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Colonial Brazil

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Title: Colonial Brazil  
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Subject: Palmares (quilombo), Portuguese Empire, Proposed mergers/Log/March 2015, Manuel da Nóbrega, Portuguese colonization of the Americas
Collection: 1500 Establishments in Colonial Brazil, 16Th Century in Brazil, 17Th Century in Brazil, 1800S in Brazil, 1810S in Brazil, 1815 Disestablishments, 1815 Disestablishments in Colonial Brazil, 18Th Century in Brazil, Colonial Brazil, Colonization of the Americas, Former Colonies in South America, Former Portuguese Colonies, History of Brazil (1500–1815), Portuguese Colonization of the Americas, Portuguese Empire, States and Territories Disestablished in 1815, States and Territories Established in 1500
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Colonial Brazil

Colonial Brazil
Brasil Colonial
Colony of the Kingdom of Portugal

Flag Coat of arms
Brazil in 1789.
Capital Salvador
Rio de Janeiro
Languages Portuguese (official)
Tupí Austral, Nheengatu, many indigenous languages
Religion Roman Catholic (official)
Afro-Brazilian religions, Judaism, indigenous practices
Government Colony
 •  1500–1521 Manuel I (first)
 •  1777–1815 Maria I (last)
 •  1549–1553 Tomé de Sousa (first)
 •  1806–1808 Marcos de Noronha, 8th Count of the Arcos (last)
 •  Arrival of Pedro Álvares Cabral on behalf of the Portuguese Empire 22 April 1500
 •  Elevation to Kingdom and creation of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves 16 December 1815
Currency Portuguese real
Today part of  Brazil
Part of a series on the
Coat of arms of Brazil
Brazil portal

Colonial Brazil (Portuguese: Brasil Colonial) comprises the period from 1500, with the arrival of the Portuguese, until 1815, when Brazil was elevated to a kingdom alongside Portugal as the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. During the early 300 years of Brazilian colonial history, the economic exploitation of the territory was based first on brazilwood extraction (16th century), sugar production (16th–18th centuries), and finally on gold and diamond mining (18th century). Slaves, especially those brought from Africa, provided most of the working force of the Brazilian economy.

In contrast to the neighboring fragmented Spanish possessions, the Portuguese colony, built up by the Portuguese in Latin America, kept its territorial unity and linguistic integrity after independence, giving rise to the largest country in the region.


  • Pre-colonial history (1494–1530) 1
    • The Age of Exploration 1.1
    • Discovery and early exploitation 1.2
  • Colonization 2
    • Captaincies 2.1
    • Governors General 2.2
    • Jesuit missions 2.3
    • French incursions 2.4
  • The Sugarcane Cycle (1530–1700) 3
    • The Iberian Union and Dutch incursions 3.1
    • The Quilombos 3.2
  • Inland expansion: the entradas and bandeiras 4
  • The gold cycle (18th century) 5
    • Colonisation of the South 5.1
    • Inconfidência Mineira 5.2
  • The Royal Court in Brazil (1808–1821) 6
  • Territorial evolution of colonial Brazil 7
  • Administrative evolution 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11

Pre-colonial history (1494–1530)

Portugal and Spain pioneered the European discovery of sea routes that were the first and only channels of interaction between all of the world's continents, thus beginning the process of globalization. In addition to the adventurous undertaking of discovery and colonization of far-off lands, these years were filled with pronounced advancements in cartography, shipbuilding and navigational instruments, of which the Portuguese and Spanish explorers took advantage.[1]

In 1494, the two kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula divided the New World between them (in the Treaty of Tordesillas), and in 1500 navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in what is now Brazil and laid claim to it in the name of King Manuel I of Portugal. The Portuguese soon began extracting brazilwood from the rainforest for its valuable wood and for the red dye derived from it.

The Age of Exploration

The European discovery of Brazil was preceded by a series of treaties between the kings of Portugal and Castile, which were the leading seafaring powers at the time. The most decisive of these treaties was the Treaty of Tordesillas, signed in 1494, that created the Tordesillas Meridian, dividing the world between those two kingdoms. All land discovered or to be discovered east of that meridian was to be the property of Portugal, and everything to the west of it went to Spain.

The Tordesillas Meridian divided South America into two parts, leaving a large chunk of land to be exploited by the Spaniards. The Treaty of Tordesillas was arguably the most decisive event in all Brazilian history, since it alone determined that a portion of South America would be settled by Portugal instead of Spain. The present extent of Brazil's coastline is almost exactly that defined by the treaty of Madrid, which was approved in 1750.

Portuguese map by Lopo Homem (c. 1519) showing the coast of Brazil and natives extracting brazilwood, as well as Portuguese ships.

Discovery and early exploitation

On April 22, 1500, during the reign of King Manuel I, a fleet led by navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in Brazil and took possession of the land in the name of the king. Although it is debated whether previous Portuguese explorers had already been in Brazil, this date is widely and politically accepted as the day of the discovery of Brazil by Europeans. Álvares Cabral was leading a large fleet of 13 ships and more than 1000 men following Vasco da Gama's way to India, around Africa. The place where Álvares Cabral arrived is now known as Porto Seguro ("safe harbor"), in Northeastern Brazil.

The brazilwood tree, which gives Brazil its name, has dark, valuable wood and provides red dye.

After the voyage of Álvares Cabral, the Portuguese concentrated their efforts on the lucrative possessions in Africa and India and showed little interest in Brazil. Between 1500 and 1530, relatively few Portuguese expeditions came to the new land to chart the coast and to obtain brazilwood. In Europe, this wood was used to produce a valuable dye to stain luxury textiles. To extract brazilwood from the tropical rainforest, the Portuguese and other Europeans relied on the work of the natives, who worked in exchange for European goods like mirrors, scissors, knives and axes.

In this early stage of the colonization of Brazil, and also later, the Portuguese frequently relied on the help of European adventurers who lived together with the aborigines and knew their languages and culture. The most famous of these were the Portuguese João Ramalho, who lived among the Guaianaz tribe near today's São Paulo, and Diogo Álvares Correia, nicknamed Caramuru, who lived among the Tupinambá natives near today's Salvador da Bahia.

As time passed, the Portuguese realized that some European countries, especially France, were also sending excursions to the land to extract brazilwood. Worried about foreign incursions and hoping to find mineral riches, the Portuguese crown decided to send large missions to take possession of the land and combat the French. In 1530, an expedition led by Martim Afonso de Sousa arrived in Brazil to patrol the entire coast, ban the French, and create the first colonial villages like São Vicente on the coast.


At first, Brazil was set up as fifteen private, hereditary captaincies. Pernambuco succeeded by growing sugar cane. São Vicente prospered by dealing in indigenous slaves. The other thirteen captaincies failed, leading the king to make colonization a royal effort rather than a private one. In 1549, Tomé de Sousa sailed to Brazil to establish a central government. De Sousa brought along Jesuits, who set up missions, saved many natives from slavery, studied native languages, and converted many natives to Roman Catholicism. The Jesuits' work to pacify a hostile tribe helped the Portuguese expel the French from a colony they had established at present-day Rio de Janeiro.

Portuguese map (1574) by Luís Teixeira, showing the location of the hereditary captaincies of Brazil.


The first attempt to colonise Brazil followed the system of hereditary captaincies (Capitanias Hereditárias), which had previously been used successfully in the colonization of Madeira Island. The costs were transferred to private hands, saving the Portuguese crown from the high costs of colonization. Thus, between 1534 and 1536 King John III divided the land into 15 captaincy colonies, which were given to Portuguese noblemen who wanted and had the means to administer and explore them. The captains were granted ample powers to administer and profit from their possessions.

From the 15 original captaincies, only two, Pernambuco and São Vicente, prospered. The failure of most captaincies was related to the resistance of the indigenous peoples, shipwrecks and internal disputes between the colonizers. Pernambuco, the most successful captaincy, belonged to Duarte Coelho, who founded the city of Olinda in 1536. His captaincy prospered with sugarcane mills used to produce sugar, which were installed after 1542. Sugar was a very valuable good in Europe, and its production became the main Brazilian colonial produce for the next 150 years.

The captaincy of São Vicente, owned by Martim Afonso de Sousa, also produced sugar but its main economic activity was the traffic of indigenous slaves.

Governors General

With the failure of most captaincies and the menacing presence of French ships along the Brazilian coast, the government of King John III decided to turn the colonisation of Brazil back into a royal enterprise. In 1549, a large fleet led by Diocese of São Salvador da Bahia was established in the colony, with its seat in Salvador.

The second Governor General, Duarte da Costa (1553–1557), faced conflicts with the aborigines and severe disputes with other colonisers and the bishop. Wars against the natives around Salvador consumed much of his government. The fact that the first bishop of Brazil, Pero Fernandes Sardinha, was killed and eaten by the Caeté natives after a shipwreck in 1556 illustrates how strained the situation was between the Portuguese and many indigenous tribes.

The third Governor-General of Brazil was Mem de Sá (1557–1573), an efficient administrator who managed to defeat the aborigines and, with the help of the Jesuits, expel the French Calvinists (formed by Huguenotes alongside with some previous Catholic settlers) who had established a colony in Rio de Janeiro (France Antarctique). His nephew, Estácio de Sá, founded the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1565.

The huge size of Brazil led to the colony being divided into two Estados (states) after 1621, when King Philip II created the Estado do Brasil, the most important colony with Salvador as capital, and the Estado do Maranhão, with capital in São Luís. The state of Maranhão was still further divided in 1737 into the Estado do Maranhão e Piauí and the Estado do Grão-Pará e Rio Negro, with its capital in Belém do Pará. Each Estado was led by a Governor.

After 1640, the governors of Brazil coming from the high nobility started to use the title of Vice-rei (Viceroy). In 1763 the capital of the Estado do Brazil was transferred from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro. In 1775 all Brazilian Estados (Brasil, Maranhão and Grão-Pará) were unified into the Viceroyalty of Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro as capital, and the title of the king's representative was officially changed to that of Viceroy of Brazil.

As in Portugal, each colonial village and city had a city council (câmara municipal), whose members were prominent figures of colonial society (land owners, merchants, slave traders). Colonial city councils were responsible for regulating commerce, public infrastructure, professional artisans, prisons etc.

17th century-Jesuit church in São Pedro da Aldeia, near Rio de Janeiro.

Jesuit missions

Tomé de Sousa, first Governor General of Brazil, brought the first group of Jesuits to the colony. More than any other religious order, the Jesuits represented the spiritual side of the enterprise and were destined to play a central role in the colonial history of Brazil. The spreading of the Catholic faith was an important justification for the Portuguese conquests, and the Jesuits were officially supported by the King, who instructed Tomé de Sousa to give them all the support needed to Christianise the indigenous peoples.

The first Jesuits, guided by Father Manuel da Nóbrega and including prominent figures like Juan de Azpilcueta Navarro, Leonardo Nunes and later José de Anchieta, established the first Jesuit missions in Salvador and in São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, the settlement that gave rise to the city of São Paulo. Nóbrega and Anchieta were instrumental in the defeat of the French colonists of France Antarctique by managing to pacify the Tamoio natives, who had previously fought the Portuguese. The Jesuits took part in the foundation of the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1565.

The success of the Jesuits in converting the indigenous peoples to Catholicism is linked to their capacity to understand the native culture, especially the language. The first grammar of the Tupi language was compiled by José de Anchieta and printed in Coimbra in 1595. The Jesuits often gathered the aborigines in communities (the Jesuit Reductions) where the natives worked for the community and were evangelised.

The Jesuits had frequent disputes with other colonists who wanted to enslave the natives. The action of the Jesuits saved many natives from slavery, but also disturbed their ancestral way of life and inadvertently helped spread infectious diseases against which the aborigines had no natural defences. Slave labour and trade were essential for the economy of Brazil and other American colonies, and the Jesuits usually did not object to the enslavement of African peoples.

French incursions

The potential riches of tropical Brazil led the French, who did not recognise the Tordesillas Treaty, to attempt to colonise parts of the Portuguese colony. In 1555, the Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon founded a settlement within Guanabara Bay, in an island in front of today's Rio de Janeiro. The colony, named France Antarctique, led to conflict with Governor General Mem de Sá, who waged war against the colony in 1560. Estácio de Sá, nephew of the Governor, founded Rio de Janeiro in 1565 and managed to expel the last French settlers in 1567. Jesuit priests Manuel da Nóbrega and José de Anchieta were instrumental in the Portuguese victory by pacifying the natives who supported the French.

Another French colony, France Équinoxiale, was founded in 1612 in present-day São Luís, in the North of Brazil. In 1614 the French were again expelled from São Luís by the Portuguese.

View of a sugar-producing farm (engenho) in colonial Pernambuco by Dutch painter Frans Post (17th century).

The Sugarcane Cycle (1530–1700)

Since the initial attempts to find gold and silver failed, the Portuguese colonists adopted an economy based on the production of agricultural goods that were to be exported to Europe. Tobacco, cotton, cachaça and some other agricultural goods were produced, but sugar became by far the most important Brazilian colonial product until the early 18th century. The first sugarcane farms were established in the mid-16th century and were the key for the success of the captaincies of São Vicente and Pernambuco, leading sugarcane plantations to quickly spread to other coastal areas in colonial Brazil. The period of sugar-based economy (1530 – c. 1700) is known as the "Sugarcane Cycle" in Brazilian history.

Sugarcane was cultivated on large patches of land, harvested and processed in the engenhos, which were the houses where sugarcane was milled and the sugar refined. Over time, the term engenho was applied to the whole sugarcane farm. The dependencies of the farm included a casa-grande (big house) where the owner of the farm lived with his family, and the senzala, where the slaves were kept. This arrangement was depicted in engravings and paintings by Frans Post as a feature of an apparently harmonious society.[2]

Initially, the Portuguese relied on aborigine slaves to work on sugarcane harvesting and processing, but they soon began importing black African slaves. Portugal owned several commercial facilities in Western Africa, where slaves were bought from African merchants. These slaves were then sent by ship to Brazil, chained and in crowded conditions. The idea of using African slaves in colonial farms based on monoculture was also adopted by other European colonial powers when colonising tropical regions of America (Spain in Cuba, France in Haiti, the Netherlands in the Dutch Antilles and England in Jamaica).

The Portuguese severely restricted colonial trade, meaning that Brazil was only allowed to export and import goods from Portugal and other Portuguese colonies. Brazil exported sugar, tobacco, cotton and native products and imported from Portugal wine, olive oil, textiles and luxury goods – the latter imported by Portugal from other European countries. Africa played an essential role as the supplier of slaves, and Brazilian slave traders in Africa frequently exchanged cachaça, a distilled spirit derived from sugarcane, and shells, for slaves. This comprised what is now known as the Triangular trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas during the colonial period.

Even though Brazilian sugar was reputed as being of high quality, the industry faced a crisis during the 17th and 18th centuries when the Dutch and the French started producing sugar in the Antilles, located much closer to Europe, causing sugar prices to fall.

Golden Baroque inner decoration of the Franciscan church of Salvador (first half of 18th century).

The Iberian Union and Dutch incursions

In 1580, a succession crisis led to Portugal forming a personal union with Spain under the Habsburg King Philip II. The unification of the crowns of the two Iberian kingdoms, known as the Iberian Union, lasted until 1640, although the institutions of both kingdoms remained separate. The Netherlands (the Seventeen Provinces) obtained independence from Spain in 1581, leading Philip II to prohibit commerce with Dutch ships, including in Brazil. Since the Dutch had invested large sums in financing sugar production in the Brazilian Northeast, a conflict began with Dutch privateers plundering the coast: they sacked Salvador in 1604, from which they removed large amounts of gold and silver before a joint Spanish-Portuguese fleet recaptured the town.

From 1630 to 1654, the Dutch set up more permanently in commercial Recife and aristocratic Olinda, and with the capture of Paraiba in 1635, the Dutch controlled a long stretch of the coast most accessible to Europe (Dutch Brazil), without, however, penetrating the interior. The large Dutch ships were unable to moor in the coastal inlets where lighter Portuguese shipping came and went. Ironically, the result of the Dutch capture of the sugar coast was a higher price of sugar in Amsterdam. During the Nieuw Holland episode, the colonists of the Dutch West India Company in Brazil were in a constant state of siege, in spite of the presence of the Count John Maurice of Nassau as governor (1637–1644) in Recife. Nassau invited scientific commissions to research the local flora and fauna, resulting in added knowledge of the territory. Moreover, he set up a city project for Recife and Olinda, which was partially accomplished. Remnants survive to this day.

After several years of open warfare, the Dutch finally withdrew in 1654; the Portuguese paid off a war debt in payments of salt. Few Dutch cultural and ethnic influences remain.

The Quilombos

Work on the sugarcane plantations in Northeast Brazil and other areas relied heavily on Domingos Jorge Velho managed to destroy the great quilombo and kill Zumbi in 1695. Of the many quilombos that once existed in Brazil, some have survived to this day as isolated rural communities.

Inland expansion: the entradas and bandeiras

Since the 16th century the exploration of the Brazilian inland was attempted several times, mostly to try to find mineral riches like the silver mines found in 1546 by the Spanish in Potosí (now in Bolivia). Since no riches were initially found, colonisation was restricted to the coast where the climate and soil were suitable for sugarcane plantations.

The expeditions to inland Brazil are divided into two types: the entradas and the bandeiras. The entradas were done in the name of the Portuguese crown and were financed by the colonial government. Its main objective was to find mineral riches, as well as to explore and chart unknown territory. The bandeiras, on the other hand, were private initiatives sponsored and carried out mostly by settlers of the São Paulo region (the Paulistas). The expeditions of the bandeirantes, as these adventurers were called, were aimed at obtaining native slaves for trade and finding mineral riches. The Paulistas, who at the time were mostly of mixed Portuguese and native ancestry, knew all the old indigenous pathways (the peabirus) through the Brazilian inland and were acclimated to the harsh conditions of these journeys.

At the end of the 17th century, the bandeirantes expeditions discovered gold in central Brazil, in the region of Minas Gerais, which started a gold rush that led to a dramatic urban development of inland Brazil during the 18th century. Additionally, inland expeditions led to westward expansion of the frontiers of colonial Brazil, beyond the limits established by the Treaty of Tordesillas.

View of Ouro Preto, one of the main villages founded during the gold rush of Minas Gerais. The village has preserved its colonial appearance to this day.

The gold cycle (18th century)

The discovery of gold was met with great enthusiasm by Portugal, which had an economy in disarray following years of wars against Spain and the Netherlands. A gold rush quickly ensued, with people from other parts of the colony and Portugal flooding the region in the first half of the 18th century. The large portion of the Brazilian inland where gold was extracted became known as the Minas Gerais (General Mines). Gold mining in this area became the main economic activity of colonial Brazil during the 18th century. In Portugal, the gold was mainly used to pay for industrialized goods (textiles, weapons) obtained from countries like England and, especially during the reign of King John V, to build magnificent Baroque monuments like the Convent of Mafra. Apart from gold, diamond deposits were also found in 1729 around the village of Tijuco, now Diamantina.

In the hilly landscape of Minas Gerais, gold was present in alluvial deposits around streams and was extracted using pans and other similar instruments that required little technology. Gold extraction was mostly done by slaves. The Portuguese Crown allowed particulars to extract the gold, requiring a fifth (20%) of the gold (the quinto) to be sent to the colonial government as tribute. To prevent smuggling and extract the quinto, in 1725 the government ordered all gold to be cast into bars in the Casas de Fundição (Casting Houses), and sent armies to the region to prevent disturbances and oversee the mining process. The Royal tribute was very unpopular in Minas Gerais, and gold was frequently hidden from colonial authorities. Eventually, the quinto contributed to rebellious movements like the Levante de Vila Rica, in 1720, and the Inconfidência Mineira, in 1789 (see below).

Some historians mention that the trade deficit of Portugal in relation to England while the Methuen Treaty was in force has also contributed to redirect much of the gold mined in Brazil during the 18th century to Britain. The Methuen Treaty was a trade treaty signed between England and Portugal, by where all woolen cloth imported from Britain would be tax free in Portugal, whereas Portuguese wine exported to Britain would be taxed at a third of the previous import tax on wines. Port wine became increasingly popular in Britain at that time, but cloth amounted to a larger share of the trade value than wines, hence Portugal eventually incurred in trade deficit with England.

The large number of adventurers coming to the Minas Gerais led to the foundation of several villages, the first of which were created in 1711: Vila Rica de Ouro Preto, Sabará and Mariana, followed by São João del Rei (1713), Serro, Caeté (1714), Pitangui (1715) and São José do Rio das Mortes (1717, now Tiradentes). In contrast to other regions of colonial Brazil, people coming to Minas Gerais settled mostly in villages instead of the countryside.

In 1763, the capital of colonial Brazil was transferred from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro, which was located closer to the mining region and provided a harbor to ship the gold to Europe.

According to the historian Leslie Bethell, "In 1700 Portugal had a population of about two million people. During the eighteenth century approximately 400,000 left for [the Portuguese colony of] Brazil, despite efforts by the crown to place severe restrictions on emigration."[3]

Gold production declined towards the end of the 18th century, beginning a period of relative stagnation of the Brazilian hinterland.

18th century-São José Fortress near Florianópolis, in southern Brazil

Colonisation of the South

In an attempt to expand the borders of colonial Brazil and profit from the silver mines of Potosí, the Portuguese Overseas Council (the Conselho Ultramarino) ordered colonial governor Manuel Lobo to establish a settlement on the shore of the River Plate, in a region that legally belonged to Spain. In 1679, Manuel Lobo founded Colonia de Sacramento on the margin opposite to Buenos Aires. The fortified settlement quickly became an important point of illegal commerce between the Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Spain and Portugal fought over the enclave on several occasions (1681, 1704, 1735).

In addition to Colonia de Sacramento, several settlements were established in Southern Brazil in the late 17th and 18th century, some with peasants from the Azores Islands. The towns founded in this period include Curitiba (1668), Florianópolis (1675), Rio Grande (1736), Porto Alegre (1742) and others, and helped keep southern Brazil firmly under Portuguese control.

The conflicts over the Southern colonial frontiers led to the signing of the Treaty of Madrid (1750), in which Spain and Portugal agreed to a considerable Southwestward expansion of colonial Brazil. According to the treaty, Colonia de Sacramento was to be given to Spain in exchange for the territories of São Miguel das Missões, a region occupied by Jesuit Missions dedicated to evangelizing the Guaraní natives. Resistance by the Jesuits and the Guaraní led to the Guaraní War (1756), in which Portuguese and Spanish troops destroyed the Missions. Colonia de Sacramento kept changing hands until 1777, when it was definitively conquered by the colonial governor of Buenos Aires.

Quartered body of Tiradentes, by Brazilian painter Pedro Américo (1893).

Inconfidência Mineira

In 1788/89, Minas Gerais was the setting of the most important conspiracy against colonial authorities, the so-called Inconfidência Mineira. The Inconfidência was inspired by the ideals of the French liberal philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment and the successful American Revolution of 1776. The conspirators largely belonged to the white upper class of Minas Gerais. Many had studied in Europe, especially in the University of Coimbra, and some had large debts with the colonial government. In the context of declining gold production, the intention of the Portuguese government to impose the obligatory payment of all debts (the derrama) was a leading cause behind the conspiracy. The conspirators wanted to create a Republic in which the leader would be chosen through democratic elections. The capital would be São João del Rei, and Ouro Preto would become a university town. The structure of the society, including the right to property and the ownership of slaves, would be kept intact.

The conspiracy was discovered by the Portuguese colonial government in 1789, before the planned military rebellion could take place. Eleven of the conspirators were exiled to Portuguese colonial possessions in Angola, but Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, nicknamed Tiradentes, was sentenced to death. Tiradentes was hanged in Rio de Janeiro in 1792, drawn and quartered, and his body parts displayed in several towns. He later became a symbol of the struggle for Brazilian independence and liberty from Portuguese rule.

The Inconfidência Mineira was not the only rebellious movement in colonial Brazil against the Portuguese. Later, in 1798, there was the Inconfidência Baiana in Salvador. In this episode, which had more participation of common people, four people were hanged, and 41 were jailed. Members included slaves, middle-class people and even some landowners.

The Royal Court in Brazil (1808–1821)

In 1807 French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Britain's ally, Portugal. Prince Regent João (future King João VI), who governed since 1792 on behalf of his mother, Queen Maria I, ordered the transfer of the Portuguese royal court to Brazil before he was deposed by the invading army.

In January 1808, Prince João and his court arrived in Salvador, where he signed a commercial regulation that opened commerce between Brazil and friendly nations (Britain). This important law broke the colonial pact that, until then, only allowed Brazil to maintain direct commercial relations with Portugal.

The Paço Imperial, 18th century-colonial palace located in Rio de Janeiro, used as dispatch house by King João VI of Portugal and later by Emperor Pedro I of Brazil.

In March 1808, the court arrived in Rio de Janeiro. In 1815, during the Congress of Vienna, Prince João created the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (Reino Unido de Portugal, Brasil e Algarves), elevating Brazil to the rank of Portugal and increasing its administrative independence.

In 1816, with the death of Queen Maria, Prince João succeeded as King, and the ceremony of his acclamation was held in Rio de Janeiro in February 1818.

Among the important measures taken by Prince João in his years in Brazil were incentives to commerce and industry, the permission to print newspapers and books, the creation of two medicine schools, military academies, and the first Bank of Brazil (Banco do Brasil). In Rio de Janeiro he also created a powder factory, a Botanical Garden, an art academy (Escola Nacional de Belas Artes) and an opera house (Teatro São João). All these measures greatly advanced the independence of Brazil in relation to Portugal and made the later political separation between the two countries inevitable.

Due to the absence of the King and the economic independence of Brazil, Portugal entered a severe crisis that obliged João VI and the royal family to return to Portugal in 1821: a Liberal Revolution had broken out in Portugal in 1820, and the royal governors who ruled Portugal in the King's name had been replaced by a revolutionary Council of Regency formed to govern the European portion of the United Kingdom until the King's return. Indeed, the King's immediate return to Lisbon was one of the main demands of the Revolution. Under the revolutionary Council of Regency, a constituent assembly, known as the Portuguese Constitutional Courts (Cortes Constitucionais Portuguesas), was elected to abolish the absolute monarchy and replace it with a constitutional one. King João VI, then, yielding to pressure, returned to Europe. Brazilian representatives were elected to join the deliberations of the Constitutional Cortes of the United Kingdom.

The heir of João VI, Prince Pedro, remained in Brazil. The Portuguese Cortes demanded that Brazil return to its former condition of colony and that the heir return to Portugal. Prince Pedro, influenced by the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Senate (Senado da Câmara), refused to return to Portugal in the famous Dia do Fico (January 9, 1822). Political independence came on September 7, 1822, and the prince was crowned emperor in Rio de Janeiro as Dom Pedro I, ending 322 years of dominance of Portugal over Brazil.

Territorial evolution of colonial Brazil

Administrative evolution

Colonial entities, ordered by the date of establishment, earlier to later:

The detailed history of the administrative changes in the administration of colonial Brazil is as follows:

From 1534 (immediately after the start the Portuguese attempts to effectively colonize Brazil) until 1549, Brazil was divided by the Portuguese Crown in private and autonomous colonies known as hereditary captaincies (capitanias hereditárias), or captaincy colonies (colónias capitanias).

In 1549, Portuguese King John III abolished the system of private colonies, and the fifteen existing hereditary captaincies were incorporated into a single Crown colony, the Governorate General of Brazil.

The individual captaincies, now under the administration of the Portuguese Crown (and no longer called colonies or hereditary captaincies, but simply captaincies of Brazil), continued to exist as provinces or districts within the colony until the end of the colonial era in 1815.

The unified Governorate General of Brazil, with its capital city in Salvador, existed during three periods: from 1549 to 1572, from 1578 to 1607 and from 1613 to 1621. Between 1572 and 1578 and again between 1607 and 1613, the colony was split in two, and during those periods the Governorate General of Brazil did not exist, being replaced by two separate Governorates: the Governorate General of Bahia, in the North, with its seat in the city of Salvador, and the Governorate General of Rio de Janeiro, in the South, with its seat in the city of Rio de Janeiro.

In 1621, an administrative reorganization took place, and the Governorate General of Brazil became known as the State of Brazil (Estado do Brasil), keeping Salvador as its capital city. With this administrative remodeling, the unity of the colony was once again interrupted, as a portion of territory in the northern part of modern Brazil became an autonomous colony, separate from the State of Brazil: the State of Maranhão, with its capital city in São Luiz.

In 1652, the State of Maranhão was extinguished, and its territory was briefly added to the State of Brazil, reunifying the colonial administration once more.

However, in 1654, the territories of the former State of Maranhão were again separated from the State of Brazil, and the Captaincy of Grão-Pará was also split from Brazil. In this restructuring, the territories of Grão-Pará and Maranhão, severed from Brazil, were united in a single State, initially named as State of Maranhão and Grão-Pará, having São Luiz as its capital city. This newly created State incorporated territories recently acquired by the Portuguese west of the Tordesillas line.

In 1751, the State of Maranhão and Grão-Pará was renamed as the State of Grão-Pará and Maranhão, and its capital city as transferred from São Luiz (in Maranhão) to Belém (in the part of the State that was then known as Grão-Pará).

In 1763 the capital city of the State of Brazil was transferred from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, the title of the King's representative heading the government of the State of Brazil was officially changed from Governor General to Viceroy (Governors coming from the high nobility had been using the title of Viceroy since about 1640). However, the name of Brazil was never changed to Viceroyalty of Brazil. That title, although sometimes used by modern writers, is not proper, as the colony continued to be titled State of Brazil.

In 1772, in a short-lived territorial reorganization, the State of Grão-Pará and Maranhão was split in two: the State of Grão-Pará and Rio Negro (better known simply as the State of Grão-Pará), with the city of Belém as its capital, and the State of Maranhão and Piauí (better known simply as the State of Maranhão), with its seat in the city of São Luiz.

Thus from 1772 until another territorial reorganization in 1775 there were three distinct Portuguese States in South America: the State of Brazil, the State of Grão-Pará and Rio Negro, and the State of Maranhão and Piauí.

In 1775, in a final territorial reorganization, the colony was once again reunified: the State of Maranhão and Piauí and the State of Grão-Pará and Rio Negro were both abolished, and their territories were incorporated into the territory of the State of Brazil. The State of Brazil was thus expanded; it became the sole Portuguese State in South America; and it now included in its territory the whole of the Portuguese possessions in the American Continent. Indeed, with the reorganization of 1775, for the first time since 1621, all the Portuguese territories in the New World were once again united under a single colonial government. Rio de Janeiro, that had become the capital of the State of Brazil in 1763, continued to be the capital, now of the unified colony.

In 1808, the Portuguese Court was transferred to Brazil as direct consequence of the invasion of Portugal during the Napoleonic Wars. The office of Viceroy of Brazil ceased to exist upon the arrival of the Royal Family in Rio de Janeiro, since the Prince Regent, the future King Jonh VI, assumed personal control of the government of the colony, that became the provisional seat of the whole Portuguese Empire.

In 1815, Brazil ceased to be a colony, upon the elevation of the State of Brazil to the rank of a kingdom, the Kingdom of Brazil, and the simultaneous political union of that kingdom with the Kingdoms of Portugal and the Algarves, forming a single sovereign State, the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. That political union would last until 1822, when Brazil declared its independence from the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves and became the Empire of Brazil, a sovereign nation in the territory of the former Kingdom of Brazil. The separation was recognized by Portugal with the signing of the 1825 Treaty of Rio de Janeiro.

With the creation of the Kingdom of Brazil in 1815, the former captaincies of the State of Brazil became provinces within the new Kingdom, and after independence they became the provinces of the Empire of Brazil.

See also


General History


  1. ^ Source: Europe and the Age of Exploration | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  2. ^ See the articles by Ernst van den Boogaart and by Elmer Kolfin in The Slave in European Art: From Renaissance Trophy to Abolitionist Emblem, ed Elizabeth McGrath and Jean Michel Massing, London (The Warburg Institute) and Turin 2012.
  3. ^ Leslie Bethell (1986). "The Cambridge history of Latin America: Colonial Latin America". Cambridge University Press. p.47. ISBN 0-521-24516-8


  • Prado Junior, Caio. História econômica do Brasil. (,%20Caio/Historia%20Economica%20do%20Brasil.pdf)
  • Furtado, Celso. Formação econômica do Brasil. (,%20Celso/Celso%20Furtado%20-%20Forma%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20Econ%C3%B4mica%20do%20Brasil.pdf)
  • Van Groesen, Michiel. (ed.) "The Legacy of Dutch Brazil". New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  • Colonial history of Brazil in the Rio de Janeiro Municipality website (in Portuguese).
  • Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World, Vol. III of Civilization and Capitalism, 1984.
  • Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice

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