Slavery in Canada: Marie-Joseph Angelique’s story of resistance
The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper
The Atlantic Slave Trade was started by the Portuguese in 1444, when they sought access to the Gold Trade in Africa. They began by forcibly taking Africans from their countries, until they found willing slave traders in the countries of the Gold Coast (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Senegal), as well as Angola and the Congo. The Atlantic Slave Trade/ Slavery continued on until 1860. Portugal dominated the slave trade for the first 250 years, until Great Britain took over. The Portuguese and other Europeans were interested in Black slaves as labourers in their home countries but also in their new Western colonies. Portugal and other European colonies had citizens, who lived in varying degrees of poverty, however this was not a problem that the Crown wanted to fix by providing the necessary infrastructure. Instead, the Crown supported the migration of its citizens to the new colonies (i.e. Brazil, the West Indies, and the Americas, etc.). When we think of slavery in the Americas, we often envision plantation slavery. This imagination makes it very difficult to place slavery within the Canadian context. Even though, Slavery was institutionalised in Canada for 206 years.
When Canada was a French colony, known as New France, there were both Panis and Black slaves. (Panis slavery was the enslavement of Indigenous peoples in Canada.) Black slaves were not brought directly to Canada and as a result in 1688, Marquis de Denonville and Jean Bochart de Champigny appealed to King Louis the XIV, for “Negro slaves” to be brought to New France. King Louis XIV did not formally grant this appeal until 1701, but by that time the French settlers along with their Indigenous allies, Abenaki and the Iroquois, had been capturing slaves from the English to the South. They also bought slaves from New York and New England. In New France, most people owned slaves. Since, the climate did not support plantation slavery the majority of the slaves engaged in domestic work and other town functions, such as executioners and boats-man. The fact that the majority of Canada’s slaves were domestic, when slavery in Canada is acknowledged, it is often framed as milder or better or that Canadian slaves were happier. Domestic slaves still suffered. Their suffering was often because they lived in their master’s/ mistresses homes. As a result, it was difficult for domestic slaves to form a sense of community, as they were under the constant watch of their owners. They faced constant scrutiny, as a result. For Black women, this meant that the slave owners had more access to them and more opportunities to enact sexual violence on their bodies, whether that be through rape or forced ‘breeding’. Breeding is what occurred when two slaves are forced into a sexual relationship so that the slave owner can gain more ‘property’. The violence they experienced was varied but these slaves were not idle in the face of their own oppression. They resisted.
Black resistance, throughout the slave trade era took on many forms. Some organized, like the Black fraternities that originated in Portugal. These fraternities sought to protect all Blacks both slaved and free, performed marriages and petitioned to have laws changed (e.g. King Manuel on street vendors). Other forms of resistance were more violent. Marie-Joseph Angelique was accused of setting fire to her mistress’ house on April 10,1734. This fire burnt down most of , what is now known as, Old Montreal. Slaves remained defiant . They spoke back to their owners and in some cases ,engaged in le petit marronage. This was when a slave ran away for a few days or weeks to show their owners that they didn’t own them completely and that they didn’t have to put up with their owners. While every slave did not become a free Black or runaway (marronage),Black resistance has always been present, in the face of Black oppression. Despite Canada’s efforts to rid itself of its past, Canada would not be what it is today, if it didn’t enslave Indigenous or Black peoples. The Underground Railroad may have ended in Canada but that does not absolve Canada’s involvement and investment in Black slavery and Black oppression.