MARIE, Indian slave; date of birth unknown; tried in Trois-Rivières for attempted murder and suicide and sentenced on 29 Dec. 1759 to be hanged.
The little information we possess about this slave, who belonged to Joseph-Claude Boucher* de Niverville of Trois-Rivières, is concerned especially with the criminal acts of which she was accused during the final months of French domination in Canada. On 20 Aug. 1759, towards halfpast one in the afternoon, Marie-Josephte Chastelain, Boucher de Niverville’s wife, and her mother Marguerite asked the slave, who was sharpening a kitchen knife on a stone, to perform some task or other; the slave, who hated her two mistresses, then threw herself upon them, striking them with the knife. Marguerite Cardin was wounded in the upper chest and in the left shoulder; the young Mme de Niverville – she was only 22 – was wounded in the right shoulder and received a scratch on the left shoulder. Blood flowed, the ladies cried “Murder!” and neighbours arrived; the slave fled to the attic and hanged herself with a rope.
While the wounds were being dressed, the king’s lieutenant, Nicolas-Joseph de Noyelles de Fleurimont, arrived on the scene with four soldiers. He discovered the woman hanging in the attic and asked Théodore Panneton to cut the rope. The surgeon Charles Alavoine was sent for and had the slave carried to a bed. Discerning some signs of life, he gave her a good bleeding. A half hour later Marie had regained consciousness and the ladies were recovering from their wounds, which were only superficial.
The inquiry started the same day in the presence of the notary Jean Le Proust, who in the absence of René-Ovide Hertel* de Rouville, the lieutenant general for civil and criminal affairs, was the judge in the affair. That day and on the following days numerous witnesses appeared before the court. The slave, knowing only the Ottawa language, spoke through an interpreter appointed by the court, the armourer Joseph Chevalier. According to the accused’s version, the wounds were inflicted not to kill but only to frighten; she did not believe that she deserved to be punished for harming her mistresses, and if she had tried to commit suicide, it was not from regret or from fear.
On 11 Sept. 1759 the surrogate judge declared the slave guilty “of having inflicted knife wounds mentioned in the procedure and then of having hanged herself”; she was to be “beaten and flogged naked with rods by the executioner of haute justice at the crossroads and customary places in this town”; at one of the crossroads she was to be “branded on the right shoulder with a hot iron stamped with a fleur-de-lis”; she was then to be banished for ever from the jurisdiction of Trois-Rivières after having paid a fine of three livres.
Considering this sentence too mild, the king’s attorney, Louis-Joseph Godefroy* de Tonnancour, appealed it to the Conseil Supérieur of the colony. The Conseil Supérieur sat in Montreal on 29 December and sentenced “the said Marie, Indian, to be hanged and strangled until death do ensue on a gallows erected for that purpose in the marketplace of this town”; it then ordered “that her dead body be exposed for two hours” before being thrown on the refuse dump.
This trial reveals the severity of criminal justice in New France; it also indicates that the slave and the free person appeared before the same tribunal and suffered their punishment under the same conditions.
ANQ, NF, Dossiers du Cons. sup., Mat. crim., VI, 397; NF, Registres du Cons. sup., registre criminel, 1730–1759, ff.195f. Trudel, L’esclavage au Canada français. Gérard Malchelosse, “Un procès criminel aux Trois-Rivières en 1759,” Cahiers des Dix, XVIII (1953), 207–26.