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Ahead of her time: Marie Marguerite Rose

For the week of Monday August 23, 2010

On August 27, 1757, Marie Marguerite Rose died at age 40. Rose was survived by her husband, Jean-Baptise Laurent. She left behind a successful tavern in the French colony of Louisbourg in Île Royale, Nova Scotia. While this may not seem like a unique legacy, Rose’s life was extraordinary. Born in Guinea, Africa, she was sold into slavery at the age of 19 and sent to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, in 1736.

Missy Kirton, who portrayed Marie Marguerite Rose at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site interpretive program
© Parks Canada
Rose was purchased by Jean Loppinot and became a domestic slave in the Loppinot household for 19 years before she was freed. Rose gave birth to a son of her own in 1738, Jean-Francois, who only lived to age 13. Rose mastered a new language, religion and identity in New France while caring for 12 children and two adults in her owner’s household. She was a talented and accomplished woman who also prepared food, looked after a garden, did laundry and became a seamstress.

In 1755, Rose’s life took an extraordinary turn when she was freed, a rare occurrence for slaves in Île Royale. Shortly after, Rose married Jean-Baptiste Laurent, a Mi’kmaw, who likely purchased her freedom. This marriage, between a Black woman and an Aboriginal man, was the only marriage of its kind in Louisbourg under the French Regime. Rose opened a tavern in a rented house so that the couple could earn a living: the business was quickly a success! Rose is the only known emancipated woman in New France who started a business and managed it skilfully. She also gained the respect and approval of the community in Louisbourg, where she was previously enslaved.

The former site of Marie Marguerite Rose's tavern
© Parks Canada / Bill O'Shea / 2006
Unfortunately, Rose only enjoyed her freedom, her marriage and her business for two years before she died. However, her accomplishments were unprecedented for someone who began life in Canada as a Black slave. Rose’s life illustrates the presence of slavery in Île Royale and Canada, where an estimated population of 1,375 Black slaves lived during the French Regime.

As a representative of the existence of slavery in Canada, and for her rare marriage and life as a successful businessperson after 19 years of slavery, Marie Marguerite Rose was designated as a National Historic Person in 2008. The recognition of Marie Marguerite Rose is a reminder of the impact of slavery and the valued contribution of Black people, especially women, to the early development of Canada.

The Fortress of Louisbourg was designated as a National Historic Site in 1920. To learn more, please consult its website.

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