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The Abolition of Brazilian Slavery, 1864–1888  

Ricardo Salles

Brazil was the last Western country to abolish slavery, which it did in 1888. As a colonial institution, slavery was present in all regions and in almost all free and freed strata of the population. Emancipation only became an issue in the political sphere when it was raised by the imperial government in the second half of the decade of the 1860s, after the defeat of the Confederacy in the US Civil War and during the war against Paraguay. In 1871, new legislation, despite the initial opposition from slave owners and their political representatives, set up a process of gradual emancipation. By the end of the century, slavery would have disappeared, or would have become residual, without major disruptions to the economy or the land property regime. By the end of the 1870s, however, popular opposition to slavery, demanding its immediate abolition without any kind of compensation to former slave owners, grew in parliament and as a mass movement. Abolitionist organizations spread across the country during the first half of the 1880s. Stimulated by the direct actions of some of these abolitionist organizations, resistance to slavery intensified and became increasingly a struggle against slavery itself and not only for individual or collective freedom. Incapable of controlling the situation, the imperial government finally passed a law in parliament granting immediate and unconditional abolition on May 13, 1888.

Article

The African Presence in Central American History  

Robinson Herrera

Far from monolithic, the seven Central American countries—Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama—each have unique cultural traditions and historical trajectories. Their different geographies, while not deterministic in any facile manner, influenced their development in ways that continue to shape their national characteristics. The cataclysmic 16th-century Spanish Conquest introduced new peoples and cultural traditions to the region. African slaves, primarily from the sub-Saharan region, accompanied the first Spanish ventures, and, later, as the colonies consolidated and grew, peoples of African descent, both enslaved and free, became a part of the area’s economic and cultural landscape. Starting in the late 18th century, African peoples from the Caribbean—whether forcefully exiled or as a result of searching for economic opportunities—traveled to Central America. Despite a contemporary collective historical amnesia that imagines Africans isolated in specific regions, namely the Caribbean coast, peoples of African descent can be found throughout the Central American nations. Rather than addressing each country, a thematic approach that focuses on the Spanish Conquest, slavery, emancipation, the ethnogenesis of African connected cultures, the historical erasure of Africans, and the contributions of peoples of African descent helps to understand the complex ways that peoples of African descent have impacted the history of modern Central America. For far from isolated to small populations along the Caribbean, the African presence can be discerned throughout the region, even in places often perceived as entirely devoid of its influence.

Article

Africans in Brazil and Afro-Brazilian Religion and Culture  

Luis Nicolau Parés

Of the estimated 4.9 million African captives disembarked in Brazil, 70 % were shipped from Central Africa, 24 % from West Africa, and the remaining 6 % from the East Coast of the continent. Despite their diverse political and cultural backgrounds, Africans were classified by slavers with a discrete number of generic categories often referred to as “nations.” The enslaved appropriation of such external labels, like Mina and Angola—distinguishing Western and Central Africans respectively—resulted in the formation of new collective identities. The novel ways of colonial belonging and behavior shaped and expressed themselves as distinct forms of Afro-Brazilian culture when organized around social institutions such as Catholic lay brotherhoods or other African-inspired associative dynamics. Religious practice, including music, language, bodily performance, cooking and dress, became a privileged domain for African cultural production, subsequently irradiating into other secular manifestations. The colonial calundu, concerned with healing and oracular functionalities, greatly influenced by the Bantu-speaking people, coexisted and intermingled with the more ecclesiastical West-African traditions of initiatory ritual dedicated to the worship of multiple deities. Despite common elements of celebration, healing and mediumship, Afro-Brazilian religious pluralism was historically marked by an extraordinary eclecticism. Different local interactions with the hegemonic Iberian Catholicism, Amerindian healing practices and French Spiritism, together with the circulation of people and ideas between Africa and Brazil after the end of the Atlantic slave trade, led to a wide range of regional variation. This heterogeneous Afro-Brazilian religious field, prone to continuous discrimination and selective tolerance by the authorities, is stressed by a discursive contrast between the alleged traditional pure African forms and the mixed syncretic Brazilian ones, all claiming their share of legitimacy and ritual efficiency.

Article

African Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Rio de la Plata Region  

María Verónica Secreto

Historiography has traditionally divided the policy of introducing enslaved people to Spanish America into three periods based on the legal framework in effect at the time. These divisions are: the period of licensing from 1493 to 1595; the period of asientos from 1595 to 1789: and the period of free trade in enslaved people from 1789 to 1812. However, Spanish enslaved traffic did not end in 1812; it remained for decades thereafter, with the main destinations being Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spanish colonial expeditions to the Americas included enslaved Black people from the outset. The Instructions to Comendador Fray Nicolás de Ovando, published in 1501, contain the earliest reference to Black slavery in the West Indies. Supply was seen as an increasingly important problem as demand grew. Systematic mechanisms were needed to ensure a regular supply of enslaved people. The joining of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns under Phillip II, known as the Iberian Union (1580–1640), seemed to solve the problem of supplying enslaved labor to Spanish possessions throughout the world. The Rio de la Plata played an important role in the extensive route linking Angola to Potosí, which, together with its hinterland, constituted a rich market made enormously attractive by the silver mined from the mountain for which the city was named. The lure of Peruvian silver hung over the slave trade and the institution of slavery in the Rio de la Plata region throughout the entire slaveholding period. During the 1789–1812 period, local merchants and traders in leather, tallow, and timber vied for position in this profitable market.

Article

The Amistad Saga: A Transatlantic Dialogue  

Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez, Gibril R. Cole, and Benjamin N. Lawrance

The story of the slave ship La Amistad is one of the most celebrated and narrated 19th-century stories of the transatlantic slave trade. To fully appreciate the significance and impact of the events and circumstances of this fateful episode, it is important to examine its legacy from multiple points of the Atlantic world—vestiges of the triangular trade bequeathed by the Columbian Exchange. For a long time, the Amistad saga has been viewed from a very US-centric perspective because the dispute over the lives of the Africans rose to the US Supreme Court in 1840–1841. New archival and oral research in West Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean is rebalancing the narrative and revising the historical drama. Today, the Amistad story is widely recognized as a quintessentially Atlantic story, a story of mobility that moves back and forth across the Atlantic in multiple directions over many decades. The deployment of the phrase “Amistad saga” provides a vehicle with which to critique the socio-legal battles about transatlantic slave trading in Caribbean, North American, and West African history. The Amistad story is often described as pre-incidental to the US Civil War. The victory of African defendants is often framed as a self-congratulatory vindication of the successful resistance of enslaved Africans. The celebrated figure of “Joseph Cinqué” or Sengbe Pieh, the self-appointed leader of the Africans, and a replica of the ship itself are part of an Amistad memory industry that attempts to narrate the slave trade and its abolition. A new framework for teaching and understanding the history of the Amistad saga and its memory and forgetting through an Atlantic lens must combine historical and contemporary perspectives from the United States, Europe, Cuba, and Sierra Leone.

Article

Antislavery and Abolition in the Spanish American Mainland  

Marcela Echeverri

One of the major changes that was produced by the wars of independence and the consequent foundation of new republics across the Spanish American mainland during the first five decades of the 19th century was the abolition of slavery. The history of the abolition of slavery in this region illustrates how economic, political, and social factors were entwined in the Spanish American revolutions as processes that were at once embedded in the broader imperial and transimperial dynamics of the 19th century, yet also singular in the origins and consequences that the end of slavery had in that region due to its connection to republican formation and the integration of African-descended people in legal and political terms.

Article

Atrocity, Race, and Region in the Early Haitian Revolution: The Fond d’Icaque Rising  

David Geggus

Set within a larger analysis of class relations in the Haitian Revolution, this is a microhistory that intersects with several important themes in the revolution: rumor, atrocity, the arming of slaves, race relations, and the origins and wealth of the free colored population. It is an empirical investigation of an obscure rebellion by free men of color in the Grande Anse region in 1791. Although the rebellion is obscure, it is associated with an atrocity story that has long resonated in discussion of the revolution. Formerly the least-known segment of Caribbean society, research has shed much new light on free people of color in recent decades, but much remains to be clarified. In certain ways, they are the key to understanding the Haitian Revolution, because of their anomalous position in Saint Domingue society and the way their activism precipitated its unraveling. The Grande Anse region had a unique experience of the revolution in that white supremacy and slavery were maintained there longer than in any other part of the colony. Based primarily on unexploited or little-known sources the article demonstrates the range and depth of research that remains possible and suggests that a regional focus is best way to advance current scholarship on the Haitian Revolution.

Article

Barcelona Business Interests and the Atlantic World  

Yolanda Blasco-Martel and Jose Miguel Sanjuan Marroquin

Barcelona is an ancient Mediterranean Catalan city. It was inhabited by the Iberians, the Romans, and the Muslims, who turned it into an important port city. In the 10th century it became the capital of an independent county. It merged with the Crown of Aragon two centuries later and thus began a process of intensive commercial expansion that has characterized the city’s history of over the intervening centuries. The merchants from Barcelona were actively involved in trade with America in the 18th century, as were those from some other cities from the Kingdom of Spain. The last decades of that century saw the beginning of a process of population and commercial exchange that continued to develop through the 19th century. This process helped Barcelona become the first city on the Iberian Peninsula to industrialize. It is during this period that we observe the emergence of the indianos—individuals born on the peninsula who went to do business in America. Many indianos returned to the peninsula after the loss of the Spanish Continental Empire, others moved to Cuba and Puerto Rico, the last Spanish colonies in the Antilles. Around these individuals, commerce and business of all kinds were developed, giving Barcelona the appearance of an open and cosmopolitan city that it has maintained ever since.

Article

Beyond Slavery: Abolition and Post-abolition in Brazil  

Hebe Mattos and Wlamyra Albuquerque

What happened after slavery in the first slave society of the Americas? How did the abolition process shape post-abolition Brazilian society? On September 28, 1871 the Lei do Ventre Livre (Free Womb Law) signaled the end for slavery in Brazil. It created, for the effects of the compensation of slave owners, a general registration of the last slaves, which shows that Brazil officially recognized around a million and a half of them in 1872. How did these last enslaved workers live and politically influence the legal process that resulted in their freedom? Certainly they did so, since between flights, negotiations, and conflicts, the number of slaves fell by half over the following years. In this process, conditional manumission letters became almost like labor contracts, the results of negotiations between slaves and slave owners which gave expectations of freedom to some and prolonged the exploitation of the labor of others. In 1887, abolition seemed inescapable. En masse flights of the last slaves made it a fact, recognized by law on May 13, 1888. How could social relations be reinvented after the collapse of the institution which had structured the country, in all its aspects, since colonization? This dismantling would have consequences that were not only economic but would also redesign the logic of power and the architecture of a society willing to maintain distinct types of citizenship. Old experiences of racism and citizenship were redefined in the process. Former slave owners fought for compensation for their lost property until Rui Barbosa, an old abolitionist and minister of finance of the first republican government, decided to burn the registration documentation in 1889, thereby preventing any compensation proposal for around seven hundred thirty thousand slaves freed by the abolition law. With the Republic (1889), a new racialized rhetoric narrated abolition as the product of the republican action of the “emancipating race,” which guaranteed freedom without conflict to the “emancipated race.” It thus made invisible not only the fundamental action of the last slaves, but also the demographically majoritarian status of the free Afro-descendants in the Brazilian population, evident in the action of numerous black abolitionists. For Afro-Brazilians, the struggle remained to define their place and rights in society. More recently, the political action of the Brazilian black movement in the commemorations of the centenary of abolition (1988) established the idea of incomplete abolition, defining May 13 as the date of the struggle against racial inequality in the country and consolidating the post-abolition period as a field of historiographic research.

Article

Black Associational Politics in 20th-Century Brazil  

Petrônio Domingues

The population of African descent in Brazil has always maintained vibrant associative communities, whether in the form of mutual aid societies, confraternities, and religious brotherhoods that existed since the time of slavery or in the form of other voluntary associations that appeared later, such as recreational societies, civic centers, literary guilds, musical groups, carnival blocos, and the black press. For Afro-Brazilians, the associative experience throughout the 20th century contributed to a sense of group belonging and a consciousness of a shared identity and experience of racial discrimination. Furthermore, these relationships enabled Afro-Brazilians to begin claiming rights as citizens, protesting against what afflicted them as a community. These joint efforts fueled collective acts of resistance and self-determination that, while evident for centuries, acquired new meanings and manifestations following the abolition of slavery in 1888. Black associations did not limit themselves to denouncing problems or detecting their causes and consequences. They tried to point out ways to overcome them by proposing several solutions: the moral elevation of Afro-Brazilians, which implied a preoccupation with their image in the various sectors where they acted; improving their educational and instructional level; valorizing their race and, by extension, black identity; and emphasizing the need to react to injustices, and even to act politically. However, the main solution was the union of black Brazilians, a sine qua non for this segment of the population to strengthen and thus be able to claim and gain space in society, improve living conditions, and even overcome persistent challenges. Understanding the history of black associative life in Brazil during the 20th century is necessary in order to grasp the struggles and challenges Afro-Brazilians have faced around common interests, particularly since these collective actions are an integral part of the black experience and, in some respects, overlap with it.

Article

Black Brotherhoods in the Iberian Atlantic  

Miguel A. Valerio

Black confraternities or lay Catholic brotherhoods were colonial Afro-Latin Americans’ main site of social action and expression, striking a balance between rebellion and flight and assimilation. Modeled on the Roman collegia, burial of deceased members was a central preoccupation. Black brothers and sisters cared for infirm cofrades (confraternity members) in their own hospitals and other hospitals of colonial Latin America. They commissioned, fashioned, and maintained ornate altars and shrines for their saints, thereby engaging in artistic patronage and art collecting. They staged lavish festivities for their patron’s feast and other holidays, so dazzling that they were incorporated into local public festivities. But their festive practices were also seen by colonial authorities as unorthodox and even subversive. Yet, despite all opposition, colonial Afro-Latin Americans managed to avail themselves of religious brotherhoods to fashion meaningful existence in the diaspora through community formation, mutual aid, and religious and festive expression. Brotherhoods thus allowed Afro-Latin Americans to fashion group cohesion and a sense of belonging they would translate into political action in future generations. As colonial Afro-Latin Americans’ principal site of social action, confraternities offer us important avenues for studying black subjectivities and ways to account for black vocality in Latin America.

Article

Black Brotherhoods in the Portuguese Atlantic  

Alicia L. Monroe

Lay Catholic brotherhoods constituted important religious, social, and civic associations among African-origin and African-descended people in Portugal, West Central Africa, and Portuguese America in the early modern period (1450–1850). Lay Catholic brotherhoods (irmandades), also known as confraternities (confrarias) and sodalities, functioned as spaces of devotion oriented around one or more patron saints. In the Portuguese Atlantic world, free and enslaved people of African origin and descent utilized the associations to prioritize collective devotion, mutual aid, and burial rites for members. Mutual aid could include small payments during illness, assistance with manumission process completion, and internment of deceased members under the auspices of the sodality. Lay Catholic brotherhoods functioned as critical sites of transculturation and belonging for people of African origin and descent in the 1490s in Portugal, by the early 1500s in areas of West Central Africa with an entrenched Portuguese presence, and in Brazil beginning in the colonial period (1500–1822). Confraternities became a common facet of lived experience and religiosity for African and African-descended Catholic devotees across the Portuguese-speaking Atlantic world. Associations were governed by organizational charters generated by founding or elected directorate members that required approval from Catholic Church leaders, the Crown, and provincial-level state authorities. Confraternities had juridical personality and recognition from ecclesial and state officials as semi-autonomous entities or corporate bodies. Members could exercise and experience limited levels of autonomy, even in slave-holding colonial environments. Within brotherhoods in Portugal and in its overseas imperial territories, ethnic and racial stratification was predominant, but not absolute. Confraternities acted as institutional sites where West, West Central, and Southeastern African ethnic group identities held importance and deep social meaning across several centuries. Confraternity participants engaged baroque Catholicism, which emphasized collective action including celebration of the saints and related rites relying on music, movement, and festivities. Brotherhoods functioned as critical sites of proselytization, but also came to serve as spaces for local member imperatives that incorporated African cultural expression, esthetics, and worldviews.

Article

Affection and Solidarity among 19th-Century Black Intellectuals in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo  

Ana Flávia Magalhães Pinto

Brazil had the largest population of free and freed Black people on the continent, starting in the early 19th century, despite being the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery. The 1872 General Census of the Empire reported that six out of every ten Black or brown people could claim a series of rights associated with citizenship by virtue of not being enslaved. These included some individuals who were literate and active in the cultural and political spaces in which plans for the country’s present and future were drawn up. Especially in the second half of the 19th century, a time of deepening crisis for the slaveholding system, individuals such as José Ferreira de Menezes, Luiz Gama, Machado de Assis, José do Patrocínio, Ignácio de Araújo Lima, Arthur Carlos, and Theophilo Dias de Castro, all of whom were born free and resided in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, invested in their individual aspirations but also joined groups that defended the citizenship rights of free, freed, and enslaved Black people. Facing daily experiences of “color prejudice,” they not only participated in debates waged in the abolitionist, Black, literary, and general press, but they also played leading roles in the creation of mechanisms and instruments of resistance, confrontation, and dialogue. Although this aspect has not received much attention in recent historical accounts that recognize their existences, these and other Black intellectuals developed bonds of affection and solidarity over the course of their careers. To reflect on the scope of this shared racial identity in the latter 19th century and the possible impact of these ties on public positions taken by Black intellectuals, the demonstrations of friendship and companionship experienced by these individuals are traced, as well as by some others. An exercise in approaching the traces of different practices surrounding the politicization of race is given, and paths for future research on the social history of ideas and antiracism in Brazil are suggested.

Article

Charque and Tasajo (Salt-Cured Beef) as an Atlantic Commodity in the 18th and 19th Centuries  

Jonas Vargas

The use of salt for meat preservation and its subsequent consumption was a common practice in several societies on Atlantic Ocean coasts. By the turn of the 18th century, the production of salt-cured beef, or tasajo, began to be developed on a large scale and for business purposes, giving rise to important factory centers. The expansion of the transatlantic slave trade to the Americas was one of the main factors that triggered this growth. Tasajo and salted meat were used to supply the increase in demand for food on plantations in the Caribbean and Portuguese America, as well as for crews of all types of vessels that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. This historical process may be divided into two periods. First, throughout the 18th century, several cities in northern Portuguese America and in the Kingdom of Ireland stood out as important producers of this commodity. However, both declined by the end of that century. Later, at the turn of the 19th century, a more dynamic-producing area rose to prominence in the Atlantic, with ties to the commercial and capitalist expansion triggered by the Industrial Revolution. In the Rio de la Plata basin, the cities of Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Pelotas (in Southern Brazil) emerged as the foremost producers of this Atlantic commodity in the 19th century. By using forced labor for production (mainly in Pelotas), this second wave propelled the creation of thousands of new cattle farms in the Rio de la Plata, transforming the region’s agrarian landscape. Simultaneously, salted-meat production was harnessed to the expansion of the plantation economies in Brazil and in Cuba (coffee and sugar, respectively), and it contributed to the intertwined development of capitalism and slavery as well as to a greater integration of the world market.

Article

Coffee and the Formation of Modern Brazil, 1860–1914  

Rafael de Bivar Marquese

The coffee economy was decisive for the construction of independent Brazil. By the middle of the 19th century, the country was responsible for about half of the coffee global supply; in 1900, that number had increased to about three-quarters of the world’s production. In the Brazilian monarchical period (1822–1889) the center of the activity was located in the valley of the Paraiba do Sul river. Brazilian coffee production from its very beginnings demonstrated an inherent spatial mobility and a great demand for workers. Before 1850, labor supply was guaranteed by the transatlantic slave trade; after that, by an internal slave trade. The two basic characteristics of the coffee economy created during the era of slavery (the intensive exploitation of workers through the extensive exploitation of natural resources) were maintained after the crisis and the abolition of the institution (1888), when the center of the coffee economy moved to the West of São Paulo. Now counting on a new arrangement of free labor (the colonato) and on the subsidized immigration of European peasants, the São Paulo coffee economy in the new republican regime (founded in 1889) underwent a huge productive leap. Overproduction and falling prices became the new problem. The coffee valorization policy adopted by the State of São Paulo after 1906 and then the federal government indicates the reconfiguration of the class relations experienced in the new republican era, which nevertheless kept many of the historical structures of the slave legacy intact.

Article

Color and Race in Portuguese America, 1640–1750  

Ronald Raminelli

Color and race are important references for assessing the privileges and barriers that sustained or impeded the social ascension of New Christians, Africans, Indians, and mestiços in the Portuguese world. Questions of race and color had profound links with the Catholic faith and with social exclusion, especially of Afro-descendants. The ideas of race and racism are not static, but were forged over time. Initially, they were strongly influenced by Catholicism and later were incorporated into the scientific knowledge of the 18th and 19th centuries. Therefore, the terms “race” and “racism,” based on 19th-century biological determinism, are not suitable for discussing social relations in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Article

Digital Resources: Modern Slavery and the Slave Trade in Latin America  

Jorge Felipe-Gonzalez

The expansion of the Internet and computing technologies has transformed, heuristically, methodologically, and epistemologically, the scholarship on modern Atlantic slavery and the slave trade. An increasing number of primary and secondary sources are now available online. Archives, universities, libraries, research centers, and other institutions have digitized partially or entirely historical collections and archival records and made them public through digital portals in a variety of formats. Users can instantly access, analyze, search, share, transfer, visualize, and interact with a vast amount of historical data on slavery and the slave trade, which, in the late 20th century, was scattered across archives and libraries. The increasing Web presence of digital repositories on Latin American historical slavery and the slave trade is changing previous scholarly perceptions about broader demographic, historical, and social issues, as well as about the everyday life of enslaved Africans. Digital databases on the slave trade, for instance, are answering long-term historiographical concerns regarding the number of captives carried to the Americas, their African embarkation regions, or the nationality of the carriers. Digital repositories and databases help to better understand the African geographical origins of the slaves and their ethnicities, a key component in the formation of the Afro-Latin American culture. Digitized repositories such as baptismal, marriage, and burial archival records and databases on runaway or self-liberated slaves, plantation lists, or court cases are filling gaps in scholars’ understanding of the internal dynamics of the institution of slavery, which characterized most of Latin American history for about three centuries.

Article

Digital Resources: The Study of Brazilian History  

Álvaro Pereira do Nascimento

At least four major periods help to understand Brazilian history from pre-contact until modern times: the era of indigenous societies prior to 1500; the Portuguese colonial period (1500–1808); the experience of the Monarchy (1808–1889); and the Republic (1889–2019). Although the expanding and varied repositories offering digital resources do not necessarily cover these four highlighted periods thoroughly, researchers should still know them before navigating through the documents and images such repositories are making freely available to the public. Historical Brazilian digital holdings can be grouped into nine broad areas: (1) documents produced by national, state, and municipal governments; (2) records relating to specific historical moments; (3) sources for immigrant, indigenous, and African and Afro-Brazilian studies; (4) collections helpful for examining labor, industry, and plantations; (5) sources relevant for sex and gender studies; (6) materials for the history of science; (7) personal and private collections; (8) periodicals (newspapers and magazines); (9) and sources related to artistic, patrimonial, and cultural production. Researchers will find abundant sources about Brazilian society, political changes, the economy, education, commercial relations, wars and revolts, urban reforms, companies, violence, customs, and values, among many other topics and issues. Scholars and students can access interviews, photographs, newspapers, magazines, books, civil and parish records, laws and reports from government institutions, correspondence, music, movies, documentaries, maps, and much more.

Article

Domestic Service and Labor Laws in Chile and Argentina, 1931–1956  

Inés Pérez and Elizabeth Hutchison

The regulation of labor relations and social rights substantially changed workers’ lives over the course of the 20th century. Domestic service, however, was only poorly and belatedly protected under labor law, and its incorporation proceeded in a slow, ambiguous, and nonlinear manner. The specific ways in which domestic service regulation emerged in Chile and Argentina, respectively, offer insight into this process and also present some important contrasts, despite the nations’ geographic proximity. In Chile, although the rights recognized for household workers were limited, the Labor Code of 1931 included an article on domestic service. In Argentina, the first comprehensive regulation for this sector was a special statute sanctioned by decree in 1956. In both cases, the “special” nature of such regulation was attributed to the place of domestic service in family life. As domestic labor was reconceptualized through legislative reform in each country, household workers gradually came to enjoy some, but not all, of the rights guaranteed to other workers.

Article

Enslaved and Free Workers and the Growth of the Working Class in Brazil  

Henrique Espada Lima

Since the early successful colonial enterprises in Brazil’s territory, men and women forcibly transferred from Africa were used as enslaved workers not only on plantations and other agricultural settings, but also in protoindustrial contexts, such as in the sugar mills and the mining trade and metallurgy. Enslaved people were also a fundamental part of the labor force in the urban artisanry, manufacturing, and the early industrial ventures in the 18th century and after Independence in 1822. In the second half of the 19th century, the first drive of industrialization, in places like Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and São Paulo, was driven by British investments led by slave-owning entrepreneurs and powered by the intensive use of enslaved labor. Foreign workers brought to the country, Brazilian free manual laborers and other poor immigrants, freed, and enslaved people often worked side by side in shipyards, gunpowder factories, mining endeavors, railways constructions, and many other activities. In Brazil, especially in urban contexts, many enslaved men and women would rent themselves out, or they would be leased out by their masters, to perform a variety of urban activities, including working in the country’s many artisan shops and industries. In doing so, not only were they able to get financial compensation for their work by becoming ganhadores (enslaved wage earners), but, in that capacity, they also experienced situations usually associated with “free” laborers, such as wage negotiation, bargaining, and even strikes. Some of the enslaved ganhadores were able to buy their own freedom and carried their experiences into their lives as free workers. Therefore, both free and unfree laborers of African descent were present in a variety of trades and enterprises, and the multiplicity of their experiences shaped the dynamics of labor relations, identity building, political and labor cultures, and individual and collective action and organization in the long history of the making of Brazilian working classes. The heterogeneity that defined the Brazilian laboring classes, composed of people of African descent as well as poor White Portuguese settlers and other immigrants, united and divided by race, gender, nationality, legal status, histories, and cultural backgrounds cannot be stressed enough. It is crucial to understand how the institution of slavery impacted the social and economic relations of all workers, free and unfree, in Brazil even after slavery was abolished in 1888: its legacy of oppression, but also diversity, is expressed in the conflicts and collaborations that marked workers’ collective experience and impacted the transformations that the working classes underwent in post-emancipation Brazil.