A few years ago, a book reviewer described Gilberto Freyre as “a favorite straw man” among scholars interested in the history of the family in colonial and nineteenth-century Brazil. That may or may not be a true and fair statement. But, if true, it merely indicates the lasting influence of Freyre’s views and arguments on the historiography. In effect, Freyre’s first major work, published in 1933 with the title Casa-grande & senzala (literally, The Plantation Big House and the Slave Quarters but translated into English as The Masters and the Slaves), and its sequels remain basic points of reference for research not only on the family in Brazil, but also on a whole range of other topics and issues in Brazilian history.1

This essay, which also takes Freyre’s work as a point of departure, uses rare early nineteenth-century census materials from...

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