An increasing flow of new books and articles is providing convincing evidence that Latin American slave systems were not nearly as benign as they were once believed to have been.1 It has been shown, for example, that the protection which religion and government are said to have granted slaves was often more nominal than real, and that laws promulgated to safeguard slaves or free blacks were often evaded or allowed to slip into disuse. Moreover, it is becoming more apparent that, despite comparatively harmonious relations between blacks and whites in Latin America, racial, cultural, and class prejudices and attitudes have been significantly detrimental to black people, both during and after slavery; that while slavery lasted, dark skin helped to strengthen and tacitly to justify the institution in Latin American countries; and that after slavery ended discrimination directed against ex-slaves and their descendants worked to impede their progress and to deny them the full benefits of citizenship and freedom.2

Such theories and their implications are supported by documentary evidence relating to the so-called emancipados of Brazil, a group of more than 10,000 nineteenth-century African importees who were legally free, but kept in a state of de facto servitude, some for perhaps as long as half a century. Because of the legal commitment of two governments (British and Brazilian) to their welfare and freedom from 1818 until 1868, documents referring to this group are comparatively abundant. As a result, their experiences in the Brazilian slavery environment may be known in some detail, thus providing insights into the ways in which Brazilian society viewed black men and suggesting the dangers and disadvantages inherent in blackness and African origin in that society, for free persons as well as slaves.

The peculiar status of the emancipados was the result of Britain’s interference in the African slave trade early in the nineteenth century and her imposition in 1815 of a treaty to prohibit the participation of Portuguese subjects in slave trading on the African coast north of the equator.3 In an Additional Convention of 1817, intended to enforce this partial ban on the slave trade, Britain and Portugal agreed that an international mixed commission at Rio de Janeiro, established to judge illegal traffickers in slaves, would also have the power to liberate Africans found aboard the ships which it condemned. According to the treaty, these Africans were to be employed as “servants or free labourers,” and each of the governments agreed to guarantee the freedom of those Africans consigned to it.4

In compliance with this agreement, in 1818 the Portuguese government in Rio decreed procedures for the employment of confiscated Africans. Such “freed” persons were to be turned over to a district official to be assigned to labor service or an apprenticeship lasting a maximum of fourteen years. Such service was to be carried out either in public establishments or for the benefit of private persons “of known integrity.” The latter, presumably slaveowners and men of property, were granted the privilege of renting such Africans at public auctions in exchange for a promise to feed, clothe, and instruct them in Catholic doctrine, and to teach them a trade or to perform whatever service was convenient. Moreover, renters of freedmen were to be allowed to renew the rental agreements as often as necessary until the completion of the fourteen-year term, after which the freedmen were to be without further obligation. This period, said the decree of 1818, could be shortened by two or more years for those persons who because of their “fitness and good habits” made themselves worthy of enjoying their full freedom sooner.

Ironically, the same decree ordered a less burdensome future for persons convicted of illegal slave trading. The term of forced labor to be imposed upon freedmen, presumably innocent of any crime, was to last for fourteen years. In contrast, convicted slavetraders were to be exiled to Mozambique for only five years, and such persons were under no obligation to work, to learn a productive trade, or to improve their habits.5 Significantly too, convicted slavetraders were often able to evade punishment with the help of tolerant officials, and some even reacquired their confiscated ships, undertaking new slave voyages.8 Freedmen, on the other hand, served out their terms if they survived, and none were exempted from the apprenticeship ruling, however cultured, trained or Europeanized they may have been. In fact, as will be seen, those who survived their apprenticeship were routinely kept in a state of servitude well beyond the termination date, and their children inherited the same de facto status, despite the provisions of the 1818 decree.

The emancipados may be divided into two groups: those taken at sea by ships of the British Navy, brought to Rio de Janeiro, and there liberated by the British-Brazilian mixed commission, all prior to 1845 when that court ceased to function; and a smaller group, with whom the British were less officially concerned, consisting of Africans seized by Brazilian officials and freed by Brazilian judicial authorities.7 These groups of “free” blacks, referred to here as emancipados or freedmen, are to be distinguished from the much larger group of Africans who were landed in Brazil in violation of the anti-slave-trade law of November 7, 1831, which declared such persons to be ipso facto free. The British often expressed concern for this larger group of illegally enslaved Africans, who must have numbered more than half a million; but as they were not apprehended or personally freed by either Brazilian or British authorities, their claim to freedom as individuals was not firmly established. Thus they were more readily blended into the slave population and are not included among the freedmen here under consideration.8

Exact statistics on emancipados are not available, but fragmentary information does exist. In 1865, after years of British insistence that information on free Africans be collected, the Brazilian government searched its archives and came up with statistics on 8,673 persons (see Tables I and II). Of these, 1,684 were recorded as dead, 1,890 were known to have received their secondary and final letters of emancipation, and 5,099 were thought to be still in bondage. Of the latter group, however, only 2,565 could be accounted for at that date, and the fate of the remaining 2,534 was unknown. Referring to the latter group, the British Consul at Rio wrote to the Foreign Office in 1865: “The remainder it is suggested have been stolen, have died and no return has been made of their deaths, and some few may have received certificates of emancipation.”9

Many, of course, were excluded from the record. An unknown number freed in northern provinces were missing from the list, including all those freed during the last years of the illegal slave trade in Pernambuco and in other northern provinces.10 Missing were 142 Africans landed in the northern province of Maranhão in 1826 from the schooner Carolina and there partially absorbed into the slave population. Completely forgotten were 518 Africans of a cargo of 1,000 seized after landing at Santos in 1851, 181 captured at Serinhaem in Pernambuco in 1856, and another 313 brought to Brazil on the yacht Mary E. Smith in 1856.11

Most emancipados leased to private persons were employed, like most slaves in Brazil, in agriculture or domestic service. In cities, however, they were sometimes used as pretos de ganho, hiring themselves to the public and giving a set amount to their masters. Many women were rented as wet nurses, their own children reportedly being either left to foundling homes or illegally baptized as slaves.12 Africans kept under the direct control of the government were used mainly in urban occupations. In 1821 freedmen from the schooner Emília (see Table I) were assigned to the illumination of Rio’s streets, to the police station, and to the water works, and three married couples were singled out for the upkeep of the Passeio Público, a fashionable square.13 Thirty years later (in 1851) freedmen could be found serving in the Misericordia Hospital, in powder and iron factories, in leper houses, in the Colégio Pedro II, the National Museum and other public places. Some worked in convents of the various religious orders, and others continued to light the city streets.14 Less fortunate Africans were transferred to distant parts of the Empire, sometimes at great hardship.15 In 1851 forty were sent to labor on a road under construction from São Paulo to Mato Grosso. Others went to the Itapura naval station on the Paraguay River in Mato Grosso, others to serve the Sociedade de Mineração in the same province. The iron works of Ipanema received its contingent, and at least fourteen were sent to Amazonas between 1854 and 1858.16 As late as March 1865, as Table III shows, emancipados still being held in servitude by the Brazilian government were working in military, educational, religious, industrial, and beneficent institutions, most in Rio de Janeiro, but others scattered throughout the country. Wherever they went, they usually received nothing for their labor except their food, clothing, and shelter. Private grantees paid their small fees directly to the government, not to the African workers, and, with some exceptions, freedmen assigned to government establishments also went unpaid.17

As already implied, the Brazilian government violated the laws and directives which it had itself drawn up to protect the emancipados. It did not guarantee their freedom, even after fourteen years of forced servitude. It failed to protect them from private avarice, allowing grantees to deprive them of their free status. It was careless in its maintenance of records, even losing sight of Africans employed in government establishments. And finally, it failed to grant them adequate living arrangements during some phases of its guardianship.18

From the moment they arrived in Brazil, often sick from the voyage, emancipados were badly treated. For many, the first stopping place in Rio de Janeiro was the house of correction, a city jail intended for criminals, and then confinement there was frequently unpleasant and prolonged, the prison serving at times as a permanent residence for free Africans working in the city. In 1838 a British observer gave a revealing account of 288 survivors of a cargo of three or four hundred Africans, mostly children, who had been sent to the house of correction:19

I called at this house of correction eight days after their arrival there, when 7 more had died, and there were then 35 sick, confined in a small room, laying on the floor, without bed or covering of any kind, with their heads to the wall, and their feet towards the centre, leaving a narrow passage between the rows. . . . . I was glad to get away from the degrading sight, where human beings were treated much worse than dogs, and all this under the cloak of humanity. On the November following I again visited the house of correction, and learned that out of the 288 sent there in June 107 had died; and a great many more were sick . . .

A petition to the Emperor written three years later described the inmates of the house of correction, including emancipados, deploring their lack of space, their bad food, poor clothing (“one shut of thin cotton of the poorest that there is”), and their punishment, “the most abominable in the world.”20 In 1843 the British Commissioners (members of the mixed commission) described the treatment endured by the free African residents of the same prison:21

The allowance given to them of food and clothing, is considerably below that of a slave, and is even inferior in quality. The provision for their lodging is a small room wherein at night these poor wretches are placed, or rather are packed. Their sufferings and privations can easily be conjectured.

As late as 1852, 677 Africans were still lodged in the house of correction, but only forty were recent arrivals, and the rest, presumably, had been there for some time.22

Since these “free” men and women were mostly young, highly valued as workers, and acquired at little expense, serious obstacles were placed in the way of their true emancipation during their entire existence as a class. Both British and Brazilian officials recognized soon after the status of emancipado was established that freedmen were subject both to cruel treatment and to re-enslavement. The British commissioners in Bio de Janeiro reported in 1826, just a few years after the auctioning of emancipados had begun, that local records on Africans were in such a state of confusion and neglect that “those whose freedom is guaranteed by the government are lost sight of.”23 In 1832 the Brazilian Minister of Justice, Father Diogo Antônio Feijó, revealed the precariousness of the freedom of newly imported Africans. The owners of slave ships, he told the General Assembly, were often able to regain their seized slaves through the issuance of false death certificates while their ships awaited trial by the mixed commission. The cruelty of persons who rented blacks, he added, “burdening them perhaps with excessive work, or denying them the support strictly necessary for the preservation of life, could excessively shorten their existence and make their condition more precarious and pitiful than that of the slaves themselves.”24

British documents reveal the hazards faced by freedmen who were rented to private persons, and the cupidity of officials responsible for their protection. The fate of one cargo, that of the Portuguese ship Carolina, seized and freed in Maranhão in 1826, is particularly well described. Within a year, according to diplomatic correspondence, most of the freedmen from the Carolina had been “falsely reported as dead, and surreptitiously sent into slavery.” Among the citizens acquiring their services, aside from planters, were the magistrate in charge of their distribution, his brother (them appointed guardian), and the president of the province who, about to retire, proposed to transport his allotment to Rio de Janeiro as domestic servants.25

A few of the Africans from the Carolina emerge strongly from the record. Among those distributed to planters was a man named Nicholas, Portuguese-speaking and a weaver by trade, who while still held in government housing witnessed the theft and sale of his wife. Though the latter was listed among the “dead,” Nicholas knew who had bought her and, complaining to the judge, was reunited with her. A black crew member who had served as caulker on the Carolina, and was among the liberated slaves, fled his master’s plantation to the house of the British Consul to complain that he and ten other freedmen from the Carolina were “hard worked in the field . . ., constantly flogged,” and fed a “miserable allowance of three pounds of boiled rice among them on days of labour, and nothing at all on Sundays.” The man’s appearance, wrote Hesketh, “proved the truth of his declarations.” The Carolina’s English-speaking carpenter, who had made two trips to London and one to Barbados in the company of a former master and who, despite his background and trade, was also serving a fourteen-year term of forced apprenticeship, went to the consul to complain of his employer’s refusal to provide medical treatment for a visible eye disease. A woman from the same ship, who reached Hesketh’s residence threatening to take her life if forced to return to her employer’s home, was described by the British Consul as “most pitiable, being a perfect skeleton, with her back savagely cut by flogging, and in such a state of exhaustion that her voice was hardly audible.” The freed woman told Hesketh “that her allowance of food was 3 ears of Indian com per day, and that she had been given a set task of carrying a quantity of stones each day, and constant punishment for not being able to complete it by dark.”26

Other visitors to Brazil noted the Imperial Government’s failure to protect free Africans. Claiming that such persons were never freed, a long-time British resident of Rio described their condition as “a thousand times worse” than if they had not been given their special status. The slavetraders, he wrote, “would have sold them to persons who, generally speaking, would take care of them upon the same principle that domestic animals are cared for . . . .” As free Africans, however, they were “unwholesomely crouched together, till their numbers are reduced by sickness, and the remainder are apprenticed for fourteen years, which ends in perpetual slavery.” Persons who obtained apprentices were always associated with the officials who hired them out, and it was understood that within a year or two they would appear to have died or to have run away. A “usual trick” was to produce a dead slave from the Misericordia Hospital or from a friend, to hold an inquest, and to declare the apprentice the victim of a natural death.27 At tunes such fraudulent formalities were dispensed with, and Africans were openly re-enslaved. Immediately upon landing in Brazil wrote the British Consul in Rio in 1865 in a description of this process, “different influential people thro’ whose hands they had to pass before being sent to the Judge of Orphans proceeded to choose and take from the lot those that they required or thought proper to take without making any entry or being in any way responsible.”28

It was the influential who acquired most of the free Africans. This was assured by the rule that rentals of freedmen were restricted to persons of known integrity,” the respectable individuals who were most able to pay bribes to officials charged with renting them out. In 1843 the British Commissioners in Rio reported that the office of Judge of Orphans, the distributor of free Africans, was “so lucrative and influential that it is not permitted to be held by the same individual more than four years.” Such persons, it was said, received “bonuses” from applicants for free Africans of 150$000 (150 milréis) for one man 200$000 for two, 250$000 for three, “and so in proportion.”29 In 1838 when a group of freedmen were advertised in the official journal, many persons applied for them, but all were allegedly rejected except the persons in charge of their rental, their “immediate friends,” and British members of the mixed commission, who in this instance were among the privileged.30 Legally, the number of free blacks who could be hired by one person was limited to eight, but applications were made in fictitious names. The British Commissioners were told in 1843 “that a person of rank and influence received no less than 80 liberated Africans without his name appearing in any instance.”31 The possession of such inexpensive workers amounted to a valuable state subsidy, and “persons of known integrity” responded. In 1838 senators and deputies were allegedly competing among themselves for recently freed Africans, and their distribution had become a means of favoring political friends. It was evident to the British Commissioners that “under the present system, and with the feelings prevalent on this subject in Brazil little distinction can be made between these negroes and those bought in the market, beyond the saving of the purchase money to the receivers of them, and the difficulty of their being sold to another master.”32

By mid-century, as the illegal trade was coming to an end, the situation of the freedmen had not noticeably improved. In 1849 a Brazilian opponent of the slave trade, Frederico Burlamaque, wrote bitterly of the mistreatment of free Africans in the anti-traffic journal O Philantropo. “Free African,” he protested, “signifies CHEAP SLAVE.” The free African, he continued, was compelled to work until death for the benefit of a guardian who laid out a mere eighteen milréis per year for his hire. Contrary to law, this guardian could employ his freedman however he wished, could put him in chains, could beat or kill him, could even sell him. The lot of the free African was worse than that of the slave, Burlamaque wrote, because the former cost his master only eighteen milréis, and what did it matter if an African obtained so cheaply died of hunger or collapsed from overwork?33

In 1850 the British Minister in Rio, James Hudson, described the emancipados as “most wretched, . . . ill-used, ill-fed, beaten without mercy and without reason, sold, false certificates given of their death, and, in short, every man’s hand seems to be raised against them.”34 The Swiss traveler, Johan Jakob von Tschudi, claimed as late as the 1860s that nearly all free Africans in the custody of farmers were treated as harshly as slaves.36 Whether distributed to private persons or to government establishments, wrote the historian Perdigão Malheiro, free Africans were misused and denied the moral and religious education and protection guaranteed by law. Having observed their situation in his capacity of guardian (curador) of free Africans in Rio de Janeiro, this legal authority on the slave system described their condition with some passion, suggesting that a major cause of their misireatment was their color:36

Belonging to the black race like the others, they were placed on the same level by reason of color; but, not being slaves, were treated not as well as the latter, or at best the same. Service and labor day and night; punishments; a lack even of necessities, or a scarcity of food and dress; they slept on the ground in unsuitable places, exposed to diseases; education was a dead letter. The children were cast into foundling homes in order to hire out their mothers as wet nurses, which caused the government to declare this prohibited by an order of April 11, 1846 . . . . In general [the grantees] had only in mind the extraordinary advantages to be gained from their services . . . ! They wished to live from the sweat of the free African, exactly as from the slave. The best regulations were evaded through the spirit of profit. . . .

As late as the early 1860s liberation for an emancipado was still unlikely. The difficulties encountered by free Africans in obtaining their letters of emancipation were, an anonymous writer informed the British Minister in 1861, “so great that they cannot through their own exertions alone, obtain those letters.”37 Another informant outlined twenty bureaucratic hurdles placed in the path of free Africans who petitioned for their freedom. These involved at least seven officials including the clerk of the Africans, the Judge of Orphans, the police chiefs of both the city and province of Rio de Janeiro, the general guardian, the director of the house of correction, and even the Minister of Justice. Those who enjoyed the services of a freedman, concluded the same writer, “do not commit the folly of facilitating his emancipation.”38

The reluctance to free emancipados, as Perdigão Malheiro observed, was largely motivated by the profits to be had from their services, particularly important in a society suffering an endemic labor shortage. One writer referred to “great advantages derived by the Government from the services of the Africans” and the “many fortunes” made by private persons.39 A Mr. Baillie, referring in 1861 to the “hopeless and irretrievable slavery” of the freedmen, explained that “members of the Cabinet are frequently personally interested . . .” He himself had been informed that the head of the current cabinet, the Marquis of Caxias, had “not less than 23 or 24 free blacks in his service, and the same may be said of many other Brazilians distinguished by their position and influence in this country.”40

A justification for renting freedmen to private persons was the alleged desire to finance their shipment back to Africa, an often professed goal of Brazilian governments aimed at averting the danger of releasing a large number of unassimilated Africans upon society.41 Repatriation was a stated aim of decrees of October 29, 1834, and November 15, 1835, both of which again granted individuals the right to hire emancipados, and some twenty years later it was still being argued officially that commitment to re-exportation and the Africans’ need of tutelage were the reasons for private rentals.42 Yet fees were kept low, favoring more the interests of private entrepreneurs than the goal of repatriation. The average rental cost of free Africans, wrote Perdigão Malheiro, was twelve milréis per year (Burlamaque had put it at eighteen), a nominal fee which allowed their guardians to gain more from their labor in a month than their rental cost them in a year.43 As a result, income from rentals was never a major item in the national budget. In fiscal year 1840-41 receipts from the rental of freedmen amounted to only 19:052$000, the value of perhaps twenty slaves at current prices,44 and by 1865-66, the last year the item was included in the budget, the government’s income from emancipados was only 2:049$000.45 Whether or not the fees provided enough money to transport thousands of persons to Africa, in 1868 only 459 were recorded as having been returned to their native continent.46 The cost of the Atlantic crossing was so high that even Britain was not prepared to spend the money when petitioned by a group of free Africans for repatriation,47 though to suppress the international slave trade the British government had been willing to maintain important units of the Royal Navy in Atlantic service for most of the first half of the nineteenth century.48

On the occasions when Brazilians acted in ways favorable to the freedom of emancipados, British diplomatic pressure appears to have been decisive. In response to persistent British notes, on December 28 1853, the Brazilian government promulgated a decree supposedly intended to promote the emancipation of the long-enslaved freedmen.49 Although this order provided for the liberation of all free Africans who had served private masters for fourteen years, it had little effect, as only those Africans who applied personally for their letters of emancipation were to be freed, an unlikely prospect considering their ignorance and isolation.50 Africans actually receiving their certificates, moreover were to be compelled to work and to live wherever the government ordered. The decree, furthermore, totally excluded from its doubtful benefits Africans in government service.51 The Brazilian Foreign Minister explained to the British Minister that government-held freedmen had been excluded from the benefits of the decree of 1853 because of “the danger or inconvenience which would result to public order from letting loose upon the population . . . a great many Africans employed in the public departments.” Many Africans, he added, if permitted to go free, might be “reduced to slavery by fraud and seduction . . . .”52 Nonetheless, by 1860, under continuing British pressure, the Brazilian government had begun to grant freedom to Africans in government establishments, though proceeding “gradually, preferring the most meritorious, and those who have served longest. . . .” The newly freed moreover, were not to be entirely unrestricted, since the Minister of Justice thought it inconvenient that they live in cities, and ordered a clause to be inserted in every letter of emancipation “that they are to reside in certain agricultural districts.”53

The British-Brazilian dispute over the free Africans simmered for decades, contributing finally to a crisis in British-Brazilian relations: the Christie affair.54 William Dougal Christie, British Minister in Rio, first raised the question of the freedmen in May 1860 in a dispatch to London. In November 1862 he was virtually ordered to demand the liberation of all free Africans.55 In notes to a reluctant Brazilian government Christie asked for lists of free Africans placed in Brazilian custody by the mixed commission,56 a request with which the Brazilian government did not comply until 1865. In July 1860 Christie began to communicate with Brazilian authorities concerning free Africans at the naval station at Itapura, a place he regarded as dangerous and unhealthful. And in March 1863 he was still remonstrating with the Brazilian government when relations between Great Britain and Brazil were severed, not to be renewed until 1865.57

Despite the break in relations, the Brazilian government began to meet British demands in favor of free Africans. In June 1864, by an act of the Justice Minister, 179 Africans (including 71 at the Itapura naval station) were granted their final letters of emancipation. Many of these had served more than twenty years, some as long as twenty-six.58 In July 104 more freedmen were emancipated, and 180 more in August.59 On the 11th of the latter month instructions from the Minister of Justice abolished the fees which freedmen had been compelled to pay to receive then letters of emancipation, an expense which for some had been a serious barrier to liberation.60 By a decree of July 16, 1864 the Brazilian government promised to grant aid to free Africans and their families, and other government orders issued soon after declared the freedom of the emancipados’ children and ordered their return to their mothers.61

The final act, the liberation of all free Africans, was decreed on September 24, 1864. Letters of emancipation, said this edict, were to be given to all emancipados in the empire “with the greatest brevity and without any cost to them.” Runaway freedmen were to be summoned by public notices to police courts to receive their letters of emancipation, and such letters were to remain on deposit until the fugitives appeared. An emancipated African might live anywhere, said the decree, but was obliged to register his residence at a local police station and to declare his intention to adopt some “honest occupation.”62 During 1864 a total of 993 Africans received their certificates of emancipation, a great increase over the 742 who had been freed during the previous ten years.63 The Justice Minister revealed in his 1865 report that Africans employed in the naval station at Itapura “who lately were the object of the most insistent demands of the English minister in this Court, . . . belonged to the first period of importation and to those judged by the Mixed Commission.” With them when they received their letters of emancipation were their children and grandchildren.64

The suspension of relations in 1863 hastened the liberation of the freedmen, William Christie argued in his Notes on Brazilian Questions. The Brazilian government, he claimed, had followed policies of delay in dealing with free Africans which could be likened to their reluctance to abolish the African slave trade.

Left to itself, [he wrote of the Brazilian regime] it did nothing; it treated for a long time with neglect representations of the English government; it did not answer notes. When obliged to reply, it protested that its dignity did not allow it to act while pressed by a foreign Government; it resented interference, and claimed to be left free to execute its own laws, forgetting that treaty stipulations gave a right to England to interfere. At last, after force had been used [a reference to naval action which he himself had authorized], and the English Government was known to be serious, and there seemed no help for it, it has done what it ought to have done long before; and it is now contended that this has been done spontaneously, and that all past reproaches are unjust.65

Even in 1865, however, emancipados were not assured of their freedom. By then Brazilian authorities seemed interested in liberating surviving Africans, but were hard pressed to locate all of the persons so carelessly distributed and auctioned off in previous decades, and many possessors of freedmen and even government officials were reluctant to co-operate. It was indispensable, reported the Minister of Justice to the General Assembly, to obtain statistics on those blacks “freed” by the mixed commission and by national authorities, but the irregularity of their registration and the high mortality of the Africans, scattered in all directions, had delayed success.66

Ironically, the Brazilian government seems to have been more concerned with finding emancipados than with freeing them. As late as March 1865 Consul Hunt reported from Rio that liberated Africans “employed in the Public Departments under the eyes of the Supreme Authorities of the State” remained in bondage. It was clear to the same official “that unless some further pressure be brought to bear on the officers charged with the execution of the Decree (of September 24, 1864), that the majority of these Emancipados and their offspring will die in slavery.”67 Only 565 had been freed since the liberation decree of September 24, 1864, Hunt wrote a few days later, and it was “feared that of this number a large proportion were aged and of little value as labourers.”68

There is evidence, however, that the government was no longer much at fault regarding freedmen in private hands. Every effort was being made, reported the Foreign Minister, José Antônio Saraiva, in late 1865, to carry out the 1864 decree, but the process would be slow and “must depend a good deal upon the Emancipados hearing of their right to claim their complete freedom and coming forward to demand their papers, which those who unlawfully hold them as slaves, are interested in preventing them from doing.” The defective state of the police in the interior, Saraiva added, “renders it almost impossible to detect and prevent frauds committed by the holders of Emancipados, who bring forward certificates of death, probably referring to some other slave, or bring proofs that the Emancipados entrusted to them have run away.”69

More than a year later the Minister of Justice announced that free Africans, “who for so long have been blended into the population,” still could not be adequately accounted for. Registrations which had been found normally contained only a name, with no indication of the freedman’s age or nationality.70 By 1868 the general registration of freedmen had not yet been completed, but 10,719 free Africans had been listed, an increase of more than two thousand over the report of 1865. Of these, 3,856 were thought to have died, 191 were runaways, 459 had been deported, two were in jail, 2,801 (a little more than a fourth of the known total) had received final letters of emancipation and 3,410 were unaccounted for. “Those who still are not enjoying the benefits of the Decree,” the Justice Minister ended, seeming to wash his official hands of the matter, “owe this either to their own negligence or to other circumstances independent of the authorities charged with executing it.”71

The emancipados, it may be concluded, were an extraneous group in Brazilian society living in a kind of legal purgatory between slavery and freedom. Thus their condition cannot be regarded as representative of the situation of the average freed Negro in Brazil, or of that of the average slave, whose condition was perhaps somewhat less difficult, as many contemporaries claimed. Nevertheless, the harsh record of illegal servitude to which these Africans were subjected strongly undermines the view that Brazilian slavery was decisively more tolerable psychologically than North American slavery because of a high likelihood of emancipation. Even as non-slaves the emancipados were denied liberty for many years by governments committed by law and international treaties to uphold their freedom. If conditions were such for a group theoretically free, the climate of freedom could not have been very favorable for the more-than-three-quarters of Brazil’s African-born residents who as late as 1872 were still in outright slavery—though none had been legally imported for more than forty years.72 The Brazilian government, closely allied with slaveholding planters and itself a product of a class-oriented slave society, emancipated the freedmen only after almost half a century of neglect and procrastination. Even then not all were found and freed, and many probably spent the rest of their lives in servitude along with hundreds of thousands of illegally imported Africans whose owners had evaded British warships and Brazilian authorities. The abuses inflicted upon the freedmen were in part at least a consequence of their race, origins, and African cultural traits, all of which were identified with servile status. Brazilians as a whole were accustomed to the sight of enslaved Africans, and even looked upon their enslavement as essential to the success of the national economy. As a result of these attitudes and a persistent demand for cheap servile labor, for nearly half a century no institution in the country was motivated to intervene effectively on their behalf. Both the state and certain monastic orders exploited their labor quite as long and as silently as rural planters. Although the state finally acted to impose belated justice, this writer has seen no evidence that the Catholic Church ever exercised its social and moral powers to liberate the emancipados or to protect them during their long “apprenticeships.” At the very least, these facts call into question the image of church and state as powerful mitigating factors in Brazilian slave society.


The thesis of a mild Latin American slavery is most effectively argued by Frank Tannenbaum, and Herbert S. Klein. For their major statements, see Slave and Citizen, The Negro in the Americas (New York, 1946), and Slavery in the Americas, A Comparative Study of Virginia and Cuba (Chicago, 1967).


Some of the works tending to undermine the old image of Brazilian slavery and race relations, listed in order of appearance, are: Stanley J. Stein, Vassouras, A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850-1900 (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1957); Roger Bastide and Florestan Fernandes, Brancos e negros em São Paulo (São Paulo, 1959); Octavio Ianni, As metamorfoses do escravo (São Paulo, 1962); Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Capitalismo e escravidão no Brasil meridional (São Paulo, 1962); C. R. Boxer, The Golden Age of Brazil, 1693-1750 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964); Marvin Harris, Patterns of Race in the Americas (New York, 1964); Florestan Fernandes, A integração do negro à sociedade de classes (São Paulo, 1964); David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, New York, 1966); Emília Viotti da Costa Da senzala à colônia (São Paulo, 1966); Robert Conrad, “The Brazilian Slave,” in Lewis Hanke (ed.), History of Latin American Civilization (Boston, 1967); Richard Graham, “Brazilian Slavery Re-Examined: A Review Article,” Journal of Social History, 3 (1970), 431-453; Carl N. Degler, Neither Black Nor White (New York, 1971); and the author’s The Destruction of Brazilian Slavery, 1850-1888 (Berkeley, 1972). Two important new studies of slavery in Cuba, which also question the older view of slavery, are Franklin W. Knight, Slave Society in Cuba in the Nineteenth Century (Madison, Wisconsin, 1971); and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Social Control in Slave Plantation Societies: A Comparison of St. Domingue and Cuba (Baltimore and London, 1971).


A Complete Collection of the Treaties and Conventions and Reciprocal Regulations at Present Subsisting between Great Britain and Foreign Powers . . . (3 vols., London, 1827), II, 77-79.


Ibid., II, 99-101. These provisions were reaffirmed in the British-Brazilian anti-slave-trade treaty of 1826, which incorporated the terms of the Additional Convention of 1817 in their entirety. See ibid., Ill, 34-35. Moreover, the anti-traffic law of September 4, 1850, which ordered the eventual deportation of such free Africans to their native continent, implied the government’s obligation to assure their freedom for as long as they remained on Brazilian soil. See Luiz Francisco da Veiga (ed.), Livro do estado servil e respectiva libertação (Rio de Janeiro, 1876), p. 8.


Coleção das lets do Brasil de 1818 (Rio de Janeiro, 1889), pp. 8-11.


See Conrad, “The Struggle for the Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1967), pp. 194-98, 201.


Leslie Bethell, The Abolition of the Brazilian Slave Trade (Cambridge, England, 1970), pp. 248-49, 380; Ferreira Franca to Hamilton, Rio de Janeiro, March 12, 1845, Class B. Correspondence on the Slave Trade with Foreign Bowers, Parties to Treaties, Under Which Captured Vessels Are to Be Tried by Mixed Tribunals. January 1 to December 31, 1845, inclusive (London, 1846), p. 280. (Henceforth British correspondence on the slave trade will be cited as Class A. or Class B., with dates.) For a list of fourteen ships and their cargoes, seized from 1831 to 1841, see Class A., 1844, p. 178. For information on 4,144 persons apprehended and freed between September 1848 and September 1851, see Tráfico, 1851, I, J, 6, 522, Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro (henceforth, AN).


Leslie Bethell (The Abolition, p. 390) has put the number illegally imported from 1831 to 1855 at 486,616. Like the emancipados, most were held in illegal slavery, along with their children. For an account of the illegal trade see Robert Conrad, “The Contraband Slave Trade to Brazil, 1831-1845,” HAHR 49:4 (November, 1969), 617-38.


Hunt to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, March 10, 1865, FO 84/1244, Public Record Office, London (henceforth PRO); same to same, Rio de Janeiro, March 22, 1865, ibid.


Same to same, Rio de Janeiro, March 10, 1865, ibid.; Class B., 1862, p. 124.


Gordon to Marquis Inhambupe, Rio de Janeiro, December 4, 1826, British and Foreign State Papers (1827-28) (henceforth BFSP, with dates and volume number), XV, 396-98; Dudley to Gordon, Foreign Office, May 12, 1827, ibid., pp. 404-05; Aracaty to Gordon, Rio de Janeiro, June 21, 1828, Class B., 1828, pp. 55-56; ibid., April 1, 1856, to March 31, 1857, pp. 247-48; ibid., 1862, p. 194; O Grito Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, July 9, 1850. For references to others not included in the 1865 list, see Relatorio apresentado á Assembléa Geral Legislativa na segunda sessão da oitava legislatura pelo Ministro e Secretario d’Estado dos Negocios da Justiça. . . .. (Rio de Janeiro, 1850), p. 12.


Agostinho Marques Perdigão Malheiro, A escravidão no Brasil, ensaio histórico-jurídico-social (2 vols., 2nd ed., São Paulo, 1944), II, 71.


Despesas da administração dos escravos libertos da escuna Emília, Cod. 263, AN. For lists of freedmen from the Emília, Duque de Braganza, Continente, Novo Destino, Orion, Cézar, Brilhante, Feliz, Diligente, Carolina, Especulador, Ganges, Leal, Paquete de Benguella, and the Asseiceira along with their carefully-drawn brand marks, see Junta do Commercio, Sunpressão do tráfico da escravatura, 1819-1840, Cod. 184, Vol. 3, Emancipados da escuna Emilia, 1818-21, and Vol. 4, Cartas de emancipação de africanos, 1839-40, AN.


Tráfico, 1851,1, J, 6, 522, AN.


Baillie to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, December 6, 1861, Class B., 1862, p. 93.


Colecção das decisões do governo do Imperio do Brasil (1951) (Rio de Janeiro, 1852), XIV, 33-34; Christie to Taques, Petrópolis, April 17, 1862, BFSP (1862-63), LIII, 1313-14; FO 84/1244, PRO; Relação da africanos remittidos para a provincia de Amazonas, I, J, 6, AN; Annaes do Parlamento Brasileiro. Câmara dos Senhores Deputados (1852), II, 227.


Howard to Earl of Clarendon, Rio de Janeiro, August 10, 1854, Class B., April 1, 1854, to March 31, 1835, p. 145; same to Limpo de Abreu, Rio de Janeiro, July 25, 1854, ibid., p. 148; Christie to Lord Russell, Rio de Janeiro, May 17, 1860, Class B., April 1, 1860, to December 31, 1860, p. 39. At the Itapura naval station in Mato Grosso, where freedmen were organized under military discipline, each individual was given an allotment of land and two free days per week, as well as daily wages equivalent to 212 pence for men and 114 pence for women. The ordinary price of labor was from four to six shillings per day in British currency. Christie to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, November 24, 1862, BFSP (1862-63), LIII, 1320; “Instructions respecting the free blacks at Itapura,” ibid., pp. 1321-22.


The treatment experienced by Africans freed in Cuba under like circumstances was similar. The Spanish government was also committed to guarantee their freedom, but they were sold to slaveowners and allegedly treated worse than slaves. See Arthur F. Corwin, Spain and the Abolition of slavery in Cuba, 1817-1886 (Austin, Texas, 1967), pp. 40-42; Knight, slave Society in Cuba, pp. 34-35, 102-103; Midlo Hall, Social Control, pp. 132-35. See also Klein, slavery in the Americas, p. 198.


Class A. (Further Series), 1838, p. 91.


Representação dos presos existentes nos trabalhos da Casa da Correção e dos pretos africanos que trabalham nos obras públicas da nossa casa, pedindo a intervenção de s. M. I., para melhorar-lhes a insupportável situação em que viviam, Rio de Janeiro, 1831, II-34, 25, 11, Biblioteca Nacional, Secção de Manuscritos, Rio de Janeiro.


Class A., 1844, pp. 178-79.


Relatorio apresentado á Assembléa Gerai Legislativa na quarta sessão da oitava legislatura pelo Ministro e Secretario d’Estado dos Negocios da Justiça . . . (Rio de Janeiro, 1852), p. 13.


His Majesty’s Commissioners to Canning, Rio de Janeiro, November 20, 1826, Class A., 182.7, p. 153.


Relatorio do Exmo. Ministro da Justiça, 1832 (Rio de Janeiro, 1832), p. 3.


Gordon to Marquis Inhambupe, Rio de Janeiro, December 4, 1826, BFSP (1827-28), XV, 396-98; Dudley to Gordon, Foreign office, May 12, 1827, ibid., pp. 404-05; Aracaty to Gordon, Rio de Janeiro, June 21, 1828, class B., 1828, pp. 55-56.


Hesketh to Canning, Maranhão, lune 30, 1826, BFSP (1826-27), XIV, 395-96; same to same, Maranhão, August 19, 1826, ibid., pp. 413-14.


Class A. (Further Series), 1838, p. 91.


Hunt to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, March 22, 1865, FO 84/1244 PRO.


British Commissioners to Foreign office, Rio de Janeiro, December 22 1843, Class A., 1844, p. 178.


Class A. (Further Series), 1838, p. 91.


British Commissioners to Foreign office, Rio de Janeiro, December 22 1843, Class A., 1844, p. 178.


Same to same, Rio de Janeiro, October 27, 1838, class A., May 1 1838 to February 2, 1839, p. 196.


O Phirantropo, Rio de Janeiro, July 20, 1849 (capitalization in original).


Hudson to Palmerston, Rio de Janeiro, November 11, 1850, class B., 1850, p. 319.


Johan Jakob von Tschudi, Reisen durch Südamerika (Leipzig, 1866), I, 180. For Tschudi’s account of the freedmen, see pp. 178-83.


Perdigão Malheiro, A escravidão, II, 70-72.


“Translation of a communication made to Mr. Christie,” Rio de Janeiro, January 19, 1861, class B., 1861, p. 46.


A. C. Tavares Bastos, Cartas do solitario (3rd ed., São Paulo, 1938) pp. 461-462. For the complete emancipation process in English, see “Extract from the Diario of April 2, 1863,” Class B., 1863, p. 51. For Tavares Bastos’ classic account of the free Africans and the slave trade, see his Cartas do solitario, pp. 119-80 and 453-65.


“Translation of a communication made to Mr. Christie,” Rio de Janeiro January 19, 1861, Class B., 1861, p. 46.


Baillie to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, December 6, 1861, Class B., 1862 P. 93.


“Extracts from the Correlo Mercantil of November 8 and 9, 1861,” Class B., 1862, p. 93.


Perdigão Malheiro, A escravidão, II, 52; Colecção das leis do Imperio do Brasil de 1835, II, 125-28; Limpo de Abreu to Howard, Rio de Janeiro, February 3, 1854, BFSP (1853-54), XLIV, 1239-41; Cowper to Earl of Clarendon, Pernambuco, July 18, 1855, Class B., April 1, 1855, to March 31, 1856, p. 238; William Dougal Christie, Notes on Brazilian Questions (London, 1865), pp. 30, 47-48.


Perdigão Malheiro, A escravidão, II, 71. The cost of hiring free Africans was “a trifling sum” never exceeding two milréis per month, wrote the British commissioners to London in 1843. See class B., 1844, p. 178.


This estimate is based on Table 6 in Stein, Vassouras, p. 229.


Resumo do orçamento da receita e despeza geral do Imperio para o exercicio de 1846-47, and Orçamento imperial para o exercicio de 1866-67.


Relatorio do Mínirterio da Justiça, 1868 (Rio de Janeiro, 1868).


Earl of Clarendon to Howard, Foreign office, January 16, 1854, BFSP (1853-54), XLIV, 1231.


See Bethell, The Abolition; W. E. F. Ward, The Royal Navy and the Slavers (New York, 1970); Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Madison, Milwaukee and London, 1969), pp. 231-235.


For a survey of British-Brazilian correspondence in the years just prior to this decree, see Christie to Lord Russell, May 17, 1860, Class B., April 1, 1860, to December 31, 1860, p. 39.


Regarding the need for emancipados to apply for their freedom, the British Consul in Pernambuco wrote: “This regulation, although apparently trifling, is an insuperable obstacle to a slave; he is illiterate and simple; he would perhaps be unaware of the expiration of his time of service, and if not, what would be the consequence of his announcing to his master that he intended to leave him? in all probability an undeserved bad character, the penalty of which is the House of Correction. . . .” Cowper to Earl of Clarendon, Pernambuco, July 18, 1855 Class B., April 1, 1855, to March 31, 1856, p. 238.


Veiga, Livro do estado servil, p. 11; Colecção das leis de 1853, Tome XVI Part II, p. 420.


Limpo de Abreu to Howard, Rio de Janeiro, July 15, 1854, Class B., April 1, 1854, to March 31, 1855, p. 145. Similarly, in 1863 the Marquis of Abrantes wrote: “It cannot escape the perspecuity of Mr. Christie, that serious inconvenience and dangers might result from letting loose at once among the population, without certain precautions, a large number of uneducated individuals, and without experience to guide them.” Abrantes to Christie, Rio de Janeiro, February 28, 1863 BFSP (1863-64), LIV, 415.


“Speech of the Minister of Justice in the Chamber of Deputies, 21st of July, 1860,” BFSP (1861-62), LII, 654.


According to Richard Graham, aside from hostile and violent acts committed by both countries, the issues involved in this dispute which brought a two-and-a-half-year rupture of relations were the status of Africans imported after November 7, 1831, the emancipados, and Brazilian slavery itself. See Britain and the Onset of Modernization in Brazil, 1830-1914 (London, 1968), p. 169.


Christie to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, May 3, 1862, BFSP (1862-63), LIII 1312; Earl Russell to Christie, Foreign office, November 8, 1862, ibid., p. 1319.


Christie to Paranhos, Rio de Janeiro, March 8, 1861, BFSP (1861-62), LII, 657; Christie to Taques, Petrópolis, April 17, 1862, BFSP (1862-63), LIII, 1313-14


Same to same, Petrópolis, April 17, 1862, ibid.; same to Marquis of Abrantes, Petrópolis, March 4, 1863, BFSP (1863-64), LIV, 416-17.


Morgan to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, July 4, 1864, Class B., 1864, pp. 73-75.


Same to same, Rio de Janeiro, July 20, 1864, ibid., pp. 75-76; same to same, Rio de Janeiro, August 3, 13, 1864, ibid., pp. 77-79. For lists of free Africans liberated from June 21 to August 26, 1864, see ibid., pp. 74-81.


“Aviso of Minister of Justice respecting Letters of Emancipation to the liberated Africans,” Rio de Janeiro, August 11, 1864, ibid., p. 80.


Perdigão Malheiro, A escravidão, II, 73.


Veiga, Livro do estado servil, pp. 15-16.


Relatorio do Ministerio da Justiça apresentado á Assembléa Gérai Legislativa na terceira sessão da decima segunda legislatura . . . (Rio de Janeiro, 1865). One of the emancipados freed in 1864 was a man named Cézar, who had been transported as a “colonist” from Angola to Brazil in 1838. Identifiable by the mark of a “V” branded on the left side of his chest, Cézar had been declared “free and emancipated” on July 26, 1838, “to be employed in conformity with . . . the Decree of 26 January 1818 as a servant or free laborer. As with the others, Cézar’s apprenticeship was to be limited to fourteen years, according to his first letter of emancipation, but on December 12, 1864, more than twenty-six years after he was first liberated, the Judge of Orphans at the city of Niterói again emancipated “the free African Cézar,” issuing a second letter of emancipation, which is now on file with the first in an archive in Niterói. A colonist, a freedman, and finally an “emancipated free African,” Cézar, like thousands of others in the same circumstances, had spent much of his life in slavery. See Documentos sobre a repressão ao tráfico de africanos no litoral fluminense (loose documents on government paper dated July 26, 1838, and December 12, 1864), Secretaria de Educação e Cultura, Departamento de Difusão Cultural, Biblioteca Pública do Estado, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro.


Relatorio do Ministerio de Justiça (1865).


Christie, Notes on Brazilian Questions, pp. xxxiv-xxxv.


Relatorio do Ministerio da Justiça (1865).


Hunt to Earl Russell, Rio de Janeiro, March 10, 1865, FO 84/1244, PRO.


Same to same, March 22, 1865, ibid.


Thornton to Earl of Clarendon, Rio de Janeiro, December 6, 1865 ibid. Italics added.


Relatorio do Minirterio da Justiça (1867).


Ibid. (1868).


Of 183,140 African-born persons, presumably including surviving emancipados, who were registered in Brazil in the 1872 census, 138,560 were still held in slavery. See Directoria Geral de Estatistica, Recenseamento da população do Imperio do Brasil a que se proceden no día 10 de Agosto de 1872 (21 vols., Rio de Janeiro, 1873-1876), XIX, 5; Conrad, The Destruction, pp. 133, 215-16, 287. During the nineteenth century Brazilian mulattoes obviously enjoyed more advantages than Brazilian-born Negroes, who were generally more privileged in Brazilian society than blacks born in Africa. See Herbert s. Klein, “The Colored Freedmen in Brazilian Slave Society,” Journal of Social History, 3:1 (Fall, 1969), pp. 30-52.

Author notes


The author is Associate Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. Research for this article was aided by grants from the University of Illinois and the American Philosophical Society.