Slavery in Colonial Brazil

Brazilian slavery
Figure 1.--Foreign non-Brazilian artists like Rugendas and Debret traveling in Brazil in the early-19 century provide some of the most accuate and detailed images of Brazilian slavery. This painting was the work of French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret. He was part of a French 'civilizing' missdion. He began by painting portraits of members of the Brazilian Imperial family, but soon became concerned with everyday life in the colony, especially slavery. He spent 15 years in Brazil (1816-31) and when he returned to France his paintings became a major source of information on slavery in Brazil throughout Europe. The domestic scene here was probably painted in the 1820s. It depicts an affluent family in Rio de Janeiro. They are giving morsels to slave children as one might give a pet.

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. And even though Brazil had the largest slave poplation in the world, the numbers of people impacted are much larger than commonly portrayed. Brazilian sugar plantations were essentially death camps. If the demographic impact of the massive death toll at the sugar plantations are computed the numbers would be staggering.

Sources

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






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Created: 11:51 PM 2/28/2018
Last updated: 11:52 PM 2/28/2018