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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

Indigenous Slavery in the Atlantic  

Miller Shores Wright

The capture, enslavement, and exchange of Indigenous peoples of the Americas predates contact between Indigenous Americans, Europeans, and Africans. Indigenous Americans incorporated captives into diverse communities in culturally specific ways that varied along a spectrum from chattel slaves to adopted kin. Upon contact with Europeans and Africans, the demand for Indigenous captives increased vertiginously to satisfy Europeans seeking laborers to exploit as workers and as a means to realize profits in Atlantic markets. Alongside European demands for captives, Indigenous peoples pursued captives to sell to Europeans or adopt to replace loved ones lost to disease, warfare, and slavery. The variation and persistence of Indigenous slavery in the Atlantic was shaped by the adaptation of various culturally specific Indigenous forms of captivity in North and South America toward commodified forms of bondage that had been developed on Atlantic islands and the West coast of Africa. In numerous locales in the Americas—such as the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, and Carolina—Indigenous slavery came to define labor relations between Europeans and Indigenous peoples after contact only to be replaced by the importation of millions of enslaved Africans. As the importation of enslaved Africans increased, Indigenous slavery became a labor strategy employed in borderlands between colonial and Indigenous communities. Colonists who could not secure the capital or access to merchants necessary to import enslaved Africans often turned to Indigenous slavery for their physical, domestic, and sexual labor needs. Indigenous communities exchanged captives for European commodities. This allowed for further acquisition of captives deep into the interior of the Americas through the exchange of European commodities or the use of European firearms in captive raids. Colonists frequently employed Indigenous slavery as a colonial strategy in competition with the desires of European imperial policies. With the monopolization of African slavery around Asiento contracts that supplied designated annual numbers of enslaved Africans to Spanish America and elsewhere, European imperial policy came to prioritize merchants who signed those contracts and the taxation, importation, and exportation of enslaved Africans. Colonial metropoles specifically outlawed the enslavement and exchange of Indigenous peoples unless captives were taken under specific conditions: frequently defined in Iberian colonies by “just wars,” ransoms, and accusations of real or imagined cannibalism. Colonists also employed Indigenous slavery as a means of displacement and removal of Indigenous populations, as can be seen in the exportation of Indigenous communities from English colonial possessions in New England, Virginia, and Carolina and in French Louisiana. Colonists and Indigenous slavers quickly learned how to exploit colonial stipulations against the enslavement of Indigenous peoples to blur the sources and nature of captives’ bondage as in Brazil, the Guianas, and New Mexico. The clandestine and illicit nature of Indigenous slavery resulted in the development of variable, adaptable, and persistent forms of Indigenous slavery that in certain forms still can be seen through the exploitation of vulnerable populations that exemplifies modern slavery.

Article

Portuguese America and the Vocabulary of Colonial Poverty (1500–1750)  

Renato Franco

At the beginning of the modern era, in Catholic spaces, the lexicon of poverty was linked to a vast semantic repertoire related to scarcity, impotence, and inferiority that was reorganized in theological and judicial sources after intellectual debates in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 16th century, when it was possible to observe another moment of change in reflections on the poor in Europe, the political incorporation of the natives of the New World and the advance of the enslavement of Africans added new challenges to governing the “poor.” Not only because it was necessary to extend the use of the vocabulary of poverty to populations that were little or not at all known, but also because the experience of the Americas presented an ethnical dimension of previously unexperienced proportions. In this way, whether in the Iberian peninsula or in the Americas, references to the poor assumed political perspectives that sought to intervene in the daily life of communities and which organized themselves under the ethical and moral precepts of second scholasticism. In Portuguese America, as colonization advanced, religious orders, ecclesiastic institutions, establishments that provided care and welfare, municipal councils, and administrative bodies formulated their own uses of this vocabulary through an intellectual heritage which added new forms of identification of shortage and necessity. Initially, this did not involve recognizing the material penury of city populations. Rather, it was concerned with developing justifications for governing free populations—whether Portuguese, Indigenous, African, or mestizo—which composed the political vocabulary of colonial spaces. In turn, enslaved Africans and indigenous people were integrated into specific social groups, defined by their judicial status and their moral minority, which excluded them from the civic language that characterized reflections on poverty in the Western tradition.

Article

Sérgio Buarque de Holanda and His Raízes do Brasil: Myths and Identities in Brazilian Culture  

Pedro Meira Monteiro

Roots of Brazil, the debut book of historian and literary critic Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (1902–1982), is a classic work of Brazilian social critique. Conceptualized in Germany between 1929 and 1930 and published in Rio de Janeiro in 1936, during the Getúlio Vargas government (1930–1945), the book attempts to make sense of the dilemma of modernization in Brazil. Focusing on the crises stemming from urbanization and, in 1888, abolition, Buarque de Holanda analyzes how these factors put in check the personalism that had governed Brazilian sociability since colonial times. In exploring the Iberian roots of the mentality of the Portuguese colonizers, as well as concepts such as the “adventurer” and the “cordial man,” the book reveals the contentious formation of democratic public space in Brazil. The limits of liberalism, the seduction of totalitarianism, the legacy of slavery, and new forms of labor are some of the themes explored in Roots of Brazil. Still central to the Brazilian imagination today, the book has lent itself to a diversity of conservative and radical readings, including those of the author himself, who revised it substantially and never felt fully satisfied with his initial foray into topics that would captivate him throughout his academic career.

Article

Slavery and the Pursuit of Freedom in 16th-Century Santo Domingo  

Richard Lee Turits

In the past, scholars of Latin America often assumed that Spanish colonists abandoned the Caribbean for the bullion riches of Mexico and Peru almost immediately after their conquest, while many Caribbeanists have imagined that Barbados, colonized by the British in the mid-1600s, was the “first black slave society.” Yet, in fact, more than a century earlier in the colony of Santo Domingo (then officially known as la Isla Española or simply la Española), European colonists built the first major American plantation economy and society made up mostly of enslaved people. Those held in chains on the island reached into the tens of thousands by the mid-1500s, and Santo Domingo became a pivotal crossroads in the early modern Atlantic. At first the enslaved population included thousands of people the Spanish called “Indians,” taken from other parts of the Caribbean and the Americas, and even an occasional enslaved person of European (Orthodox Christian or Muslim) descent. But after the mid-1500s slavery in Santo Domingo became isolated to people of African descent. This contrasted with the preexisting demography of slavery in southern Europe, where the enslaved were of more diverse geographic origins. Santo Domingo thus initiated a trajectory of racial and plantation slavery whose contours would shape the course of history in the Americas overall. Santo Domingo’s slave-based economy would also, though, be the first to collapse, at the end of the 16th century, partly because of sustained resistance by the enslaved—their continual escape and rebellion—that was costly for planters. The enslaved had composed most of society in the prior century. Now the majority were escaped and, to a lesser extent, freed slaves, living with substantial autonomy as independent peasants dispersed across the countryside. These themes are illuminated through an exploration of one of the earliest freedom suits in the Americas. This suit was won on appeal in Santo Domingo in 1531 through remarkable transatlantic collaboration by family members and sailors as well as through the evident power of notarized documents in the Spanish Empire.

Article

Transatlantic Family-Making: Jamaica and Great Britain  

Daniel Livesay

Forming and encouraging families in Jamaica was a struggle from the very beginning of English colonization there, making Caribbean households transatlantic in nature. The explosion of plantation slavery in the 17th century prioritized economic expansion over white family cultivation. Likewise, planters were more concerned with profits than they were with enslaved families. Constant migration from Europe and Africa was therefore needed to keep populations stable for the whole history of slavery in Jamaica. The island’s demographic and political security was always tenuous as a result of this, and officials attempted numerous strategies to encourage family growth, among both the free and enslaved communities. As the island transitioned to freedom, regulating the definition of “proper” families became a weapon from which English authorities wielded imperial power. Racist sentimental toward Caribbean households created social tension when thousands of black Jamaicans emigrated to Britain after the Second World War. Their arrival produced new British households that challenged some British conceptions of domestic family life. Throughout this whole history, migration defined the growth and character of families in the Jamaican-British Atlantic World.