Brazilian Slavery

Brazilian slavery
Figure 1.--This drawing depicts a slave market in Rio de Janeiro. The drawing appeared in a book punlished by Maria Graham who lived n Brazil during the early 1820s. Brazil proved to be a serious problem as the British Royal Navy begn its effort to end the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Brazil had the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. The Portuguese who settled Brazil needed labor to work the large estates and mines in their new Brazilian colony. They turned to slavery which became central to the colonial economy. It was particularly important in the mining and sugar cane sectors. Slavery was also the mainstay in the Caribbean islands with economies centered on sugar. Estimates suggest that about 35 percent of captured Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade were transported to Brazil. Estimates suggest that more than 3 million Africans reached Brazil, although precise numbers do not exist. Brazil had begun to turn to slavery in the 15th century as explorers began moving along the coast of Africa. With the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese attempted to enslave the Native American population as well. This did not prove successful. The Native Americans died in large numbers, both because of slave rading, mistreatment, and the lack of resistance to European diseases. The Portuguese found captured Africans to be a valuable trading commodity as Europeans began to settle the Caribbean islands. They also began transporting Africans to their Brazilian colony. Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal (February 12, 1761). The Portuguese action, however, did not address slavery in the colonies. Slaver ownership was widely practiced. Brazilians of all classes owned slaves. Slaves were not only owned by upper and middle class Brazilians, but also by lower class Brazilians. There were even slaves who owned other slaves. Slavery has a huge impact on Brazil. It affected both the economy and the ethnic make up of the Brazilian population. The importation of such a large number of Africans into a colony with such a small number of Portuguese, profoundly affected the ethnic ballance. The level of Africam imports also meant thsat unlike North America, Africam culture was not largely wiped out and thus had a significant impsct on Brazilian culture (food, music, dance and religious practices). This is especiuallt the case in Rio and the northwast where many of the slaves were concentrated.

Portuguese Voyages of Discovery

The accumulating knowledge of geopgraphy and improvements in shipbuilding and navoigation led Prince Henry and King John II of Portugal to seek a route to the Indies through the still largely unknown Atlantic. Portuguese mariners began sailing south along the coast of Africa. Information provided by travelers was refined by explorers who began to sail south along the African coast. Each voyage added to the accumulating data and gradually improving maps and charts. The Portuguese eventually reached the equator (1471). One unaswered question of history is just how much Portuguese navigators knew. Some historians argue that it was the Portuguese who first discovered the America, landing in Brazil. Even a cursory study of the may suggests that Portuguese saemen sailing south must have stumbled on the buldge of Brazil where it juts out ibnto the South Atlantic. Unfortunately we will never know as the famed Portuguese archive was lost to fire. We do know, of course, that Bartholomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa (1486), showing that Ptolemy was wrong about the possibility of a sea route to Asia. Vasco da Gama reached India (1498). Portugal was thus the first European nation to reach India, the Indies, and China. Soon after Columbus first reached Ameruica, Pedro Alvares Cabral (1467-1520) discovered Brazil (1500). Gaspar Corte Real sailed to North America and although he founded no colony helped to found a flourishing fishery. Ferdinand Magellan (1480?-1521) served in the forces of the Portugese crown involved in military campaigns in India and the Spice Islands (1508-12). Magellan conceived of reaching the Spice Islands (Indonesia) via the Atlantic, but King Emanuel was uninterested, causing Magellan to renounce his Portuguese citizenship.

Founding of Brazil

The Portuguese when they founded their Brazilisn colony, like the Spanish, attempted to enslave Native Americans. Unlike the Craribbean islands, the Native Americans in Brazil could flee to the interior where the Portuguese could not reach them, although slaving raids were conducted up the Amazon. Native Americans who did not flee were decimated by the European diseases the Portuguese carried. Brazil had begun to turn to slavery in the 15th century as explorers began moving along the coast of Africa. With the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese attempted to enslave the Native American population as well. This did not prove successful. The Native Americans died in large numbers, both because of slave rading, mistreatment, and the lack of resistance to European diseases. The Portuguese found captured Africans to be a valuable trading commodity as Brazilian planters needed workers ad Europeans began to settle the Caribbean islands. They also began transporting Africans to their Brazilian colony.

Early Colonial Brazil (16th century)

Portugal at the time of the conquest was a country just emerging from feudalism with an impoverished peasantry. Brazil offered rich agricultural land that was just not available in Portugal itself. At first the Portuguese gave relatively little attention to Brazil. The Portuguese Conquistadores found little gold and the primary focus at the time was primarily on the emsensly profitable trade opend with the East (India, Indonesia, and China). THus for the first three decadeds Brazil languished. This lack of attention to establishing a colony in Brazil, let to incursions by other European countries. The Portuguese Crown to combat this created a system of occupying the coast without the sunstantial costs of establishing a colony and maintaining aarge military force. The Crown created the Hereditary Captaincies system, The King divided Brazil into strips of land that were entrusted to noblemen. Theyanswered to the king and occupying and developing their land grant was done at their expense. It took some tgime for the monrchy to realize that the Captaincies system was not working. Only two of the land grants were actually occupied by the nobelmen to which the land was granted (Pernambuco and São Vicente in the modern state of São Paulo). Brazil produced little income for Portugal in sharp contrst to the Spanish colonies (especially Mexico and Peru-Bolivia where gold and siklver was discovered. One of the few important resources found in Brazil was what came to be called brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata). This was alarge tree. The trunk was found to contain contains a prized red dye. Exploitation nearly wiped out the trees. Portuguese settlement of Brazil was initually confined to the coastal regions. The exploration of the interior was liited and largely confined to para-military adventurers--the bandeirantes. They followed the rivers into the interior, looking for gold and Native Americans who could be enslaved. Theresult was to depopulate large areas of the interior along the major rivers.

The Sugar Boom (17th century)

The Portuguese brought sugar cane to Brazil early in the colonial period, but the sugar industry developed slowly. It was a relatively new crop to the Europeans and it was a labor-intensive crop. This proved a problem because the Native Americans the Portuguese attempted to enslave did not prove suitable. Sugar would prove central to Brazilian economy aswell as to the history of Brazilian slavery. It was sugar that made Brzilian plantations really profitable and this fueled the demand for the large numbers of slaves needed to work them. The settlers first tried to enslave the Natives to work the developing plantations. The Native Americans proved unsuitable, primarily because the died in large numbers when exposed to European diseases. As a result, the settlers began to turn to Africans. The Portuguese ha begun to trade in captive Africanas, albeit in small numbers, as they began moving south down the coast of Africa (15th century). The first Brazilian sugar plantation was operating very early in the colonial era (1518). The industry grew very rapidly. Martim Afonso de SousaThe founded the first colony(1532). One report suggests that Santa Catalina Island had some 800 operating sugar cane mills (1540). The Brazilian sugar industry boomed and the colony became Europe's main supplier of sugar. Sugar at the time did not come from the Caribbean in any quantity. Until this the Arabs had been the main supplier, but a astronomical prices making it a luxury for the nobility and wealthier merchants. Brazil changed this. With the large quanities of Brazilian sugar reaching Europe at more reasonable prices, a much larger market began to grow. And Brazil, especially the northern coast, privided virtually perfect conditions for raising sugarcane. Planters cleared more an more land for sugar cane, Sugar production and exports began to reach large quantitirs (late-16th/early-17th centuries). The sugar cane was grown on plantation called 'engenhos' (factories). The Brazilian Nordeste became the core of the colony's economy and society. There were also plantations on Santa Catarina Island in the south which was originally founded by the Spanish. The modern states of Pernambuco, Paraiba, Bahia, and Sergipe became the center of Brazil’s sugarcane industry. Sugar turned the small Bahia settlements of Salvador and Olinda into some of the thriving ports in the world as theSugar Boom took hold. And this in turn significantly fueded the demand for slaves to work the plantations. Most of the slaves were brought fro Portuguese trading posts in western and southern Africa. Later the slaves for Brazil would come from the Portuguese-controlled areas of southern Africa (Angola and Mozambique). The Portuguese became leaders in the Atlantic slave trade and the major destination was Brazil. Over a third of all the slaves tranported to the Americas were landed in Brazil, the great majority to work on the sugar plantations.

Dutch Era (1630-54)

The Dutch incursions into Brazil proved the greatest threat to the Portuguese. The Portuguese became involved with the Hapsburg attmpt to supress the Reformation in Germany and the related rebellion of the Dutch. A succession crisis in Portugal led to a personal union under the Habsburg rule after the War of the Portuguese Succession, Spanish King Philip II of Spain thus controlled Portugal as part of the Iberian Union (1580). This meant that Portugal and Brazil became involved in the Dutch War of Independence (1581-1648). Philip II prohibited trade with the Dutch (1581). The Dutch were at a disadvantage in land warfare with the Spanish, but their expanding naval fleet gave them the ability to strike at the colonies. The result was the Dutch–Portuguese War (1602-61). The War was waged by the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company against the Portuguese Empire. The War primarily involvedDutch privateers attacking Portuguese colonies in the Americas, Africa, India and the Far East. The war was essentially an extension of the Dutch War for Independence, sometimes called the Eighty Years War, fought in the European Low Countries by Spain. The conflict provided the opportunity for the Dutch to gain an overseas empire and weaken the Portuguese. English forces aided the Dutch to an extent, but also fought a series of naval wars with the Dutch. Spanish forces aided the Portuguese. And the sugar wealth of Brazil was an attraction. Brazil did not have a navy as such, but they conducted naval war with privateers. Queen Elizabeth in England did the same, but focused more on the Spanish. The Dutch, an important 17th century naval power, seized Bahia for a brief period. Dutch privateers began plundering the largely unprotected Brazilian coast. They sacked Bahia and even captured the capital Salvador for a brief period (1604). The Dutch also attacked the Portuguese African possessions. This was an attmpt to seize control of the profitable slave trade which at the time was dominated by the Portuguese. Elmina and other Portuguese Gold Coast trade posts were taken and Luanda was put to siege. As a result, the flow of West African slaveswas interupted and from this point most BraziliAn slaves were imorted from southern Africa. The Dutch seized coastal Brazilian ports in the northeast. The Dutch attacked Salvador in Bahia (northern Brazil) which was at the time the capital (1624 and 1627) but failed both times to hold the city. Subsequently they landed even further north along the northeastrn coast in Pernambuco where there were fewer Portuguese settlers (1630). The Dutch controlled northern Brazil for more than two decades. One impact of their presence was a boost to the sugar industry, a hugely valuable commodity at the time. The economics of sugar meant that it became the leading crop in Brazil. Dutch investors commited considerable funds. This was coordinated through the Dutch West India Company. While the Dutch controlled the Nirtheast, they were in a constant state of siege. The principal figure was John Maurice of Nassau who served as governor in Recife. It was a period of constant warfare with the Portuguese. The result of Dutch Portuguese War was that Portugal retained its possessions in South America and Africa, but lost possessions in the Far East and South Asia. The greatest victgor may have been the English who benefitted by the decades long war between its two main rivals in the Far East. The Dutch were ultimately forced to relinquish control of northern Brazil (1654). The principal result of the Dutch experiebce in Brazil was that when they were finally expelled, they brought sugar industry technology to the Caribbean. And this meant that the Portuguese in Brazil no longer dominated the sugar trade.

Colonial Brazil (17th and 18th centururies)

Colonial Brazil developed the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than that of the United States. The Portuguese who settled Brazil needed labor to work the large estates and mines in their new Brazilian colony. They turned to slavery which became central to the colonial economy. It was particularly important in the mining and sugar cane sectors. Slavery was also the mainstay in the Caribbean islands with economies centered on sugar. Estimates suggest that about 35 percent of captured Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade were transported to Brazil. Estimates suggest that more than 3 million Africans reached Brazil, although precise numbers do not exist. Slavery was widely practiced. Brazilians of all classes owned slaves. Slaves were not only owned by upper and middle-class Brazilians, but also by lower-class Brazilians. There were even slaves who owned other slaves.

Atlantic Slave Trade

Captives from different African regions were transported to Brazil. This included Africams from West Africa, Cape Vert, Angolsa, Mozambique and from interior regions. Large numbers of Africans were obtained from southern Africa (Angola and Mozambique) where the Portuguese had a dominant role. Some Africans from these areas were transported to the Caribbean and the United States as well, but the shipments to Brazil were especislly significant. The dimensions of the slave trade are not known with any precession. Estimtes vary from 3-5 million Africans transported to Brazil. This is a substsantial proportion of the overall Atklantic slave trade. One historian estimsates about 3.6 million Africans transported to Brazil. [Taunay]. He estimated that most were brough to brazil in he 18th ad 19th century: 0.1 million (16th century), 0.6 million (17th cenury), 1.3 million (18th century), and 1.6 million (19th century). The level of slave shipments during the 19th century is notable given the fact that the Royal Navy was engaged in a major campaign to end the slave trade at the time. About 40 percent of the estimated 11 million Africans transported in the Atlantic slave trade went to Brazil.

Portuguese Slavery

Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal (February 12, 1761). The Portuguese action, however, did not address slavery in the colonies. Portugal was another important country involved in the slave trade. Portugal lost its Brazilian colony when it became indepenent (1822). This meant that Portugal was no longer involved as a destination country. Portugal still controlled African colonies where Africans were seized for slavery. This was espcially true in its southern colonies (Angola and Mozambique). Portugal abolished the slave trade (1836). The Royal decree also limited the number of slaves to be transported by colonists, committing to punish Portuguese slave traders, and authorising the condemnation of vessels equipped for the slave trade. We are unsure just what convinced Portugal to take this major decession. The British Parliament passed an act giving the Royal Navy the authority to stop Portuguese slavers vessels and submit them to British Vice-Admiralty courts (1839). Portugal signed another treaty with Britain giving British Royal Navy ships the Right of Search, authorising the condemnation of vessels equipped for slave trade, establishing Mixed Commissions, declaring the slave trade to be an act of piracy, regulating the number of slaves to be carried by Portuguese subjects, declaring that liberated slaves are to be given over to the government whose vessel seized the slaver (1842).

Brazilian Independence

Potugal was a British ally in the struggle against Napoleon. A French Army crossed the Pyranees, launching the Peninsuar Campaign. As the French Army approched Lisbon, the Portuguese royal family fled to Rio de Janeiro (1807). This made Rio the new capital of the Portuguese empire which made considerable sense. Brazil was much larger and more prosperous than Portugal. Napoleon dominted the contindnt for more than a decde. Napoleon's Gran Armee, however, was destroyed in Russia (1812). The French were forced to withdraw from the Iberian Peninsula. The Portuguese royal family chose to stay in Brazil because of the unselttled situation in Portugal. King Joao VI made Brazil a kingdom equal to Portugal in status (1815). Joao ruled from Rio for several years. The only challenge was the Pernambuco Revolution (1817). Joao returned to Portugal (1822). He left his son Pedro to rule in Brazil. When his father began to rule from Portugal, Pedro defied him and declared Brazil an independent empire (September 1822).

Slave Life

Brazil developed the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. The Portuguese who settled Brazil needed labor if they were to develop large estates and mines in their new Brazilian colony. They turned to slavery which became central to the colonial economy. Landless Portugese peasants did not emigrate to Brazil in large numbers. Prices varied substantially. Miners needed men who were healthy, young and strong and were prepared to pay the highest prices. Brazil had begun to turn to slavery in the 15th century as explorers began moving along the coast of Africa. With the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese attempted to enslave the Native American population as well. This did not prove successful. The Native Americans died in large numbers, both because of slave rading, mistreatment, and the lack of resistance to European diseases. The Portuguese found captured Africans to be a valuable trading commodity as Europeans began to settle the Caribbean islands. They also began transporting Africans to their Brazilian colony. Slavery became particularly important in the mining and sugar cane sectors. Slavery was also the mainstay in the Caribbean islands with economies centered on sugar. Estimates suggest that about 35 percent of captured Africans involved in the Atlantic slave trade were transported to Brazil. Estimates suggest that more than 3 million Africans reached Brazil, although precise numbers do not exist. Africans were delivered to the major ports (Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife and São Luis). Here they were held in a shack until they were sold. Portuguese Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal abolished slavery in Portugal (February 12, 1761). The Portuguese action, however, did not address slavery in the colonies. Slavery was widely practiced. Brazilians of all classes owned slaves. Slaves were not only owned by upper and middle class Brazilians, but also by lower class Brazilians. There were even slaves who owned other slaves. Unlike slavery in the rest of the Americas. slaves were not restricted to manual labor on plantations. The small Portuguese population meant that here were openings for urban occupations, including some that were skilled and evem managerial. The limited Portuguese female population meant that there an extensive mulatto population developed. And light-skinned men had condiderable lattitude for upward mobility. And slave women could advance through relations with Portuguese/Brazilian men. Potuguese society was much more open to this than United States society.

Run-away Slaves

Escaped slaves in the United States did not perform important run-away or Maroon communities, except for a short time in Florida. Escaped slaves in America attempted to cross the Ohio River and reach the northern free states or Canada. In the Caribbean and South america Maroon communities played important roles: Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Suriname. They were also important in Brazil where they were called 'quilombos'. The Muslim Sudanese were seen by the Brazilians as the most civilized and became the leaders of rebellious groups. The run-away groups varied substantially in organization sand sophistication. The more important “quilombo” was the Palmares which operated in the interior of Alagoas (17th century). Alagoas thus became the center of the domestic resistsnce to slavery. A legendary figure emerged from Alagoas--Zumbi. Portuguese authorities arrested and executed him (1695).

Brazilian Empire

Even after Brazil declared independence, Portugal continued to hold its African colonies and a few Asian outposts. Brazilian independence was the most conservative of the Latin American revolutions. Brazil was the only monarchy among the Latin American nations. A factor in Brazil's conservatism was the importance of slavery in the colony. Brazilians wanted nothing to disrupt slavery and the economy and social structure was based on it. Brazil resisted the anti-slavery movement and the Royal Navy's efforts to stamp out the Atlantic slave trade. Brazil had the largest number of slaves in South Americ. And unlike the Spanish coonies did not move towad abolition after independence. Charles Daewin was horrified at what he saw when the HMS Beagle stopped Braziliab ports. [Darwin] The issue of slavery became the primary domesti issue during the reign of D. Pedro II--te second reign (1840 to 1889).

The Great Bahian Slave Rebellion (1835)

The most important slave rebellion in Brazil occurred in the northeat--Bahia (1835). Quilombos (autonomous communities of runaway slaves) existred deep in the interior where it was difficult and expensive for colonial authorities to supress. There were also occassional riots and uprisings in urban areas of Bahia. A variety of factors, inclusing Ethnicity and religion motivated the slaves. The Yoruba were at the center of the rebellion. There were both Muslim and non-Muslim Nagos (Yoruba) and related ethnicities. One source suggesta that the city of Bahia in the 19th century was surging with slave resistance. The rebellion is often referred to as the Malês Revolt. This refes to the ancient Mali Kingdom. It is from this area that most of the Yoruba came. In Yoruba 'imale' was a term for Yoruba Muslim, which originally meant a Malian in general. The rebels were primarily Malês. It was not a Jihad or Islamic uprising athough the ring leaders were inspired by Muslim teachings. Both Malês and non-Malês participated. A group of African slaves and freedmen in Bahia during Ramadan launched a rebellion against the Government (January 1835). Many wore talismans containing texts from the Koran and necklaces with the image of the Haitoan leader President Dessalines. The rebels failed to take their major objectibes and secure needed arms. Extensive fighting took place in the streets before the rebels wrrte supressed. The rebellion changed the history of slavery in Brazil. It substantially increased fears of white fears of African rebellion. Freed slaves were deported to Africa. Slaves were subjected to a more ruthless slave system. [Reis]

Ending the Slave Trade

Brazil did, however, begin to cooperate with the British in ending the African slave trade. Brazil signed a treaty with Britain to abolish its slave trade in 3 years (1826). Before the treaty came into force, Brazil committed to following the terms of the 1817 Treaty between Portugal and Britain. Brazil decides move forcefully against those engaged in the slave trade by assessing fines and inflicting corporal punishment. They also declared that slave trading vessels arriving in Brazil would be confiscated (1831). Brazil ordered ships to be searched on their arrival at Rio to enforce the 1831 Decree (1832). Brazil was the last Latin American country where slavery was still permitted. It was also the country with the largest slave population. Developments here were thus more important than all of the rest of Latin America combined. Ye country agreed to end the slavectrade earlier, but in the 1850s began to move against the institutin of slavery itself. It would, however, take another four decades to finally end slavery. The country closed its slave depots south of Rio de Janeiro (1851). Next the Emperor issued a decree emancipating slaves after 14 years’ of service (1854).

Emancipation

Brazil continued as a monarchy for several decades before a republic was finally proclaimed (1889). Brazil was a major desination of the Atlantic slave trade. Brazil justs out into the Atlantic and was thus a much shorter run for the slavers. Brazil had the largest slave population in the world, substantially larger than the United States. Pedro II was a ruler of conservative mindset. He came to see slavery, despite its economic importance to Brazil as inherently evil. Pedro began a series of measures liberating Brazilian slaves. He was posed to entirely abolish slavery. His measures against slavery met oposition from major landowners and the military, the leadership of which was drawn from the landed elite. The Emperor was on a trip to Europe when his daughter, Princess Isabel serving as regent, issued a decree abolishing slavery (May 13, 1888). This essentially did away for the last bastion of slavery, although forced labor cotinued for some time, in the Western Hemishere and ended what remained of the the African slave trade. Princess Isabella's decree is known as the Golden Law. It was widely praised in Europe. Abolishing slavery was the last major action taken by the Brazilian royal family. Brazil proved to be the last Western Hemisphere country to abolish slavery.

Impact

Slavery has a huge impact on Brazil. It affected both the economy and the ethnic make up of the Brazilian population. The importation of such a large number of Africans into a colony with such a small number of Portuguese, profoundly affected the ethnic ballance. The level of Africam imports also meant thsat unlike North America, Africam culture was not largely wiped out and thus had a significant impsct on Brazilian culture (food, music, dance and religious practices). This is especiuallt the case in Rio and the northwast where many of the slaves were concentrated.

Sources

Darwin, Charles.

Graham, Maria. Journal of a Voyage to Brazil, and Residence there, during part of the Years 1821, 1822, 1823 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown).

Reis, Joao Jose. Arthur Brakel (trans). Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia. This was one of the Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History and Culture.

Taunay, Carlos Augusto. Manual do agricultor brasileiro (São Paulo : Companhia das Letras, 2001).







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Created: 4:43 AM 12/30/2009
Last updated: 7:51 PM 9/27/2012