Torture and the Truth: Angélique and the Burning of Montreal (1734)
Section 203/ Lecture B
Professor: Lindsay Pattison
November 9th, 2009
The 1730s was an era of complexities and differences. Montreal was a trade and military town of about 2000 people. This was a time when social class was copied off of France and many had slaves of African and Amerindian descent. On April 10th 1734, Montreal was on fire. Born in Portugal and then sold into New France, Marie-Joseph Angélique (a slave woman) was blamed for the fire. After being tried and convicted of setting fire to her owner's home, (burning much of what is now referred to as Old Montreal), she was hanged. In order to get a stronger understanding of crime and punishment in New-France, one must examine the trial in a much fuller context. The justice system in New France followed the same rules as its mother country, France. In terms of today's society, the government was far less democratic. The accused had few rights, the evidence was often based on word of mouth or faulty, and torturing/severe punishments were often used.
In 1734, the various stages of trial, duties of the courts/witnesses and rights of the accused etc were regulated by the "Ordonnance du roi (1670).” Often the accused did not have access to lawyers as they were forbidden in New-France:
ARTICLE VIII. THE Accused, whatever their status may be, will be required to respond in their own words, without the advice of counsel, which will not be given to them, not even following the confrontation, notwithstanding all contrary methods that we abrogate(1)
Also, trials were often held without juries(2) thus the accused stood alone in front of a judge in order to prove their innocence. The French law formed a very tight and respected system. The prosecution witnesses were often intimidated by court staff. Witnesses for the accused were rarely presented,...