Installation of the General Government in Brazil and the Foundation of Salvador

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Installation of the General Government in Brazil and the Foundation of Salvador

1. Introduction

In this topic we will study the installation of the General Government.

This historical event was an important milestone in Brazilian colonial history, as it was from this event that the settlement and colonisation of Brazil intensified.

This allowed the colony to achieve greater development, especially in terms of sugar cane cultivation, as well as the establishment of sugar mills that began to produce the valuable product.

We will also study the historical process that led to the foundation of Salvador, the current capital of Bahia, on 1st May 1549.

The city of Salvador would go on to become Brazil’s first capital and an important commercial and cultural centre, as it was from Salvador that the foundations for the colonisation of Brazil were laid.

Fundação de Salvador - Primeira Capital do Brasil

2. General Government of Brazil

With the collapse of the Hereditary Captaincies project, Portugal was forced to take on the task of populating and colonising Brazil for good.

At the centre of this was the establishment of the General Government.

However, in order to reorganise the colonisation process, which had fallen apart due to the unsuccessful colonisation experience of the hereditary captaincies, Portugal would have to invest a large sum of money.

As mentioned earlier, the experience of the hereditary captaincies was a private investment; the Crown didn’t spend a cent on this task.

It was now time for the king of Portugal to take over the task of populating and colonising the colony.

According to Eduardo Bueno (2006, p. 32):

To reorganise the process of occupying and colonising Portuguese America, it would be necessary to invest around 400,000 cruzados, the equivalent of 1.4 tonnes of gold.

This time, however, the money would not come from private investors, tenants or speculators, but from the Royal Treasury. The Treasury, in fact, was progressively depleted, as Portugal was going through a serious economic crisis that had only been growing since 1537.

In 1547, the kingdom had just over 3 million cruzados in cash, but owed 3.880 million, most of it in loans at 25% interest per year.

Creating the General Government in Brazil would therefore mean spending more than 1/8 of the royal revenue at a time when the Crown owed more than it collected.

To invest so much money in a territory that, until then, had been the least profitable of all the Portuguese overseas possessions, King João III and his advisors had to have good reasons.

At this time, Portuguese America was not very profitable.

It was also sparsely populated, with no more than 2,000 settlers of European origin living here.

Despite this, the king was keen for Brazil to be colonised and populated, as this position was linked to “[…] an imperial policy in which the financial decline of India, the Muslim advance in Morocco and the Mediterranean and Portugal’s always unstable relations with neighbouring crowns played a major role” (BUENO, 2006, p. 33).

The establishment of the General Government would allow Portugal greater control of the colony.

The Crown would increasingly impose its wishes on the American lands.

The centralisation imposed by the General Government would significantly diminish the power of the grantees, thus Portugal created the foundations for political centralisation in Brazil. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the General Government contributed greatly to the current configuration of Brazilian territory, as we are the only country in Latin America that has not seen its territory fragmented into small states.

Still quoting Bueno (2006, p. 33-34):

From 1540 onwards, the Portuguese state had begun to establish a series of mechanisms that had enabled it to increase control, coercion and domination over its subjects.

These new and efficient forms of exercising power included carrying out population censuses, compulsory military conscription, stricter delineation of the kingdom’s borders and the creation of a more powerful and intrusive judicial system – as well as, of course, more extensive forms of taxation associated with more efficient collection methods.

The new control mechanisms of this stronger, more centralised and rational government would become present not only in the daily lives of those living in Portugal: as soon as possible, they would be exported to the overseas territories.

The establishment of the General Government – and the concentration of the Crown – is the most visible aspect of this process in relation to Brazil.

In short, the institution of the General Government, on April 1, 1549, had the main objective of organising and putting things in order.

This was to be done in the form of standardising taxes, conduct and, most importantly, subjecting not only the rebellious Indians to the rules of the Portuguese colonisers, but all those who in any way contested the king’s authority.

What was about to begin in Brazil with the installation of the General Government was therefore “a reaction by the state against the ambiguity, weakness and experimentation” that had marked the Portuguese colonial adventure in the first half of the 16th century, as the American historian Harold B. Johnson observes.

This “movement towards rigidity and codification” and the deliberate “exclusion of alternatives” would spell the end of what, with some liberality, can be called the “romantic period” of Portuguese expansionism.

From the point of view of those on the other side of the process – in the case of Brazil, the settlers who were trying to reinvent their lives in the tropics, struggling to free themselves from the social ties and “brakes” so present in the kingdom – the new rules would be perceived as a profound intrusion into their daily lives.

It’s not hard to imagine that the Portuguese living in America would do anything to conspire against the new order.

It can therefore be said that the arrival of the General Government signalled the first conflict between the individual and the State in Brazilian lands (BUENO, 2006, p. 36).

The expedition that brought Brazil’s first governor general – Tomé de Sousa – was joined by the first Jesuits, Manuel da Nóbrega and five other priests.

These Jesuits were responsible for setting up the first schools in the colony. They also had the arduous task of catechising the indigenous people.

Mapa da Baia de Todos os Santos de 1644 - Este raro mapa de Salvador e da Baía de Todos os Santos é uma representação do ataque holandês e captura da cidade de Salvador em maio de 1624. Salvador, então capital do Brasil, era um porto estratégico sob controle português. Os holandeses, determinados a assumir o controle do Brasil, formaram a Companhia das Índias Ocidentais em 1621 e enviaram uma grande expedição ao Brasil. Em 8 de maio de 1624, a frota holandesa sob o comando do almirante Jacob Willekens e do vice-almirante Pieter Heyn chegou a Salvador e atacou a cidade. Os holandeses conseguiram capturar a cidade, embora os portugueses tenham recuperado o controle menos de um ano depois. Este mapa mostra a cidade de Salvador e suas fortificações, com os navios holandeses avançando sobre a cidade. O restante do litoral é esparsamente gravado com algumas pequenas cidades, igrejas e assentamentos. O mapa é orientado com o norte para a esquerda e apresenta uma bela cartela de tiras que incorpora a escala de distância. Publicado no relato de De Laet sobre a história da Companhia Holandesa das Índias Ocidentais desde seu início até 1636. "Baya de Todos os Sanctos", de Laet, Joannes
Map of the Bay of All Saints from 1644 – This rare map of Salvador and the Bay of All Saints is a representation of the Dutch attack and capture of the city of Salvador in May 1624. Salvador, then the capital of Brazil, was a strategic port under Portuguese control.

Brazil’s first three governors were:

  • Tomé de Sousa: was the founder of the city of Salvador. He ruled from 1549 until 1553 and his expedition, made up of six ships, brought about a thousand people, as well as cattle, horses and sheep. At this time, the first Brazilian bishopric was created, livestock farming and sugar cane cultivation began, as well as the foundation of sugar mills.
  • Duarte da Costa: Brazil’s second governor-general. He ruled from 1553 until 1558 and his expedition brought the Jesuit José de Anchieta. Under his rule, the French invaded Rio de Janeiro and founded a settlement called “Antarctic France”.
In January 1554, José de Anchieta and Manuel da Nóbrega founded the Colégio de São Paulo. Next to this college, the village that gave rise to the city of São Paulo was born.
  • Mem de Sá: was the third governor-general of Brazil. He ruled from 1558 until 1572 and expelled the French from Rio de Janeiro, fought against the Indians, being responsible for the destruction of more or less three hundred villages, and encouraged the import of black Africans to serve as slave labour.

In this way, the General Government was established in Brazil, with its main characteristic being political centralisation and the standardisation of the conduct of the inhabitants of Brazil.

In the next section, we will study the founding of the city of Salvador and its importance in the context of colonial Brazil.

3. The foundation of Salvador

São Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos began to be built on 1 April 1549.

Vista da cidade de Salvador em 1625
View of the city of Salvador in 1625 – This beautiful view depicts a Dutch fleet in the Bay of All Saints attacking the city of São Salvador and the Portuguese merchant fleet in 1625. The buildings are grouped together on the crest of the bay, with four main forts protecting the harbour. A key below identifies 24 important sites. São Salvador was Brazil’s main seaport and an important centre for the sugar industry and the slave trade. This view is from Van Meteren’s important History of the Netherlands.

It was Brazil’s first capital and its construction was carefully planned and coordinated directly by Tomé de Sousa, Brazil’s first governor-general.

On the sunny morning of 29 March 1549 – a Friday, just like the day of departure – after exactly eight weeks of travelling, the governor’s fleet sighted land.

It was the sandy shallows of Tatuapara (now Praia do Forte), which stretched as far as the tip of Itapuã.

After leaving behind the sharp reefs of the Red River – a fearsome barrier reef where Caramuru had been shipwrecked thirty years earlier – Tomé de Sousa’s ships skirted the tip of Padrão, entering the Bay of All Saints one by one (BUENO, 2006, p. 86).

The region of present-day Salvador was chosen to house the capital of Brazil because it had a good geographical position, a safe bay and a good harbour.

In addition, Diogo Álvares, the Caramuru, had lived there for over thirty years and was very important in the founding of the city, as he helped Tomé de Sousa in the arduous task of building the city.

Tomé de Sousa’s expedition brought several professionals who came with the task of building the city.

On this subject, see how Eduardo Bueno (2006, p. 82) describes this situation:

But the expedition’s objectives, as we know, were not just military.

For this reason, a group of artisans, whose skills were indispensable to the construction of the new city, mingled with the soldiers and sailors, wandering between the decks of the ships.

These craftsmen came under the command of the “master of stonemasonry” Luis Dias, a renowned architect who was responsible for the project and in charge of supervising the construction of Brazil’s first capital.

Luis Dias’ team included 15 carpenters, nine blacksmiths, eight sawyers, eight roofers, five whitewashers, four locksmiths, four charcoal burners and three diggers, as well as 16 stonemasons – a total of 72 professionals who, as soon as work began, would be assisted by at least 62 convicts.

These artisans earned an average of 1,200 reais a month. The convicts, whose sentences included forced labour, were still paid 330 reais a month (below the minimum wage of 360 reais).

We can realise the importance of the foundation of the city of Salvador due to the number of artisans who came with Tomé de Sousa’s expedition.

The city is a consequence of the process of installing the General Government, and its construction has great symbolism, as it represents the new ideals of Portugal in relation to Brazil, in the words of Sergio Buarque de Holanda (2007, p. 129), Salvador represents:

Of this structure, Tomé de Sousa’s city was to be the centre and, of all the hereditary captaincies, according to what a friar historian, son of the same city, would say in the following century, “like the heart in the middle of the body from which all […] were helped and governed”.

It’s only fair, then, that the government-general, with the auxiliaries he brought with him, should be given the bulk of his needs during the early days. In fact, this corresponded to a lively endeavour on the part of the Crown, since it had been decided to inaugurate a new phase in the life of the colony.

Tomé de Sousa himself was present and helpful with all the work: according to an oral tradition still recorded by Friar Vicente de Salvador, who was able to personally meet some of the people of that time, he was “the first to use the pestle for the rammed earth and helped carry the rafters and timbers for the houses on his shoulders, showing himself to be an affable companion to all”.

The symbolism related to Salvador proves the Portuguese intention to intensify the settlement and colonisation of Brazil.

Its foundation created new horizons for Portuguese colonisation. From this endeavour, Brazil would definitively enter the Portuguese plans for the future, the colony would be integrated into the economy of the metropolis through the growing intensification of sugar cane cultivation and the manufacture of sugar in the sugar mills.

About this, Eduardo Bueno (2006, p. 97-98) states:

Salvador would become an even more solid symbol than Mazagão.

After all, as experts have noted, Brazil’s first capital was the “touchstone” that marked the true beginning of a revolutionary policy of urbanisation in the overseas territories, establishing the moment when “the imperial project began to turn into a colonial project”.

“Salvador was the first branch to mark the link between the regulated cities and the cities of the future Portuguese school of urbanisation in India,” noted Walter Rosa in his essay Cidades Hindoportuguesas.

The erection of that “strong fortress” would prove that the Portuguese were determined to transform the mere coastal fringes that had until then made up their empire into a fortified and urbanised colonial territory.

As we have seen, the founding of Salvador was a milestone in the change in the Portuguese mentality towards Brazil.

After 1549, the history of Brazil entered a new phase.

The metropolis intensified the “colonial pact”. It would also intensify its control over economic production in the colony. The founding of the city would take its toll!

In the next chapter we will study the implementation of the Portuguese civilisation project for Brazil, a project based on latifundia, slave labour and monoculture.

4. In this chapter you learnt that:

  • As a result of the establishment of the General Government, Portugal took greater control of the colony. The centralisation imposed by the General Government significantly diminished the power of the grantees, thus Portugal laid the foundations for political centralisation in Brazil.
  • The foundation of the city of Salvador in 1549 was a consequence of the process of installing the General Government. Its construction is highly symbolic, as it represents Portugal’s new ideals regarding Brazil.

Discover the periods of colonial Brazilian history below:

  1. Portuguese Maritime Expansion and the Conquest of Brazil
  2. Occupation of the African Coast, the Atlantic Islands and the Voyage of Vasco da Gama
  3. Pedro Álvares Cabral’s expedition and the Conquest of Brazil
  4. Pre-colonial period in Brazil: “The Forgotten Years”
  5. Installation of the Portuguese Colony in Brazil
  6. Installation of the General Government in Brazil and the Founding of Salvador
  7. Monoculture, Slave Labour and Latifundia in Colonial Brazil
  8. Colonial sugar mills in Brazil
  9. The Iberian Union and the Dutch Invasion of Brazil
  10. Foundation of the city of São Paulo and the Bandeirantes
  11. Between the colonial regime and the establishment of the Empire in Brazil
  12. Transfer of the Portuguese court to Brazil
  13. The Portuguese Empire in Brazil
  14. Independence of Brazil – Breaking of colonial ties in Brazil
  15. Historical Periods of Brazil

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