Brazil was traditionally depicted as a plantation economy dominated by slaves and slave owners. However, all recent studies have denied the picture painted so ably by Gilberto Freyre over a half century ago of a dichotomous society dominated by the plantation; in fact, most scholars have stressed that Brazil looked more like the United States than the West Indies in the relative weight of slaves and slave owners in the population.1 Our survey of São Paulo indicates that on average roughly a third of the population were slaves and roughly a third of the free population were slave owners. These figures are representative of most of Brazil, and compare favorably with those ratios in the United States in the nineteenth century.2

Although nineteenth-century Brazilian slave society differed little from the contemporary southern United States in terms of the size and relative...

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