The Other Slavery: Gold Mining and the ‘Peculiar Institution’

  • A. J. R. Russell-Wood
Part of the St Antony’s/Macmillan Series book series


Blacks in this captaincy enjoy an unusual degree of liberty in comparison to the rest of America. There can be no doubt but that the manner of life of the slave today does not constitute true slavery and may more appropriately be termed licentious liberty.

Such was the view expressed by the count of Assumar in 1719 referring to Minas Gerais. This assessment that the institution of slavery in the mining regions differed in form and substance from that present in the plantation or urban areas was to be echoed by crown appointees and by the colonists themselves.1 Even today Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, and Goiás are lands of stark contrasts in their human and physical geography. Perhaps it is not surprising that descriptions of their societies in the past should include oxymoron. Probably nowhere in Portuguese America as much as in Minas Gerais and the other mining regions was there so heightened a consciousness on the part of whites of the presence of slaves and freedmen of African descent; and yet nowhere were relations between masters and slaves, conditions governing labour, and the degree of autonomy granted to some slaves, to be characterised by such fluidity. Our purpose here is twofold: first, to examine the impact of gold mining on the institution of slavery in an economic context far removed from the plantation societies so beloved of historians, anthropologists, novelists, and poets; and secondly, by emphasising the functions, activities, and opportunities for initiative and self-determination open to some slaves in the mining economies, to illustrate the greater potential for making the physical, psychological, and financial transition from slavery to freedom.


Gold Deposit Mining Area Eighteenth Century Gold Mining African Descent 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    João Pandiá Calogeras, As minas do Brasil e sua legislação, 3 vols (Riode Janeiro, 1904–5), vol. 1, pp. 85, 222.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    For estimates of colonial gold production, see Calogeras, As minas, vol. 1, pp. 133–48; Roberto C. Simonsen, História economica do Brasil, 1500–1820, 4th edn (São Paulo, 1962), especially pp. 283–4;Google Scholar
  3. Vitorino Magalhães Godinho, ‘Le Portugal, les flottes du sucre et les flottes de l’or (1670–1770)’, Annales, Économies-Sociétés-Civilisations, V: 2 (April-June 1950) 184–97, especially 190–7; von Eschwege, Pluto Brasiliensis pp. 275–86, Boxer, Golden Age, pp. 57–60, 157, 258–9, and appendices 2 and 3.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    This account is based on Paul Ferrand, L’or à Minas Geraes (Brésil), 2 vols. (Belo Horizonte, 1913) vol. 1, pp. 21–67; Calogeras, As Minas, vol. 1, pp. 111–32; Antonil, Cultura e opulencia, pt 3, ch. 14. Observations by John Mawe, Travels in the Interior of Brazil, Particularly in the Gold and Diamond Districts (London, 1812), by J. P. von Spix and C. F. P. von Martius, Reise in Brasilien... in den Jahren 1817 bis 1820 gemacht, 3 vols (Munich, 1823–31) vol. 1, especially pp. 339–47, and byGoogle Scholar
  5. Richard F. Burton, Explorations of the Highlands of the Brazil with a Full Account of the Gold and Diamond Mines, 2 vols (London, 1869), complement von Eschwege’s classic Pluto Brasiliensis. As early as 1719 at least one hydraulic machine was in operation; APMSG, vol. 12, fol. 75. Cf. Revista do Archiv o Público Mineiro, I: 3 (July-September 1896) 420.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    On the alvará of 26 March 1721, see APMSG, vol. 4, fols 222v-4; vol. 5, fols 6 lv-2; vol. 16, fols 85v-6; vol. 21, fol. 3; vol. 23, fols 96–7; vol. 44, fols 102v-3; vol. 46, doc. 34; vol. 63, doc. 37. See also APMCMOP, vol. 7, fol. 15; vol. 9, fols 51v-2v. On the law of 19 February 1752, see APMSG, vol. 35, doc. 178; vol. 50, fols 56v-7; APMCMOP, vol. 9, fols 50v-lv; vol. 32, fols 165v-6v; vol. 63, fols 34, 130–1; vol. 69, fols 115v—16. In his ‘Instrucção’, Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, VIII: 1–2 (January–June 1903) 506–8. See also José Vieira Couto, ‘Memoria sobre as minas da capitania de Minas Gerais…’, Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, x: 1–2 (January–June 1905) 55–166, especially 78.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    On the fifths, see Manoel S. Cardozo, ‘The Collection of the Fifths in Brazil, 1695–1709’, HAHR, xx: 3 (August 1940) 359–79, and his Alguns subsídios para a história da cobrança do quinto na Capitania de Minas Gerais até 1735 (Lisbon, 1937);Google Scholar
  8. Robert A. White, ‘Fiscal Policy and Royal Sovereignty in Minas Gerais: The Capitation Tax of 1735’, The Americas, xxxiv: 2 (October 1977) 207–29. On the hardships imposed by this tax, see Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, II: 2 (April–June 1897) 287–309, 320–4; vol. x: 1–2 (January–June 1905) 78–82. The impact on miners of fiscal policy vacillations is described in APMSG, vol. 4, fols 247, 250; vol. 35, doc. 133; APMCMOP, vol. 9, fols 13v-14; vol. 60, fols 54v-9v.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 12.
    On revenues from import taxes, see Myriam Ellis, Contribuição ao estudo do abastecimento das áreas mineradoras do Brasil no século xviii (Rio de Janeiro, 1961).Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Antonil, Cultura e opulencia, pt 1, bk 3, ch. 9, especially n. 3 of the Andrée Mansuy (Paris, 1968) edition; pt 3, ch. 7; Schwartz, The Manumission of Slaves’, pp. 628–9, and his ‘Free labor in a Slave Economy’, p. 194; Sebastião da Rocha Pitta, História da America Portugueza desde o anno de mil e quinhentos do seu descobrimento até o de mil e setecentos e vinte e quatro, 2nd. edn (Lisbon, 1880) pp. 391–2; Flory, ‘Bahian Society’, pp. 67–8. Cf. Gomes Freire de Andrada to king, 29 December 1735, ‘sendo o mto vallor destes quem os arruina’, APMSG, vol. 47, fols 17–18. For further prices seeGoogle Scholar
  11. Leslie B. Rout, Jr, ‘The African in Colonial Brazil’, pp. 135–6 in Martin L. Kilson and Robert I. Rotberg (eds), The African Diaspora. For fluctuations of slave prices reflecting laws of supply and demand, see the recent study of the Chocó gold fields by William Frederick Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier. The Colombian Chocó, 1680–1810 (Norman, 1976) pp. 113–14, 118–22, 145, and tables 10 and 11 on p. 202. See also Bakewell, Silver Mining, pp. 122–3. The 1789 estimate by the councillors of Vila Rica is in their letter of 5 August 1789 published in Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro IV (1899) 790–1.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, II: 3 (July–September 1897) 511; population figures for 1786, 1805, 1808, and 1821 are published in ibid., IV: (1899) 294–6; see in the same volume ‘Noticias e reflexões estatisticas da Província de Minas Gerais por Guilherme Barão de Eschwege’, 737. See also Donald Ramos, ‘Vila Rica: Profile of a Colonial Brazilian Urban Center’, The Americas, XXXV: 4 (April 1979) 495–526, especially 517–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 23.
    Sabugosa to king, 23 February 1726, APB,’Ordens régias’, vol. 20, doc. 105a. This was a widely expressed characterisation of ‘Minas’; see Russell-Wood, Fidalgos and Philanthropists, pp. 51, 68, and Antonil, Cultura e opulencia, pt 1, bk I, ch. 9; cf. Jean Barbot, Description of the Coasts of North and South Guinea: and of Ethiopia Inferior, vulgarly called Angola; Being a New and Accurate Account of the Western Maritime Countries of Africa (London, 1746) pp. 156–7 and bk 3, ch. 18. See also APB, ‘Ordens regias’, vol. 14, doc. 49; APMSG, vol. 5, fol. 108; vol. II, fols 130–3v; vol. 29, doc. 3.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    Figures for Guarapiranga and Padre Faria, APMDF, vol. 22; vol. 39, fols 49v-108v. For Paschoal da Silva, see APMDF, vol. 39, f. 79v. On Vila do Carmo, see Lucinda Coutinho de Mello Coelho, ‘Mão-de-obra escrava na mineração e tráfico negreiro no Rio de Janeiro’, Anais do VI simpósio nacional dos professores de história, 1 (São Paulo, 1973) 449–89, especially 468–70; for Goiás, see Gilka Vasconcelos Ferreira de Salles, ‘O trabalhador escravo em Goiás nos séculos xviii e xix’, ibid., 599–637, especially 617. See also Julita Scarano, Devoção e escravidão. A irmandade de Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos pretos no Distrito Diamantino no século xviii (São Paulo, 1976) p. 107. ‘Minas’ were preferred in the Chocó also, Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier, p. 115. For the 1804 census, see Ramos, ‘Vila Rica’, 521. The fazenda da Costa da Mina was in Borda do Campo, APMSG, vol. 19, doc. 130.Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    Daryll Forde, ‘The Cultural Map of West Africa: Successive Adaptations to Tropical Forests and Grasslands’, Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, Ser. 2, XV: 6 (April 1953) 206–19, especially 208–10;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Joseph H. Greenberg, The Languages of Africa (Bloomington, 1963) pp. 6–42.Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    Donald Ramos, ‘Marriage and the Family in Colonial Vila Rica’, HAHR, lv: 2 (May 1975) 200–25; ‘Vila Rica: Profile of a Colonial Brazilian Urban Center’, The Americas, xxxv: 4 (April 1979) 495–526; ‘City and Country: The Family in Minas Gerais, 1804–1838’, fournal of Family History, III: 4 (Winter 1978) 361–75.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Ramos, ‘Vila Rica’, p. 522. See also Archer Jones and Robert J. Carlsson, ‘Slavery and Saving’, The American fournal of Economics and Sociology, xxx: 2 (April 1971) 171–7, and Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier, pp. 171–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 35.
    APMSG, vol. 23, fols 6, 101. On foundlings, see APMCMOP, vol. 12, fols 42, 118–20, 144, 147v-8. See also Feu de Carvalho, ‘Instrucção pública. Primeiras aulas e escolas de Minas Gerais, 1721–1860’, Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, xxiv (1933) 345–91, especially 347–8. On the finta and roda, see APMCMOP, vol. 120, fols 42, 118–20, 144, 147v-8.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    Von Eschwege, Pluto Brasiliensis, pt 3, ch. 5; ‘Memoria histórica da capitania de Minas Gerais’ (anon), Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, II: 3 (July–September 1897) 435. The basic medical treatise for the place and era is Luis Gomes Ferreira, Erário mineral (1735); see C. R. Boxer, ‘A Rare Luso-Brazilian Medical Treatise and its Author: Luis Gomes Ferreira and his “Erario Mineral” of 1735 and 1755’, The Indiana University Bookman, x (November 1969) 49–70, and ‘A Footnote to Luís Gomes Ferreira, Erario Mineral, 1735 and 1755’, ibid., xi (November 1973) 89–92.Google Scholar
  21. 38.
    Council of Carmo to king, 17 October 1744, Revista do Archivo Público Mineiro, II: 2 (April–June 1897) 289–92; Vieira Couto, ‘Memoria sobre as minas da Capitania de Minas Gerais’, ibid., X: 1–2 (January–June 1905) 78; Simonsen cited by Carneiro, Ladinos e crioulos, p. 22. Cf. Boxer, Golden Age, p. 174.Google Scholar
  22. 44.
    Fuller discussion is in Goulart, Escravidão africana, pp. 159–62; see also Luis Lisanti, compiler, Negócios coloniais (Uma correspondencia comercial do século xviii), 5 vols (Brasília, 1973), vol. 1, pp. div-dxxi, especially DXV. On Goiás, see Luis Palacin, ‘Trabalho escravo’, pp. 435–6 et seq. See Sharp on the profitability of slavery in the Chocó, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier, pp. 171–89.Google Scholar
  23. 50.
    This account is based on Jean Barbot, Description of the Coasts of North and South Guinea … (London, 1746), bk 3, chs 4, 11, 17, 18, 20, part of whose account relied on a Dutch narrative of 1600 contained in Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes, vi (New York, 1905) 347–9; John Atkins, A Voyage to Guinea, Brazil, &f the West Indies … (London, 1735) pp. 183–6;Google Scholar
  24. E. L. R. Meyerowhz,The Sacred State of the Akan (London, 1951)pp. 198–205;Google Scholar
  25. R. S. Rattray, Ashanti(London, 1923) pp. 300–15; Philip J. C. Dark, An Introduction to Benin Art and Technology (Oxford, 1973). In 1816 the Dutch governor-general in El Mina observed that the slave trade had contributed to the drastic reduction in the numbers of gold diggers;Google Scholar
  26. see Ivor Wilks,Asante in the Nineteenth Century. The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order (Cambridge, 1975) p. 679. Cf. pp. 244–5, 434–6.Google Scholar
  27. 56.
    This was a constant theme of the governor’s correspondence; 26 March 1718, 13 July 1718, 20 April 1719, 28 November 1719 (APMSG, vol. 4, fols 209v-10v, 214v-15, 218–19v, 238–9. One outcome of this fear was negrophobia embracing blacks and mulattos, slaves and freedmen. Typologies of slave resistance are discussed in George M. Frederickson and Christopher Lasch, ‘Resistance to Slavery’, Civil War History, xiii: 4 (December 1967) 315–29. Comparison of ‘plots’ and regions with majorities of persons of African descent might be fruitful;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. vide Richard C. Wade, ‘The Vesey Plot: A Reconsideration’, The Journal of Southern History, xxx: 2 (May 1964) 143–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 65.
    Álvaro Jara, Tres ensayos sobre economia minera hispanoamericana (Santiago, 1966); David A. Brading, Merchants and Miners in Bourbon Mexico, 1763–1810 (Cambridge, 1971);Google Scholar
  30. Peter J. Bakewell, Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico. Zacatecas, 1546–1700 (Cambridge, 1971);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. John Fisher, Silver Mines and Silver Miners in Colonial Peru, 1776–1824 (Liverpool, 1977);Google Scholar
  32. W. F. Sharp, Slavery on the Spanish Frontier. The Colombian Chocó, 1680–1810 (Norman, 1976).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© A. J. R. Russell-Wood 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. R. Russell-Wood
    • 1
  1. 1.The Johns Hopkins UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations