The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal (Race in the Atlantic World, 1700-1900)

The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Canadian Slavery and the Burning of Old Montreal - Afua Cooper "Anyone desperate to believe that Canada was slave-free, or that Canadian slavery was gentle, must close this book now."

So states George Elliott Clarke in the introduction to Afua Cooper's work.

"But those seeking truth, those who want to understand Canada’s settler-barbarism, will find this book impossible to ignore and impossible to forget."

He's right: this book is impossible to ignore.

But the subject of slavery in Canada can be ignored -- and, indeed has been ignored in classrooms.

I was taught about The Underground Railroad and the route that slaves in the United States followed to freedom in Canada; I was not taught that there was slavery in Canada, too, nor about the kind of persecution that refugees faced here when they arrived, when they were "free".

Afua Cooper's book does work to fill that gap, but, first, readers are introduced to Angélique, and brought into the city of Montreal in a very rich passage; Afua Cooper walks the streets, and urges you to walk alongside her (searching for images online can bring particular buildings in Old Montreal off the page even more).

After a brief sketch of Angélique's trial, readers are whisked back into time, largely to understand the twists and turns in Angélique's life that brought her, born in Portugal, to Old Montreal.

She may have been born to a woman who was a slave, so that she inherited her status, and she lived within/under four empires during her brief life, enslaved, before she was hanged.

This is where Afua Cooper's history lesson comes in handy: how Portugal instigated the slave trade, how other nations entered and perpetuated it, the development of colonial territories on the backs of enslaved labourers around the world, the contrasting conditions under which they suffered and resisted and lived and died (which varied according to time and place and circumstance).

So this is the story of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a 29-year-old woman. She took walks by the banks of the river, was friendly with a neighbouring slave girl, and had two love affairs, before she was accused of burning Old Montreal in 1734.

It's the story of...many other things as well. If you're curious, the full response is here.