The major gold and diamond strikes of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries produced an unprecedented economic expansion, a complex urban society, and a rich Baroque culture in the inland region of southeastern Brazil that came to be called Minas Gerais. The mining windfall transformed Portuguese America and the transatlantic commerce that linked it to Europe and Africa. By the time the Portuguese crown fully acknowledged these changes and transferred the colonial capital from Salvador da Bahia to Rio de Janeiro in 1763, however, the inevitable depletion of the mineral washings was well underway. The accompanying economic havoc, first felt on a large scale around the middle of the eighteenth century and intensifying as the decades passed, resulted in severe social dislocation and political discontent.1 Long after the search for gold purportedly ended and the concerns of colonists turned elsewhere, the...

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