The case of Hermelinda Permínia de Jesus versus Roberto da Trindade de Jesus was apparently the last in a series of disputes over judicial legitimization to reach Brazil's Supreme Court in the late nineteenth century. Analysis of the litigation between the two claimants to the Jesus estate—one an illegitimate child, the other a former slave—reveals complex social and legal dynamics that surrounded debates over illegitimacy and family rights throughout the nineteenth century. Digging deeper into the life story of the African-descended grandfather whose death sparked the litigation, this article contributes to the historiography on household formation and property accumulation among a small black elite in Brazil's slave society. By following the fortunes of some of his legatees, I illustrate how difficult it was for African-descended Brazilians to transfer wealth to the next generation.

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