Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Canadian Heroines: Marie Marguerite Rose

by Terrie Todd

If you’ve ever held the notion that Canada’s history does not include slavery, it’s time to rethink that notion. Slavery was legal in Canada until 1834 when it was outlawed throughout the British Empire. While it’s true that many black slaves from the American south sought freedom in Canada in the years leading up to the Civil War, an estimated population of 1,375 Black slaves existed in Canada during the French Regime in the 1700s. Among them was Marie Marguerite Rose.

We don’t even know her original name. Captured by slave traders in Guinea at the age of 19, Marie was transported across the Atlantic to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. Naval officer Jean Loppinot purchased her in 1736, selected her name, and had her baptized into the Catholic faith. It’s possible she was branded with a hot iron, in keeping with the custom.

Marie would have been expected to work every day except Sunday in the family home. She cooked all meals, washed clothes, and scrubbed floors. Since slave masters could use their slaves in any way they wished, it was not uncommon for the master to rape them, thereby siring more slaves. This may or may not have been the case for Marie. She gave birth to a son, Jean-Francois, who automatically became a slave in the household even though his paternity is unknown. Sadly, her son died at the age of 13.

Marie served as a slave for 19 years before her release. How this came about is not recorded. Perhaps she was purchased by the man who later married her—Jean Baptiste Laurent. This mixed marriage to Laurent, a Mi’kmaw, is part of what makes Marie’s story remarkable. Not only would the union have been nearly unheard of at the time, but the resulting business proved especially notable. Marie and Laurent rented a building where they lived and ran a tavern—right next door to her former owner. Most of their clientele lived in the Fortress of Louisbourg. 

Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia Tourism
Before her fortieth birthday and after only two years of freedom, Marie died. She never bore any other children. It was noted that she left behind a thriving vegetable garden.

From a plaque at Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia Tourism
Why did the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada select Marie as a national historic person in 2008? Because, as an illiterate slave, she achieved three things that were next to impossible: she managed to secure her freedom, she married an Indigenous man, and she owned and operated a business. I can’t help thinking she must have possessed uncommon fortitude and intelligence.

If you ever visit the Fortress of Louisbourg, the largest reconstructed eighteenth-century French fortified town in North America, you’ll see the gravestone of Marie Marguerite Rose.

A plaque at Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia Tourism 

100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces, by Merna Forster, Dundurn Press, 2004


The Canadian Encyclopedia

Bitter war might be raging overseas, but Rose Onishi is on track to fulfill her lifelong goal of becoming a dazzling concert pianist. When forced by her own government to leave her beloved home to work on a sugar beet farm, Rose’s dream fades to match the black soil working its way into her calloused hands.

When Rusty Thorne joins the Canadian Army, he never imagines becoming a Japanese prisoner of war. Only his rare letters from home sustain him—especially the brilliant notes from his mother’s charming helper, which the girl signs simply as “Rose.”

Rose Among Thornes received the 2022 Debra Fieguth Social Justice Award as well as Best Cover Award from The Word Guild.

Terrie Todd’s novels are set mostly in Manitoba, Canada where she lives with her husband, Jon, in Portage la Prairie. They have three adult children and five grandsons. Her next novel, Even If We Cry, releases in November, 2024.

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  1. Terri, I always enjoy learning Canadian history. Recently I mentioned to my husband that there must have been slavery in Canada because England didn't banish it until mid-1800s. Such an interesting story, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for posting today. I love learning about these women!