account of this and other punitive measures used against slaves, see: "Negro Slavery in Montreal," (n.d.); M. Trudel (1960) L’esclavage au Canada français; histoire et conditions de l’esclavage, (Québec: Presses de l'Université Laval); Wilfred Isreal (1928: 66-67) "Montreal Negro Community" M.A. Thesis (Montréal: McGill University); L. Bertley (1976) "Slavery" in Focus Umoja Montréal, no. 16; Bertley (1977); Thomson (1979); D. Williams (1983) "The Black Presence in Montreal: A Multi-Cultural Community;" L. Warner (1983) "A Profile of the English-Speaking Black Community in Quebec" (Montréal: Comité d'implantation du plan d'action à l'intention des communautés culturelles); "Silent Minority" (n.d.); Marcil (1981).

Source: Williams, Dorothy W., "Blacks in Montreal 1628-1986 : An Urban Demography" (Montréal: VLB Éditeur, 1998), 24-25.

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