Southeastern Brazil underwent a series of profound transformations over the course of the first half of the nineteenth century. Rio de Janeiro, the capital-in-exile of the Portuguese Empire, became the capital of a newly independent but also monarchical Brazil. The city was transformed by urban growth, a massive influx of African slaves, and the rise of wealthy merchants and coffee planters to the head of local society.1 Beyond the capital, other important zones in Southeastern Brazil also prospered as the result of domestic market forces and the pull of the Atlantic economy.

This portrait of growth contrasts with the conventional image of Brazil as a “sleeping giant” during the first half of the nineteenth century. Most accounts of nineteenth-century Brazilian economic history begin their story of growth and transformation with the rise of São Paulo as a coffee producer, then industrial center,...

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