Colonial Portuguese Brazil: Sugar and Slavery Essay


Beginning in 1550, the Portuguese started to trade enslaved Africans because of two main reasons. First, the local inhabitants did not quickly acculturate and became increasingly cautious of the Portuguese; therefore, obtaining new local slaves was getting harder and harder.

Secondly, the Portuguese Empire had power over some phases in the commercial process of the African slave trade (Reis 1995). Consequently, this offered the Brazilian landowners the chance to bring in slaves from Portuguese trading stations in Africa. The ever-increasing demand for slaves made it possible for slave traders from Portugal, Africa, and Brazil to get high incomes.

Throughout the 15th century, subsequently recognizing the extension and value of slave dealing for the African financial system, the soldiers, explorers, and traders in Portuguese Empire were engaged in dealing in enslaved black Africans together with other tradable items. This was via the establishment of numerous coastal operation stations.

From around 1550, the Portuguese started to trade slaves from Africa to toil in the sugar plantations that they were building on in their newly found colony of Brazil. In spite of the fact that the Prime Minister of Portugal, Marques, had put an end to slave trade, it persisted in a number of Portuguese colonies.

This was more so in Brazil where slave trade continued up to its final eradication in the year 1888 (Conrad1972). Brazil was the very last country in the Western world to put an end to slavery.

The assistance of the slaves imported from Africa in the sugar cane plantations was far-reaching. One of the merits of using these slaves was that they were less susceptible to tropical illnesses. Slave trade involved almost all classes.

From the late 18th century up to around 1830, comprising the era of the Revolts in Bahia, the high and middle ranks were privileged to own slaves (Klein & Francisco 2010). The advantages of using the slaves from Africa significantly surpassed the charges to the owners.

In a period of two to three years, the slaves from Africa had reimbursed the cost of purchasing them, and the owners of slave plantations started to generate returns from them.

The owners of sugar cane plantations in Brazil made worthwhile profits for every year. There was strenuous labour in the plantations that engaged the slaves in digging up of trenches with the use of hoes. They then planted sugar cane in the dug trenches and spread manure with their naked hands.

Sugar and Slavery

The hunt for silver and gold was a regular subject in overseas development. However, there were other requirements that the New World as well gratified as they resulted in its growing participation in the Western-controlled world financial system.

Whereas Spanish America appeared to have mineral riches, Brazil, an American colony of Portugal, became the initial major plantation region, systematized to generate a tropical yield, viz. sugar, and meet an enormous demand and undersized supply in Europe (Schwartz 1977).

In spite of the fact that Portuguese had established tiny farming estates in some places like Sao Tome Island, the way to big farms in Brazil was slow but sure. The lack of great accomplishment made the Portuguese authority post a governor general in the year 1549.

In addition, there was the arrival of the Jesuit missionaries. By the year 1600, owing to martial activity, missionary action, or endemic illnesses, Indian conflicts commenced in a number of places. Great settlements were established alongside the coast region. The cities in the settlements, like Salvador, served the approximately 150 agricultural estates.

The number of the agricultural estates doubled, by the year 1630 (Schwartz1985). The slaves imported from Africa continued to be used to work in sugar plantations. The number of slaves had reached 15,000 in Brazil by the year 1600. By the same year, there had also been approximately 30,000 Europeans and 100, 000 dwellers.

The initial official Portuguese approach to the South American coast happened in the year 1500 after Pedro vares Cabral, head of a voyage to India, had discontinued for a short time on the tropical Brazilian coast, enjoyed a mass, and traded with the Indians.

Schwartz notes that, “there was not much at first to catch the attention of Europeans as they concern only the dyewood trees, which grew in the forests” (1996, p.89). Therefore, for a period of thirty years, the Portuguese crown did not consider Brazil, choosing instead to give permits to merchants who decided to make use of the dyewood to obtain tax advantages and services in return.

Force from French traders as well concerned with dyewood ultimately stirred the Portuguese crown to battle. The French had been driven away from the coast, and consequently, a different settlement structure was set up in the year 1532. A small number of Portuguese upper class members were provided with strips of land alongside the coast to take possession of and cultivate.

The upper class that held these captaincies merged broad, apparently feudal commands in a strong craving for commercial advancement. Most of them were short of adequate capital to perform the colonization, and several had continual difficulties with the indigenous Indian inhabitants.

In some regions, towns were set up, and colonists were taken over. Associations with the Indians were moderately nonviolent, and most significantly, sugar planters had initially used Indians, but afterwards they began importing slaves from Africa. According to Nishida, “transportation of the bought slaves from Africa to Brazil was made by ship where they were suffering in chains and put in packed conditions” (1993, p.315).

Throughout most of the subsequent century, Brazil took its place as the chief sugar producer in the world. Sugar cane necessitated processing in the field, cutting down and squashing in huge mills. The juice obtained was afterwards heated before it could form sugar crystals.

The dual practice of industry and farming in the agricultural estates called for large quantities of capital and amounts of labour for the strenuous work. Although there were also some trained employees or artisan professions, slaves did the majority of the labour. All over the 17th century, “there was importation of approximately 7000 slaves every year from Africa” (Leslie 1986, p.167).

By the end of the century, about half of the population in Brazil was made of slaves. Anchored in a sole product made by slaves, Brazil turned out to be the primary large plantation colony and a pattern that could be taken up by different European states in their individual colonies later on.

Brazil’s community continued to reflect its agricultural estates and slave sources even subsequent to the Brazilian financial system becoming more diverse. Slavery and agricultural estate structure imposed a sturdy social chain of commands. Families of the white farmers became nobility that had power over local political and social life.

Connected by concern and marriage to local traders and to the small number of Portuguese representatives and bureaucrats, this class dictated local establishments. Slaves were at the bottom of the community rank, differentiated by their skin colour and servile state as property (Bethell 1970).

Nonetheless, there was a rising section of the inhabitants constituted of individuals of collective origins, this was the product of miscegenation involving whites, Africans, and Indians who (in conjunction with inferior whites, liberated Indians, and freed blacks) served like small planters, liberated labourers, and herdsmen. In numerous ways, community as a whole echoed the hierarchy of the agricultural estate.

Similar to Spain, Portugal generated a bureaucratic arrangement that put together this colony within a royal system. The widespread sugar mills backed the building of learning institutions and churches, in addition to organising missions for Indian dwellers.

The Portuguese Empire comprised colonies and settlements in Brazil, Africa, and Asia. Progressively, Brazil developed into the leading colony of Portuguese in the 17th century. Sugar cane plantations typified Caribbean and Brazil by means of enslaved labourers (Graham 2007).

Though morally wrong in some aspects, the use of slaves in the sugar cane plantations conveys a representation of the situations in areas that also used slaves, for example, other agricultural estates not dealing with sugar cane.

Despite the fact that sugar from Brazil was characterized by excellent quality, the industry encountered a crisis at some point in the 17th and 18th centuries while the French and Dutch begun producing sugar in the Antilles, which situated much nearer to Europe, thus making the sugar prices drop (Doyle 2006).


Growing of sugar cane took place in large agricultural estates (plantations). Processing of sugar cane to sugar was also made within the plantations in houses where there were milling of sugar cane and refining of sugar. To begin with, the Portuguese depended on indigenous slaves to work in sugar cane plantations during planting, harvesting, and processing. Nevertheless, they soon started bringing in slaves from Africa.

Portugal possessed a number of commercial amenities in Western Africa. This is where buying slaves from African traders took place. Other European colonial authorities developed such a plan while colonising American tropical regions. Legal ending of slavery in Brazil happened in 1888 when an officially authorized act had been passed.

Reference List

Bethell, L 1970, The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade: Britain, Brazil, and the Slave Trade Question, 1807-1869, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Conrad, R 1972, Destruction of Brazilian Slavery, 1850-1888, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Doyle, A 2006, ‘The dynamics of slavery in Brazil: Resistance, the slave trade and manumission in the 17th to 19th centuries’, CEBRAP, vol. 2 no. 74, pp. 107-123. Graham, M 2007, Journal of a Voyage to Brazil, and Residence there, during part of the Years 1821, 1822, 1823, Hurst, London.

Klein, S & Francisco, L 2010, Slavery in Brazil, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Leslie, B 1986, The Cambridge history of Latin America: Colonial Latin America. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Nishida, M 1993, ‘Manumission and Ethnicity in Urban Slavery’, The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 73 no.16, pp. 310-317.

Reis, J 1995, Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprising of 1835 in Bahia, The Johns Hopkins University Press, London.

Schwartz, S 1977, ‘Resistance and Accommodation in Brazil’, The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 57 no. 6, pp. 69-74.

Schwartz, S1985, Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1550-1835, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Schwartz, S 1996, Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery, University of Illinois Press, Urbana.

Colonial Portuguese Brazil: Sugar and Slavery

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