Installation of the Portuguese Colony in Brazil

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Installation of the Portuguese Colony in Brazil

In this chapter you will be able to:

  • understand the historical process that led to the establishment of the colony;
  • reflect on the power relations established in the process of colonising Brazil;
  • be aware of the historical consequences of the colonisation of Brazil today;
  • understand colonisation as a process of domination.

1 Expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza and the Hereditary Captaincies

In this chapter we will study the expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza, which is considered to be the starting point of the effective process of settlement and colonisation of Brazil.

This expedition is referred to by some historians as a “colonising mission”, as it intended to introduce sugar cane monoculture into the colony, as well as guaranteeing land ownership, as it was being threatened by invasions from other European nations that contested the legitimacy of the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Antonio de Herrera Y Tordelisllas foi o historiador oficial de Espanha e das Índias. Ele compilou uma história das conquistas espanholas e das primeiras explorações nas Américas, que incluía este mapa do continente gravado de forma simples. O mapa é em grande parte derivado das cartas manuscritas de Juan Lopez de Velasco. O continente é dominado pelas enormes "R. de los Amazona" e R. de la Plato" e pela cordilheira ocidental. É apresentado o "Meridiano de la de Marcacion", que dividia o mundo não cristão entre Espanha e Portugal.
Map of South America from 1601
Treaty of Tordesillas – It was named after the city of Tordesillas, Spain, where it was signed on 7 June 1494.

It was responsible for dividing the world along a meridian established 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands. The lands to the west belonged to Spain and the lands to the east of this meridian belonged to Portugal.

We will also study the historical process of the creation of the so-called “Hereditary Captaincies”, which were actually large estates donated by the king of Portugal to private initiative. We will see that Brazil was divided into fifteen estates, but only two of them prospered: the captaincy of Pernambuco and the captaincy of São Vicente.

1.1 Colonising expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza

It was necessary to colonise so as not to lose the land! Portugal was aware of this, as the European nations did not accept the Treaty of Tordesillas, which stated that Portugal and Spain were the sole owners of the lands of America.

Martim Afonso de Souza - Fundador da primeira vila do Brasil

The Brazilian coast was frequently visited by vessels of the most varied nationalities, especially the French, the English and the Dutch, who had the declared intention of founding colonies in Brazilian lands.

According to Fernando Novaes (1979, p. 55), “[…] the colonisation itself initially followed a primarily political concern: the aim, through settlement, was to preserve the possession already disputed by the Dutch, English and French corsairs”.

Historian Boris Fausto (2007, p. 43) reiterates the above:

Political considerations led the Portuguese Crown to the conviction that it was necessary to colonise the new land.

The expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza (1530-1533) represented a moment of transition between the old and new periods.

His aim was to patrol the coast, establish a colony through the non-hereditary granting of land to the settlers he brought with him (São Vicente, 1532) and explore the land in view of the need for its effective occupation.

Despite the concern about unwanted visits from corsairs of other nationalities and the fear of losing possession of the land to them, this was not the only factor that led to the organisation of the expedition.

Other factors determined its realisation:

  • Trade with the East was in decline due to the high costs, as well as competition from the French, English and Spanish;
  • Portugal needed new alternatives to increase its profits;
  • The hope of discovering precious metals in the lands.

In order to secure possession of the land and create new commercial alternatives, Portugal organised the first great colonising expedition to Brazil. This expedition was commanded by the nobleman Martim Afonso de Souza.

 Colonising expedition

 Five ships and a crew of around 400 people. This was the composition of the expedition commanded by Martim Afonso de Souza, which left Lisbon in December 1530.

Its main objective was to start colonising Brazil, which is why it became known as the colonising expedition.

As well as starting colonisation, Martim Afonso de Souza also had the following objectives: to fight foreign corsairs, search for gold and make a greater geographical reconnaissance of our coastline.

On 22 January 1532, Martim Afonso founded Brazil’s first village, Vila de São Vicente.

In addition to this town, he founded a number of settlements, such as Santo André da Borba do Campo and Santo Amaro.

In the São Vicente region, Martim Afonso began planting sugar cane. A year after planting the first seedlings, Brazil’s first sugar mill was set up.

SOURCE: COTRIM, Gilberto. History of Brazil: a critical look. São Paulo: Saraiva, 1999. p. 60.

Martim Afonso de Souza’s expedition faced many difficulties, as the Brazilian lands were practically virgin.

The great virtue of this expedition was that it founded the town of São Vicente, on the current coast of São Paulo, and introduced the cultivation of sugar cane, as well as making several expeditions with the intention of exploring the coast and interior of Brazil.

According to Sergio Buarque de Holanda (2007, p. 108):

No previous expedition had had the importance of this one for the development of plans to effectively occupy the land.

The sertão itself was travelled at some points. So it was that from Rio de Janeiro, where the squadron stayed for around 90 days, four men set off across the land.

They would return after two months, having travelled one hundred and fifteen leagues, bringing with them samples of crystal, news of the distant Paraguay river and the information that there was a lot of gold and silver in those parts.

In the next section we will study the introduction of the Hereditary Captaincies, which were established a few years after the arrival of Martim Afonso de Souza’s expedition to Brazil.

1.2 Hereditary Captaincies

The Portuguese kingdom didn’t have the resources to colonise Brazil, and more importantly, to make the colony produce profits.

Capitanias hereditárias
Hereditary captaincies

This was a serious problem that had to be solved by the Portuguese. The temporary solution came with the foundation of the Hereditary Captaincies, thus transferring the responsibility of populating and colonising to the private initiative of the future grantees.

Donatários – These were important people appointed by the king to administer the hereditary captaincies

 The names of Brazil Pindorama (indigenous name)

  • Isla de Vera Cruz (1500) Terra Nova (1501)
  • Terra dos Papagaios (1501)
  • Terra de Vera Cruz (1503)
  • Terra de Santa Cruz (1503)
  • Terra Santa Cruz do Brasil (1505)
  • Land of Brazil (1505)
  • Brazil (from 1527)

(BUENO, 2003, p. 36)

Thus, in 1534, Brazil was divided into 15 plots of land, which were to be administered by grantees appointed by the king.

Capitanias hereditárias
Capitanias hereditárias

The future owners were people of reasonable economic power, but they were not nobles, as nobles preferred to invest their resources in Africa or India.

At this time, Brazil was unreliable for large investments, as everything had yet to be done.

Appointed by the king, the donatário was the highest authority within the captaincy. When the grantee died, the administration of the captaincy passed to his descendants.

For this reason, the captaincies were called Hereditary Captaincies (COTRIM, 1999, p. 60).

Despite this, the grantees did not own the land, which meant that they could not sell it or divide it up – that was the king’s right. Even so, the grantees had vast powers, both in the economic and administrative spheres.

The installation of sugar mills and water mills and the use of salt deposits depended on the payment of duties; part of the taxes owed to the Crown for the exploitation of brazilwood, precious metals and fishing by-products also fell to the captains.

From an administrative point of view, they had a monopoly on justice, authorisation to found towns, donate sesmarias, enlist settlers to be military personnel and form militias under their command (FAUSTO, 2007, p. 44).

Still quoting Boris Fausto (2007, p. 45):

The hereditary captaincies are an institution often referred to by historians, especially Portuguese historians, who defend the thesis of the feudal nature of colonisation.

This thesis and the discussion itself have now lost the importance they once had, giving way to the most recent historiographical trend, which does not consider it essential to label complex social formations that do not reproduce the European model with rigid labels.

Without going any further, let’s remember that in establishing the Hereditary Captaincies, the Crown used some formulas whose origins can be found in medieval European society.

This is the case, for example, with the right granted to the grantees to obtain payment to licence the installation of sugar mills; this right is analogous to the “trivialities” paid by farmers to feudal lords.

But in essence, even in their original form, the Hereditary Captaincies represented a transitory and still tentative attempt at colonisation, with the aim of integrating the Colony into the European mercantile economy.

Despite all the hype in the historiography about the hereditary captaincies, only two flourished, namely São Vicente and Pernambuco: São Vicente and Pernambuco.

The others failed in their early years, either due to a lack of resources, attacks by Indians or the lack of interest on the part of the grantee himself.

The flourishing of the captaincies of Pernambuco and São Vicente was always associated with the cultivation of sugar cane, which prevailed from their foundation in both captaincies.

Or Indian hunting, which was an important economic activity in the captaincy of São Vicente, as the Vincentians began to sell Indian slave labour to other regions of Brazil.

It’s important to emphasise that Brazil initially became a colony very different from those created in North America, or even in Spanish America, from the 16th and 17th centuries onwards.

According to Caio Prado Junior:

Unlike the latter, the colonisers who settled here came not to remake their lives along the same lines as those in force in their country of origin, but to make a fortune – or “make America” -, seeking to extract the maximum both from nature and from those who worked for them in the shortest possible time.

In this form of colonisation, the aim of our settlers was by no means to produce on their own (and even less through their own labour), but primarily to get rich as quickly as possible by exploiting the natural resources available and the labour of others on a servile basis – through the enslavement, first of the indigenous peoples of the region and then of specially imported Africans (SZMRECSÁNYI, 1998, p. 12).

This mentality was very damaging to Brazil, as it treated the country as a place to be colonised for purely exploitative reasons. This view would intensify, lasting for many decades.

Gradually, due to bankruptcy and abandonment, the captaincies were taken over by the Crown, and they disappeared for good in the second half of the 17th century.

Gradually, the captaincies were taken over by the Crown, and they disappeared for good in the second half of the 17th century.

In the next chapter we will study the establishment of the General Government and the foundation of the city of Salvador.

2. In this chapter you learnt that:

  •   The expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza was very important for the beginning of the colonisation of Brazil.
  • Brazil was divided into 15 hereditary captaincies.

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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