Incendiary: Marie-Joseph Angelique


(All pics are clickable for a bigger view)

When I left you on Monday, Angélique and Claude had flown, and behind them, the city of Montréal burned. 

In colonial times, fire was the greatest fear; and it was often used as a tool of rebellion by slaves - a way to let their owners know exactly what they felt.  In fact, Angélique had used this tool already - the first time she and Claude ran away, she had set a small fire as a distraction.


But this particular "little fire" through great bad luck spread, and so Montreal burned.  

The very next day, having been found in Pauper's Park, Angélique was arrested and charged with deliberately burning the city down, although the accusation against her was based on nothing more than supposition and rumour. 


At her trial, witness after witness was brought before the judges, none of whom had actually seen her do it, or could prove that she had; the most credible witnesses against her were a woman who was "feeble-minded" who said Angélique was "agitated" before the trial, and another, with an ax to grind against Angélique, who said that Angélique had threatened to "burn the city down".

Months into the trial, a witness was finally brought forward who could swear that Angélique was guilty: 




..a five year old white child. 

That was good enough for the judges, and though Angélique still protested her innocence, she was found guilty and sentenced: her hands were to be cut off, and then she was to be burned alive in payment for her sins. 


At the time, being found guilty of a crime was not enough.  A prisoner who was found guilty, was  then tortured after the fact in order to determine if a full confession of the crime had occurred.  Unsurprisingly under these conditions, it was often discovered that more crimes had been committed. 


"Fortunately" for Angélique, at least one of the judges on the panel felt that there was some doubt whether she had done it - based mostly on Madam de Francheville's impassioned belief that Angélique would not and could not have done such a thing.  He appealed her sentence, and was successful - instead of having her hands cut off and being burned alive, Angélique would be given the boot, then hung, and then she would be burned. 



But, you may be asking, what about Claude?

Claude, that inconstant lover, left her behind that night in Pauper's Park and was never heard from nor seen again.

Despite this betrayal, even under torture, Angélique refused to give him up. Though she finally did "confess" to setting the fire, she remained steadfast and true, saying that it was she and she alone who committed the crime.  One year after her death, they closed the case and stopped looking for Claude Thibault. 
Montréal was re-built, life went on, and until 1925, Angélique was forgotten.

Since then, scholarly books and papers have been written about her; novels, poems, art installations, films and a documentary have been done with Angélique as their subject; but no one really knows the truth of what happened that night.  

Some scholars believe that with her history of setting fires, her proven behaviour as a runaway slave and fire being a tool of rebellious slaves, it could hardly be believed that she didn't set the fire. 

Other, more recent scholarship says that Angélique was a scapegoat - a problem slave who needed getting rid of - with an enemy in the house next door who fell asleep over a fire that burned too brightly, and an angry public who needed someone to blame for their losses - it was only too convenient to choose Angélique.

If you've a mind to do it, there's a wonderful site HERE that offers a comprehensive study of the city at the time, offers witness testimony and other historical documents - even a short film that shows the route that Angélique was taken on her way to the gallows. 

You can become the detective-scholar yourself and perhaps, you'll come to your own conclusion about who committed this crime.



But I chose Angélique for "Broad Changes" because nearly 300 years after her death, she finally did effect change - her story brought to light the fact of Canadian slavery - an important historical fact - but also one that changes we Canadians culturally. 

No longer can we point fingers at our neighbours and say "Not I!"; and through that realization we can then look at the racism and xenophobia that lives in Canadian hearts just as it does in our American friends to the South. 


But more importantly, for me personally, Angélique is a heroine because whether she did or didn't burn Montreal: her heart was fired with rage against injustice, ablaze with a passionate belief in her right to have autonomy over her body, inflamed by her certainty that it was her right to choose who she should love, and alight with her belief in her singular, inalienable personhood. 

Angélique: incendiary.

Kit 120


Linking with Nina-Marie for Off the Wall Fridays and Thank Goodness It's Finished Friday at Better Off Thread

Kit Lang

34 comments:

  1. Kit, this piece is incredible and the story behind it is so interesting. Thanks for teaching me so much about Angelique and this important historic event.

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  2. I am not sure if I like the work even more because of the story ...but that 3D effect is just killing me.

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  3. Kit - this is utterly jaw dropping stuff!

    I am educated, as Linda says - a piece of history about which I knew nothing, and moved.

    Where is this piece going again?

    H

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  4. Such a powerful piece Kit.

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  5. This is a story that was depicted well and told to perfection. I was riveted to the last word. Thank you for sharing your work.

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  6. Thank you Carol - I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

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  7. This is this amazing, Kit. I studied history of race relations in university and no mention of Angélique was ever made. You are so right that we take false comfort in "Not I!" or "Not here". Your piece is fantastic. I now see what you meant when you said it wasn't an architectural piece. The details are incredible, from the windows to the mud splatters. You must be very proud of this piece - it represents Angélique's story beautifully. What size is it?

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  8. I echo the wow! The story is interesting and amazing. It is a part of Canadian history that I have not heard. I can't wait to show my husband. We are both history buffs and enjoy Canadian history. My daughter graduated with a history degree and I am going to pass this on to her to.
    Now the art work. This is an amazing piece. I love the colours, composition and quilting.
    Jo

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  9. Kit, thanks so much for sharing this piece and the story so much in detail. I didn't know there ever was slavery in Canada, since that's where American slaves went to, to get freedom. Thank you for enlightening us all about this, with Angelique's story.

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  10. Beautiful and so interesting!

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  11. This is done so well. Really draws you in to find out the story. I am amazed at the mud spatters, too. Just right.
    Sandy in the UK

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  12. Wow - love the story and the finish on this quilt - I could see this easily going into a series - really something special Kit!

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  13. Kit this piece is fabulous and Angelique's story is enthralling. Thank you for sharing - I knew nothing of Angelique before this

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  14. I think as Canadians we get a little smug about how "enlightened" we were or are---great depiction and interpretation of our true history--no nation is above reproach, and we can all *still* learn from past mistakes. Thank you for sharing your art and the story.

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  15. Well written! Great piece and I love the story behind it. How big is the quilt? It looks quite large in the photo. Angelique turned out very nice!

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  16. Well the story has gotten me intrigued! Canadian slavery?! From my perspective, I never questioned it existed since people fleeing the U.S. saw it as a promised land. Fascinating and a beautiful quilt!

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  17. Powerful work, Kit. Thank you for sharing what seems to be a little known part of Canada's history and the human story.

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  18. Anonymous5.10.12

    Telling an historical tale through your quilt is something I admire. I would love to make this type of quilt. You told the tale so well, and the quilts are beautiful!

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  19. Thank you unknown one! :)

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  20. Anonymous5.10.12

    The detail work on Angelique is very cool! Love the depth of color in the sky as well. For me the composition is the most compelling where you cropped in on the fourth picture you posted... putting Angelique closer to the edge gives her even more visual weight and emphasis.

    I love the way your work is not only visually interesting but informs our world view as well!

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  21. Great story-Great quilt and that she is in 3D is more powerful! I am in awe of the effect/affect:)

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  22. Another fabulously powerful piece. I LOVE the flames. I want MORE flames but then again maybe less is more. The colors really set off the image and Angelique looks like a presence to be contended with - like Marley's ghost.

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  23. Oh, I forgot to mention the last paragraph - awesome.

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  24. My new favorite piece of yours - since the flying bunny! Although all your quilts are lovey, there is something about this one, particularly how strongly she stands out from the rest of the quilt that I find especially wonderful.

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  25. Amazing artwork - the detail is just incredible. Such an interesting story behind it too - you have captured it so beautifully in fabric.

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  26. Anonymous8.10.12

    Wow Kit, Never knew slavery existed in Canada. Your piece and Angeliques' story really touches my soul. Another bit of history I can share with my younger relatives.Thanks so much for sharing this story.Blessings, Cleta

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  27. Cleta, you're very welcome. Thank you for sharing the story!

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  28. What a moving story to go with this piece. It's very impressive. Love the 3D work with her clothing.

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  29. Beautiful quilt and beautiful story (and story-telling!). I am in love with the 3D work and all the movement in the quilt and in Angelique's clothing. Thanks for linking up with TGIFF!

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  30. Beautiful piece Kit and thanks for telling us the story behind your incredible project it gives it so much meaning.

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  31. Thank scores sharing this story Kit. Your piece is so powerful. I love your portrayal of Angelique.

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  32. I love how she "stands tall" against the background of Montreal. Righteous!

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  33. Anonymous20.11.12

    Super good work!

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  34. Thank you, secret admirer! :)

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