It is generally accepted that there were few changes in the structure of the Brazilian colonial family, and that only in the nineteenth century did the power of the patriarch decline.1 This essay challenges the view of an immutable colonial family by describing significant changes in the practice of dowry between the midseventeenth and mideighteenth centuries that reflect a shift in patriarchal/parentai power.2 I have used the term “parental” interchangeably with “patriarchal” because my study of seventeenth-century Paulista society indicates that widows exercised the same patriarchal power over sons and daughters as had their husbands, and that wives, though subordinate to their husbands, shared some of those powers, especially when they acted as their husbands’ representatives during the men’s absence on bandeiras.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, Paulista patriarchs and their wives felt free to endow their daughters so magnificently that their sons’ inheritance was diminished, yet sons not only accepted this situation willingly but also worked to increase their sisters’ dowries. By giving their daughters such large dowries, parents controlled not only the marriage choice of their daughters, but that of their sons-in-law, undoubtedly influenced by the size of the dowry of the intended brides. One century later, in contrast, most Paulistas no longer offered such large dowries, losing the leverage a magnificent dowry gave over their daughters’ marriages. In those cases in which parents did give very large dowries, sons increasingly litigated, curtailing their parents’ right to favor their sisters. I will argue that these changes in dowry practices were due to a transformation in the marriage bargain that came about with the rise of a strong merchant class that changed the pool of suitors.

The changes in question occurred simultaneously with great socioeconomic transformations in the São Paulo region. Because it did not have the export crops of the Northeast, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century São Paulo was neglected by the crown, and it thus developed a society that was unique in Brazil. As in other regions of the world where state power was weak or nonexistent, seventeenth-century Paulista society was organized through the extended family or clan, which controlled all economic, political, and military activities.3

São Paulo’s economy was based in large part on exploratory and slaving expeditions called bandeiras that replenished the Indian labor force for Paulistas, or as an alternative, provided the Indian captives to be sold to other parts of Brazil, especially during the Dutch occupation of Recife and Angola in the second quarter of the seventeenth century, which slowed down the slave trade and increased the demand for Indians. In São Paulo enslaved Indians produced, among other things, wheat, flour, rum, and sailcloth, which Paulistas sold to other regions of Brazil, and even Angola.4 These commodities were transported by countless Indian porters over the rugged Serra do Mar that separated São Paulo from the port of Santos.

The first half of the eighteenth century was a period of rapid economic, military, and political changes in São Paulo that entailed both losses and gains for propertied families. After the discovery of gold in Minas Gerais in the early 1690s, many of the old families’ most enterprising members moved to the mining regions, but wealth trickled back and countless Portuguese newcomers took their place in the city. Though the extended family did not disappear, by the middle of the eighteenth century São Paulo’s clans had lost the absolute power they and their ancestors had enjoyed previously.5 After the discovery of gold, the crown aggressively sought to gain control of the region, thereby curbing the clans’ autonomy and diminishing their authority.6 Instead of being the main source of power, clans now had to manipulate the sources of power.7 At the same time, the virtual slavery of Indians permitted during the seventeenth century under the guise of their “administration” was finally abolished in 1758.8

The loss to the mines and to freedom of their plentiful Indian labor force weakened the great Paulista families that now had to compete in the growing eighteenth-century market economy in order to accumulate the capital to buy African slaves. The seventeenth-century expeditions had provided an infusion of labor to the São Paulo economy that led to increasing production and gradual development. The eighteenth-century Paulista expeditions for gold, in contrast, caused an exodus of both people and assets.

Agricultural production in São Paulo was stagnant by the middle of the eighteenth century. Immediately after the discovery of gold in Minas Gerais, São Paulo became the source of imports and local agricultural products for the mines. But when a new road joining Rio de Janeiro directly to Minas Gerais was inaugurated in 1733, trade to Minas bypassed São Paulo.9 Paulistas, however, continued to sell mules and oxen transported from the south to Minas Gerais, and after the discovery of gold in Cuiabá and Goiás, Paulistas supplied them on river fleets of canoes, called monções.10 The cargo of the monções only initially included agricultural products, since the high cost of transportation raised the final price of food sufficiently to stimulate agricultural production near the mines. The trade from São Paulo thereafter consisted mostly of imported tools, other necessary supplies, such as salt, and African slaves.

Not only did São Paulo’s agricultural sales to the gold mines disappear, but the various markets for exports through the port of Santos had also disappeared by the middle of the eighteenth century, undoubtedly helped along by the disappearance of slave Indian porters.11 Agricultural production in São Paulo during the first half of the eighteenth century was therefore mostly subsistence farming, with the sale of surplus to local markets. Portuguese crown officials, interested in the development of export crops, spoke in 1767 and 1775 of the “decadence” of São Paulo.12 To be sure, Maria Luiza Marcílio argues that eighteenth-century São Paulo could not have been decadent because it had never been ascendant.13 Seventeenth-century inventários, the Brazilian judicial processes for the settlement of estates, certainly show that there was no great monetary wealth then in São Paulo.14 Yet those same inventários show that the main resources of the seventeenth-century Paulista elite—land, labor, and military might—though not given a monetary value were enormous compared to the resources of their mideighteenth-century descendants. Eighteenth-century genealogist Pedro Taques was therefore probably right when he described seventeenth-century Paulistas in glowing terms as potentates, thereby implicitly acknowledging São Paulo’s later decline.15

Whatever may be the proper characterization of the period, the discovery of gold and the decline of agriculture led to a change in the principal sources of wealth in the city of São Paulo. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the wealthiest Paulistas were no longer planters but large-scale merchants, especially those who supplied the gold mines with slaves, tools, and other provisions, or those who transported mules from the South to the mines.16 Since trade was still frowned on, however, most merchants were Portuguese newcomers to São Paulo who married into Paulista families, and whose daughters would wed merchants while their sons would become planters, army officers, lawyers, judges, or priests.17

Paulista property owners continued to have a rural base, for practically everyone in the sample, including the wealthy merchants, owned one or more farms or sítios. The structural transformations were accompanied, on the other hand, by considerable change in the practice of dowry, even though there was no change in the laws regarding dowry.18

The analysis made in this article is part of a larger study on the disappearance of the dowry, which compares its practice in São Paulo in approximately the first half of the seventeenth century with that in the first half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth centuries.19 The documents used were inventários, which include not only the inventory of an estate but also the will of the deceased (if there was one), all litigation among heirs, lists of debts owed the estate, the demands of creditors, receipts of payment, the accounts of guardians of minor heirs, and the final apportionment of the estate among the heirs. Inventários are useful in the study of dowry practices because, according to Portuguese and Brazilian family law, dowry was an advance on a daughter’s inheritance.20 Since all legitimate children were necessary heirs—that is, they could not be disinherited—an inventário that had married daughters or their children as heirs to the estate usually included references to daughters’ dowries, unless they had received none, which the inventário would also document.

To make the longitudinal study manageable, I limited the geographic area to the city of São Paulo and its surroundings, and mainly studied inventários from the middle years of each century. To eliminate subjectivity in the choice of inventários, I created a sample for statistical purposes. The sample for the seventeenth century consists of all 48 published inventários that have married daughters or their heirs for the period 1640-51 in Inventários e testamentos (44 volumes, São Paulo, 1921-75); for the eighteenth century, all 68 manuscript inventários with married daughters or their heirs for 1750-69 in “Inventários não publicados” at the Arquivo do Estado de São Paulo.21 Since the date of an inventário does not correspond to the date when the deceased parents gave a dowry to their daughter, an inventário dated in the middle of the century could describe dowry as practiced up to 50 years before.

The Early Seventeenth-Century Practice of Dowry

A wife’s dowry was of much consequence in seventeenth-century São Paulo. Unless he had already inherited, there were mainly two ways a single man could acquire assets: he could go on a bandeira with an arrangement to receive some of the captives, or he could marry and receive in his wife’s dowry the property needed to set up a separate productive unit. Marriage was also the best way for a man to become independent of his father’s or widowed mother’s legal control. Though age of majority was 25 throughout colonial times, single men (or women) did not become automatically emancipated at that age, but had to ask for a judicial emancipation, so that most men and all women remained under their parents’ control until they married.22

The offspring of property owners in seventeenth-century São Paulo needed property to marry and establish themselves, yet parents typically channeled the necessary property through their daughters and not through their sons. Only 3 out of 35 families with adult sons had given gifts of property to those sons during their parents’ lifetime. In contrast, daughters never went into marriage empty-handed. Most of them had received a dowry: parents endowed their daughters in 43 out of 48 families with married daughters, 91.5 percent of the seventeenth-century sample.23 And every one of the married daughters in those 43 families had received a dowry. The four families that did not give explicit dowries were of widows or widowers whose daughters still took property to their marriage, their paternal or maternal inheritance.24

Such a large portion of a family’s property was spent on dowries that when Martim Rodrigues Tenório promised a dowry to his third daughter and her husband, he listed several of the items as fractions of his possessions. He promised a third of the fields he had planted, a third of the pigs he owned, a portion of his land, half his stock of tin, the house where he lived on the farm, plus his house in town, and he stated that if the houses were not acceptable he was prepared to build other ones or provide the money and land for others to be built.25 Clearly, Martim Rodrigues was willing to go to great lengths for his daughter’s marriage.

Most other parents also went out of their way to endow their daughters, so that many dowries consisted of much more property than what sons later inherited. For example, when Maria Gonçalves married in 1623, her father gave her, among other things, at least 16 Indians.26 When her father died 18 years later, her brother inherited only 5 Indians.27 The livestock in Maria’s dowry also compares favorably with his inheritance, for she received ten head of cattle and a horse and saddle, whereas he inherited only three pigs (see Table I).

The dowry or gift given to a daughter or son was legally an advance on that heir’s inheritance. The Portuguese code of law in effect during colonial times decreed that the estate of a deceased was to be divided only among those children who had not received a dowry or other gift, unless those heirs wanted to bring their dowries or gifts back into the estate, the process known as colação. Since all endowed daughters and heirs who had received other gifts from their parents were given this option of colação, a vital part of the judicial process was the formal question posed officially to each heir: do you want to inherit or not? If the heir refused, it meant he or she inherited nothing more than the dowry or gift received during the lifetime of the parent.

The process of colação was meant to ensure equality among heirs. When the dowry came in à colação, it was added to the net estate, then the total was divided equally among all children, and the dowry counted as part of the married daughter’s equal share of the inheritance, her legítima. If the dowry was found to be larger than the daughter’s legítima, she and her husband were expected to give back the difference to her siblings.28 We can therefore safely assume that most heirs who refused to inherit did so because they feared their dowries or gifts would be larger than their legítima.29

Declining to inherit was the most common practice for seventeenth-century endowed daughters, indicating that most daughters had received dowries that were larger than what their siblings would later inherit. Fewer than 10 percent of families in the sample had daughters who brought their dowry back à colação, and many times it was just one or two of a family’s married daughters who did so (see Table II). An example of the practice is in the inventário of Catharina do Prado. Though she had eleven children, when she died there were only three heirs because her eight married daughters refused to inherit.30 Since most endowed daughters in the seventeenth century refused to inherit, dowry in such cases can be viewed as given in lieu of an inheritance. Suzanna Dias’s will is quite explicit on this point. She declared that she was leaving nothing to her four daughters because in the dowries she gave them she had included everything that they could have inherited from her husband or herself.31

Endowing daughters often depleted the family’s property to the detriment of sons or single daughters, even if the dowry had not yet been paid when one of the parents died, for the promised dowry was considered a debt, and all debts were subtracted from assets before dividing the estate among the heirs. For example, when Pedro de Oliveira was presumed dead after seven years on a bandeira, his estate was worth 143$163, but since his debts mounted to 118$770, his wife’s half share of the estate was only 12$201, and each of his minor children inherited only 2$440.32 However, his married daughter, Antonia de Paiva, who refused to inherit, had received a dowry, 12$850 of which was still unpaid and included in the debts. This debt was therefore worth more than the entire estate left to the other children, and it was only a part of her dowry, the total of which was not recorded.33 Antonia was therefore much wealthier than her brothers or sisters, or even her mother.

Maria Leite’s case is another example of depletion of an estate for a promised dowry. She had recently married when her father, Pedro Dias Paes Lerne, died in 1633. His net estate was only worth 33$530. Dividing it in half gave his widow 16$765, and each of his eight other children received an inheritance of only 2$098. But Maria Leite was highly favored, for out of the sum reserved for payment of debts, she received her promised dowry of 80$000.34

Giving property to a son who was not a priest, on the other hand, was not common. Not only were there few families who gave gifts to these sons, neither were gifts to sons as large as dowries. The largest gift Messia Rodrigues gave a son was worth less than a tenth of the value of the largest dowry she gave.35 Manoel João Branco had also given his son, Francisco João Leme, a gift, but it was worth slightly over a third the value of the smallest of his two daughters’ dowries.36

Sons who were priests were the exception; they were the only sons to receive premortem gifts from their parents that were as substantial as their sisters dowries.37 This fact, in itself, illuminates the importance of dowry for young men in seventeenth-century São Paulo. All sons of property owners needed property for themselves in land and Indians to establish an independent life, but priests were the only sons who could not marry and receive that property in a wife’s dowry.

Though it was brothers who bore the brunt of the extreme favoring of sisters, they were encouraged to think that that was as it should be.38 Wills constantly exhorted sons to provide for their sisters’ marriages, and providing for sisters was one of the reasons most frequently given for joining a bandeira, as in the case of Estevão Furquim’s son who went “to look for a remedy for himself and for his sisters.”39 Since at least half the Indians brought back by single sons remained their parents’ property, sons did in fact contribute to their sisters’ dowries.

Only rarely did a male heir object to the favoring of his female relatives. One example is that of Ursulo Colaço, who complained in his will that his widowed grandmother gave such large dowries to her granddaughters that there was nothing left for him to inherit when she died.40 Yet his grandmother’s action is consonant with the prevalent practice among property owners in seventeenth-century São Paulo.

The favoring of daughters started early in their lives. Bequests or outright presents were bestowed on girls explicitly for their dowry long before they married, even in childhood or before they were born. For example, while Izabel de Proença was still a little girl, her uncle gave her a herd of cattle for her dowry.41 A clear instance of the explicit favoring of daughters over sons that was characteristic of seventeenth-century São Paulo is found in Pedro de Araujo’s will.42 When he lay dying in 1638, knowing that his wife was pregnant with their first child, he took into account the sex of the unborn child in his will. He declared that if the child was a girl, she was to receive not only her legítima (that is, her legal share of the inheritance) but also the remanescente da terça—what was left of his terça, the third of his estate that he could legally bestow after his funeral, masses, and other small legacies had been deducted.43 As his daughter would customarily only take possession of her inheritance when she married, he was obviously thinking of the property she would take into marriage, her dowry. However, if the child was a boy, Pedro did not want the remanescente to go to his son, but instead to his wife.44

When a single daughter received the remanescente, it meant she took to marriage much more property than her brothers inherited. Thus, in 1643, after being absent seven years in the sertão, Domingos Cordeiro was presumed dead and his estate was settled according to the will in which he left his remanescente to his single daughter Antonia. Each of Antonia’s two surviving brothers received legítimas of 33$763, but she received that amount plus the remanescente, a total of 84$410, more than twice her brothers’ inheritance.45

The manner in which wives contributed greatly to their marriages is well exemplified by the case of Maria de Proença, daughter of Baltazar Fernandes and his wife Izabel de Proença. On May 6, 1641, the parents went to the home and office of the Parnaíba notary to register a dowry contract for their daughter and her future husband, João Borralho Dalmada. Before the notary and other witnesses, they jointly promised to give the following in dowry to their daughter and her husband:

First, their daughter dressed in black satin, with two other fine dresses and gold earrings and a gold necklace.46

A bed with its curtains and linens, a table and six chairs, a buffet, tablecloths and towels, 30 china dishes, two chests with their locks, a large and a small copper pot.

A farm in São Sebastião with a tiled house, a field of mandioca, and a field of cotton.

A house in town.

Twenty agricultural tools.

Two African slaves.

Thirty Indians.

One boat or canoe with oars.

Five hundred alqueires of flour placed in Santos.47

Maria de Proença’s dowry illustrates the principal characteristic of seventeenth-century Paulista dowries: large or small, they all contained the means of production and Indians or African slaves necessary to start a new enterprise. Large dowries included other objects such as clothes for the bride, jewels, bed and table linens, and other housekeeping objects which smaller dowries lacked. Antonia Dias received a dowry consisting of a dress and four Indians, while Beatriz Rodrigues only received nine Indians.48 Maria Vidal received one dress, a cow, two sheets of silver, and two Indians.49 A wife’s contribution of Indians was particularly vital to the support of her new family, for the labor of those Indians provided their own and the family’s subsistence plus commodities to sell.

Though Indians were the most frequent component of dowries, the larger dowries included other important means of production, such as land and houses and maybe one or two African slaves. Many women received cattle, pigs, or horses. Others received planted fields of cotton, wheat, or manioc, ready for harvest. Because of the lack of specie, few women received cash; instead they got commodities ready for sale, such as loads of flour or wheat, which would be sold to supply the capital for buying cattle, tools, and supplies.

The most obvious advantage to parents of giving large dowries to daughters and little to sons was the leverage they obtained in the arrangement of marriages. This is quite clearly suggested by the case of Raphael de Oliveira, who had his stepdaughter, the daughter of his second wife by her first husband, marry his son by his first wife. He gave his stepdaughter a dowry that included her maternal inheritance, yet, when he died 20 years later, he had still not paid his son, her husband, his maternal inheritance.50 Certainly, if Raphael de Oliveira’s son had received his maternal inheritance and thereby become independent from his father, he might not have married the girl his father wanted him to marry. Indeed, he might not have married at all, contenting himself with an Indian concubine instead.

Though most patriarchs and their wives did not control both bride and groom as Raphael de Oliveira did, his example illuminates how dowry allowed parents to control the way in which their family and class were reproduced. When parents gave dowries to their daughters, but not equivalent gifts to their sons (which might make them independent to marry the woman of their choice), they were both retaining control of whom their daughters married and ensuring that their sons married women of their class, the only women who could provide dowries such as those their sisters received.

Besides helping to dictate who married whom, large dowries also influenced where the new couple lived. Captain João Mendes Giraldo of the village of Parnaíba was quite explicit about endowing his daughter with a house in order to have her live near her parents. In the document he made listing his daughter’s dowry, he said that he would give his son-in-law a house with a tiled roof in Parnaiba, if the newlyweds lived in Parnaíba. If they did not, he did not consider himself under any obligation to give them a house.51 This was a forceful condition, considering that his future son-in-law lived in São Paulo, not Parnaíba. Indeed, whenever dowries included land and houses, they had the potential to determine the residence of the couple. Of 33 seventeenth-century Paulista dowries, 17 contained land, 9 of which also included an urban house, while 8 other dowries had just an urban house.52 Those 25 couples who received land or houses in their dowries would naturally tend to live near the wife’s family.

How did men’s economic contribution to the marriage compare with that made by their wives with their dowries? The marriage system used in Portugal and Brazil was of complete community property, in which the dowry and any other property brought by husband or wife to the marriage disappeared into the couple’s pool of goods; it was therefore not listed separately when either of the spouses died, making it difficult to learn how much a husband had contributed to marriage. However, in some midseventeenth-century cases we know the wife’s dowry and the estate of at least one of the parents of the groom, so we can arrive at an approximate idea of what each brought to the marriage. We find that in the several cases examined the wife contributed much more property than her husband: this was true of Thomazia Pires and her husband Francisco de Godoy, and of Anna Pires and her husband João da Cunha. Thomazia and Francisco both contributed approximately the same number of Indians to their marriage, but Francisco inherited from both parents only one-ninth the other assets Thomazia brought in dowry.53 In the case of Anna Pires, her dowry contained twice the number of Indians and twice the quantity of other assets that her husband inherited from his parents.54

Pedro d’Araujo also contributed much less than his wife to the marriage. The information we have about him is more clear-cut than the preceding cases because he died shortly after he married Izabel Mendes.55 His wife’s dowry is listed in his inventário and can therefore be subtracted from the total assets owned by the couple to reveal that both husband and wife contributed approximately the same amount of moveable goods, but that Izabel’s dowry included five hundred braças of land. Though Pedro had several fields planted with different crops, he did not have title to any land.56 The Indians that Izabel contributed were likewise more numerous than those her husband owned. Pedro had brought 4 Indians back from an expedition to the sertão, which, added to the Indians he had received when his father died, made a total of 18 adult Indians with some children.57 His wife’s dowry included 30 adult Indians: 20 to do agricultural work (10 men and 10 women and their children), equipped with the requisite tools, plus 10 women for service in the house.58 Izabel therefore provided almost two-thirds of the couple’s labor force.

Precisely because a bride’s dowry in seventeenth-century São Paulo was usually larger than the property the groom took to marriage, the marriage bargain was weighted in favor of the wife and her family, giving the latter leverage in choosing a husband for their daughter, in determining where the couple would live, and in overseeing how the property was administered. Even though brides thus married down economically, the bargain was likely to be evened out through the grooms’ white blood, membership in an important clan, claim to nobility, technological expertise, or just hard work. The fact that a daughter’s marriage thus expanded the family’s alliances, while incorporating another male into its military, political, or economic projects, was sufficient reason for her dowry to take precedence among the family’s expenditures.

Though in matters of inheritance brothers bore the brunt of the favoring of their sisters, the practice I have described of wives taking more property to marriage than their husbands naturally gave the brothers the opportunity of marrying women with large dowries. The final outcome was therefore approximate equality between married brothers and sisters. By the middle of the eighteenth century, however, this equality no longer existed.

The Early Eighteenth-Century Practice of Dowry

By the first half of the eighteenth century, though dowry was still important, its practice had altered. Daughters still received substantial dowries, but the inequality between dowries and sons’ inheritance was not as pronounced as in the preceding century. When favoritism on the earlier scale was attempted, this expression of patriarchal will was likely to be curtailed by a strict interpretation of the law brought about through the intervention of the state and the efforts of other heirs.

Most families of property owners in the first half of the eighteenth century still gave their daughters dowries, even if the proportion was slightly smaller than in the preceding century. Eighty-one percent of the families in the eighteenth-century sample endowed their daughters, as against 91.5 percent in the seventeenth century.59 Five of the 13 families (out of 68) which did not endow their daughters were those of widows or widowers who allowed them to marry only with their inheritance, and two were families that had not endowed the husband’s illegitimate daughters.

There were, however, six families that let their daughters marry empty-handed. It is probable that they could not easily afford to give dowries, for they had relatively small estates, lying within the less wealthy half of the sample. The largest property owner of the six families was João Fernandes da Costa, who owned a farm in the bairro of Santana, cattle, and ten slaves, yet his estate was worth less than 2 percent of the largest estate in the sample.60 Besides one married daughter who had not received a dowry, he also had a single daughter over 25 who was emancipated. We can speculate that a dowry might have facilitated her marriage or, looked at from another angle, curtailed her independence. The other five families with small estates that did not give dowries had much less property than João, and the scarcity of their assets undoubtedly determined their decision.

The existence of a small number of property-owning families that allowed their daughters to marry empty-handed was itself a change from the practice a hundred years before. No daughter of proprietors in seventeenth-century São Paulo married without property, for, as we saw above, all families in the sample either endowed their daughters or had them marry with their inheritance.61

Most eighteenth-century Paulista property owners continued to give dowries, even if they were not quite as large as those of the preceding century. In the seventeenth century, the dowry of every married daughter in a family was usually much larger than the legítima. Though many dowries are listed in inventários, most married daughters refused to inherit, so that we do not know the monetary value of both the dowry and the legítima except in five cases, which were not necessarily of the largest dowry given in the family. In those five cases, the average dowry was 250 percent of the legítima. In the eighteenth century, on the other hand, while dowries were still sizable, in each family usually only one or at the most two married daughters received dowries of greater value than their legítima. Using the value of the largest dowry given by each family in the sample, I found that their average size was one and one half the daughter’s subsequent legítima. However, the richer the estate, as measured by the number of slaves owned, the smaller the proportion of the legítima represented by the largest dowry.62 And in none of the inventários of my eighteenth-century sample were there disparities such as that between Maria Leite’s dowry worth 80$000 in 1633 and her siblings’ inheritance of only 2$098 each.

Because eighteenth-century dowries were relatively not as large as in the seventeenth century, most married daughters did not refuse to inherit but instead brought their dowries back into the estate, à colação. In over 60 percent of the families of the sample all married daughters brought their dowries à colação, while another 16 percent had some daughters coming in à colação. This meant that in only 22 percent of eighteenth-century families did all endowed daughters refuse to inherit, compared to 90 percent in the preceding century63 (see Table II).

This change was one of practice, for the law had not been altered. Despite allowing heirs to decline the inheritance, the code limited the right of parents to favor one child over others with a dowry or gift. Heirs who refused to inherit could be obliged to repay their siblings if the dowry or gift had been larger than the legítima plus the terça (the third of the estate the parent was allowed to dispose of freely).64 The underlying assumption was that a parent had the right to dispose only of his or her terça to favor a child and should not favor any one child to the detriment of all others.

Seventeenth-century Paulistas did not usually put this part of the law into practice, though they were well aware of it.65 In this regard, they put the patriarchal privilege of arranging marriages before the equality among heirs. In the seventeenth century, daughters were favored excessively and then permitted to refuse to inherit so that they need not return anything to their siblings. And even if the dowry had not been fully paid, daughters and their husbands retained the advantage because the debt was discounted from the gross estate before the legítima of their brothers and sisters was even calculated.

Eighteenth-century Paulistas, in contrast, frequently litigated to see that the law was followed scrupulously, suggesting that the equal rights of all heirs were becoming more important than the right of parents to arrange marriages.66 The case of Maria de Lima de Siqueira illustrates the system used in the eighteenth century when a married daughter refused to inherit.67 Maria was a widow with six married daughters. The two eldest had married during their father’s lifetime, and when he died they had refused to inherit, doing the same thing when their mother died. Each of these dowries was worth over two contos (2:000$000) and exceeded the sum of the paternal and maternal legítimas by 462$346 and 300$364 respectively. We get an idea of the worth of these amounts when we consider that the average price of a slave in the sample was 68$000, and the average price of a house in town was 168$000. Because they refused to inherit, the terça was brought into the picture. Starting with the first dowry given, the legítima was subtracted from the dowry and the resulting difference was deducted from the terça. Both dowries of Maria’s eldest daughters fit into their legítimas plus the terça. When the dowry was so large that the terça did not cover the difference, however, the daughter and her husband—or even their heirs, if the daughter and son-in-law predeceased their parents—were expected to make up the difference to her siblings.

Increasingly strict adherence to the Ordenações in eighteenth-century São Paulo limited the rights of parents to dispose of their property as they wished. In effect, they could no longer give lavish dowries but had to consider the size of their terça and whether it would be enough to hold the excess between the dowry and legítima. And if they gave large dowries, they also knew that their terça would be diminished and would not hold as many bequests as they might want to make.

People well understood the consequences of bringing a large dowry back into the estate. When Manoel Pacheco Gato died in 1715, his heirs included a married daughter, two single daughters, and five single sons, one of them a Franciscan friar. The heirs agreed among themselves that it was best if the married daughter did not come in à colação. One of their main arguments, which convinced the judge, was that not having her bring the dowry back into the estate would protect the two single daughters who had received a bequest of the remanescente. If the dowry did not come back into the estate, it would not be deducted from the remanescente and the sisters would receive it entire.68 All heirs, however, would receive a smaller legítima, because the amount of the dowry was not added to the net estate before the equal division among heirs. Here, as in the early seventeenth century, brothers were sacrificing themselves for their sisters (both the married and the single ones), and preference was being given to the intentions of the patriarch.

Even in the seventeenth century, however, some sons had tried to rebel at such seeming inequity. For example, Manoel João Branco’s eldest daughter, Anna Lerne, received half a ship for the trade to Angola in dowry. When Manoel João died, his only son, Francisco João Leme, tried to have the ship appraised in a vain effort to equalize his inheritance with his sister’s dowry. If he could have made her come in à colação, she would have owed him money.69 Instead, his sister’s rights were given priority. She was paid, at least on paper, the amount that was still owed her on her dowry even before the estate was divided to give their mother her half. Besides receiving the part of her dowry that was still unpaid, Anna received the remanescente when her mother died. All along, Francisco João had been slighted in favor of his sister and brother-in-law. His frustration is evident in his continuous litigation against his mother and, after her death, his sister; he even went so far as to steal and kill their cattle. It is significant, however, that Francisco João did not do these things while his father, the patriarch, was still alive, though it had been his father’s decision to give such a large dowry to Anna and her husband.

The decline in respect for a patriarch’s wishes led to more frequent court battles over inheritance. When parents favored their daughters with excessively large dowries, siblings, with the aid of lawyers and judges, litigated so that the law was followed strictly, discounting from the terça the difference between the dowry and the legítima. Considering that in the seventeenth century daughters were privileged vis-à-vis sons, and the tendency continued, though to a lesser degree, in the eighteenth century, we can see the legal battle for equality as a battle of brothers against their sisters. And since the privilege of daughters was based on the parents’ view of what was best for the family, the eighteenth-century battles for sibling equality can also be seen as a claim for the rights of individuals—sons—over the right of the patriarch and his wife or widow to decide what was best for the family.

Even in the seventeenth century, parents had been conscious of the possibility that after their death their sons would attempt to right the injustice they felt had been done, which may be why Constantino Coelho Leite enlisted his sons’ agreement to the large dowries he gave his daughters and included that information within his will, a legal and religious document that had to be respected. Pero Nunes in his 1623 will called down his curse on any son who dared to contest his only daughter’s possession of the things he had given her during his lifetime.70 Eighteenth-century parents no longer had such power over their sons.

Since parents were constrained from giving excessively large dowries to their daughters in marriage, it was no longer as much a buyer’s market for the bride as in the preceding century. The marriage bargain was changing. This development is corroborated by the eighteenth-century genealogist, Frei Gaspar da Madre de Deus, who maintained that Paulistas could no longer afford to give such large dowries as they had in the preceding century. He attributed the change to the enforcement of laws prohibiting the captivity and administration of Indians, commenting that the wealth of seventeenth-century families had allowed them to be more interested in a prospective son-in-law’s birth than in his fortune, whereas his contemporaries had to first consider a son-in-law’s fortune.71

Frei Gaspar thus bemoaned the passing of the grand old age when it was a buyer’s market for propertied families with marriageable daughters, which could pick the suitors and impose the terms of marriage. Their options were more limited than in the preceding century, because they could no longer afford to provide all the means of production and labor necessary for the support of the couple; hence they tried to marry their daughters to wealthy men.

A study of the rate of remarriage of widows and widowers confirms this change in the marriage market. A. J. R. Russell-Wood’s study of 165 published seventeenth-century São Paulo wills demonstrates the tendency of women to remarry more than men: 16 percent of the female testators had married more than once, while only 11 percent of the males had done so.72 The percentage of women in my seventeenth-century sample who had married more than once was much higher, 39 percent versus 17 percent for men (see Table III). The higher percentage of remarriage for both sexes in my sample is probably due to its being by definition composed of the parents of married daughters, mostly middle-aged and therefore with a greater chance of having remarried. The marriage market had changed by the middle of the eighteenth century, for widows no longer remarried more frequently than widowers. The proportion of men who married more than once in my sample rose from 17 percent to 25 percent, while the proportion of women marrying more than once declined precipitously, from 39 percent in the seventeenth century to 16 percent in the eighteenth.73

Since all the widows of the sample were by definition property owners, I would argue that their declining rate of remarriage is due to a change in the male’s need to have property to marry, that is, a change in the marriage bargain. Propertied widows remarried in such large numbers in the seventeenth century precisely because men at the time needed to receive property from their wives to be able to establish themselves, creating a buyer’s market for women with assets.74 Since fewer widows remarried in the first half of the eighteenth century, we can assume that a widow’s property was no longer sufficient inducement for a man to marry her.

Besides giving their daughters relatively smaller dowries, eighteenth-century Paulistas appear to have been helping all their children to a greater extent than in the seventeenth century. The percentage of families that had given gifts to sons other than priests almost doubled, going from 9 percent in the seventeenth century to 17 percent in the eighteenth. The percentage of families who loaned money to sons doubled, and that of families who loaned to married daughters and their husbands also increased. And parents continued to allow their adult offspring, especially their sons, to use their slaves and land.

The fact that children generally, but especially sons, were receiving more help from their parents than a hundred years before inevitably diminished the particular advantage daughters had had. In this pattern it is probable that families were reacting to the difficult situation in São Paulo’s agriculture in the early eighteenth century. Money was only being made in the gold mines of Minas Gerais, Goiás, or Cuiabá, or else by merchants supplying those mines. Sons needed help to emigrate to the mines, and parents increasingly outfitted them with a horse and saddle, a rifle, and, if possible, a slave or two.75 In fact, as dowries became smaller, many sons received gifts of property equivalent to their sisters’ dowries, such as the sons of Mariana Machado who all received approximately what their sisters did, except for the somewhat larger dowry of their eldest sister.76

The economic contribution of the marriage partners also changed by the middle of the eighteenth century. The daughters of seventeenth-century Paulista property owners had married either penniless Portuguese newcomers or family friends or relatives who contributed less property to the marriage than their wives. In the eighteenth century, in contrast, the new opportunities to accumulate capital through commerce strengthened the position of merchants as future bridegrooms, thereby changing the pool of suitors, which led to a pattern in which husbands contributed more than their wives to the couple’s property.

Alida Metcalf concluded that eighteenth-century families chose one or several daughters to be favored, and that these daughters and their husbands took the place of their parents in the community, while their siblings either emigrated or suffered downward mobility. She studied the number of slaves owned by the children of several families of Parnaíba, first in the records of dowries and inheritance received and then in several succeeding censuses, finding that daughters who had received large dowries consistently showed up in later censuses with more slaves than their brothers.77 This result could only have come about, however, because the sons in those families had not been able to find wives with dowries as large as their sisters’. The situation was therefore opposite to that of the seventeenth century. As shown above, seventeenth-century men married women who initially brought more to the marriage than they did. Even if daughters were favored, their brothers could make up their disadvantage by marrying women with equivalent dowries. In the eighteenth century, this was no longer the case, for though many dowries were sizable and daughters still tended to be favored over sons, parents now expected a son-in-law to contribute more to the marriage than their daughter contributed. This meant that parents’ initial favoring of daughters resulted in permanent advantage for them, since sons encountered similar expectations which prevented them from marrying women with dowries as large as their sisters’. The situation brought about an imbalance between siblings that probably contributed to the increased litigation visible in eighteenth-century inventários.

The case of three of Maria de Lima de Siqueira’s children demonstrates the new marriage bargain in which men contributed more property to the couple’s fortune than did their wives (see Table IV). Her two married daughters and their husbands had fortunes two and a half and five and a half times as large as their brother’s. Though the daughters contributed more to their marriages than the eldest son, the disparity is too small to account for the dilference in their fortunes. The difference must lie in the daughter-in-law’s smaller dowry and in the men’s methods of accumulation.

Both sons-in-law engaged in trade, though Captain Ignacio Soares de Barros, the husband of Maria’s fourth daughter, Martha de Camargo Lima, was also an important planter. He owned 81 slaves and had a partnership for the transportation of horses from Curitiba. In her dowry she only brought 1:982$194 to their community property which was worth 6:617$194 in 1759. The rest was therefore property her husband contributed, whether he had inherited it or acquired it through business.

The fortune of Maria’s eldest daughter, Maria de Lima de Camargo, is an even clearer illustration of the tendency for husbands to take more property to marriage than their wives, especially if they were merchants. She married a merchant and pharmacist who died only six years after their marriage, leaving a fortune seven times her dowry and more than twice the size of her sister and brother-in-law’s fortune. Since their dowries were approximately the same size, the simplest explanation for the difference between the sisters’ fortunes is the amount contributed by their husbands, whether initially or as they plied their business.

Their brother, Joseph Ortiz de Camargo Lima, left an estate roughly one-fourth the size of Maria’s fortune and half the size of Martha’s. Since the amount of the inheritance he took to his marriage was almost the same amount as what his sisters took to theirs, it is likely that the difference in their property was due not only to the fact that as full-time or part-time merchants his brothers-in-law made much larger contributions to their marriages, but also that his wife must have brought a smaller dowry or no dowry. To be sure, another factor may have been that he was a farmer at a time when farming was not very profitable (his principal property appears to have been his parents’ farm in which he cultivated cane to distill rum).

Thus, though siblings inherited or received in dowry approximately equal amounts of property, it was now common for sisters to marry up economically and brothers to marry down.78 The fortune of a daughter who received a dowry was therefore no longer, as in the seventeenth century, a function of her dowry. Not only did her husband usually contribute much more property than her dowry contained, but his entrepreneurial ability also made a difference. This was especially true when women married merchants, for they appear to have consistently experienced great upward mobility in the eighteenth century. The best example is that of Anna de Oliveira, who married Lieutenant José Rodrigues Pereira. Her dowry had consisted of one male slave in his prime and some jewels, two gold chains, and a ring, for a total of 198$400.79 Yet, many years later, Pereira reported an estate worth 28:000$000 to the census.80 Their large property had obviously not been created on the basis of her dowry.81

The favoring of daughters with large dowries or bequests had functioned well to reproduce the propertied class according to the patriarch’s design—as long as sons were able to marry women with dowries as large as their sisters’. But the marriage market changed with the addition of a growing number of Portuguese merchants to the pool of would-be sons-in-law. Merchants could accumulate capital mainly through their own entrepreneurial skills, giving them leverage in the marriage bargain, not only because of their wealth but because they did not need, as planters did, to receive property in dowry to establish a productive enterprise. When in the seventeenth century the parents of the bride had offered in dowry everything a couple required to start a productive unit, theirs was the greater strength in the marriage negotiations. In the eighteenth century, merchants were able to marry women with comparatively small dowries and choose their brides for other considerations than a dowry, thereby altering the bargain in their favor. Parents therefore lost some of the control they had previously enjoyed over their daughters’ marriages.

The introduction of merchants into the pool of suitors for the daughters of property owners naturally changed the expectations of parents. With the possibility of marrying daughters to wealthy merchants, parents now expected a son-in-law to make a contribution to marriage that was significantly greater than the dowry his wife would receive. It therefore became difficult for men who were not merchants to continue, as in the seventeenth century, marrying women with dowries larger than their own property. To put the matter differently, men married down economically while their sisters married up. The resulting lifetime inequality between married brothers and sisters not only led heirs to litigate against their parents’ right to favor daughters excessively, but undoubtedly modified what parents themselves thought was right, so that they decreased the size of dowries and aided their sons during their lifetime more frequently than in the preceding century. The rise of commerce as a way to wealth based less on the ownership of capital than on entrepreneurial skills—that is, human capital—thus changed the marriage bargain and the practice of dowry.


For this change in Brazil, see Antônio Cândido, “The Brazilian Family,” in Brazil: Portrait of Half a Continent, T. Lynn Smith and Alexander Marchant, eds. (New York, 1951) and Linda Lewin, Politics and Parentela in Paraíba: A Case Study of Family-Based Oligarchy in Brazil (Princeton, 1987), esp. 188-200. For the importance of the larger kin group in Brazil, see Charles Wagley, An Introduction to Brazil (New York, 1963), 184-204 and Lewin, “Some Historical Implications of Kinship Organization for Family-Based Politics in the Brazilian Northeast,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 21:2 (Apr. 1979). For an “ideal” conceptualization of the elite patriarchal extended Brazilian family, see Gilberto Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves (New York, 1956) and “The Patriarchal Basis of Brazilian Society,” in Politics of Change in Latin America, Joseph Maier and Richard Weatherhead, eds. (New York, 1964).

Mariza Corrêa criticizes both Freyre and Cândido for assuming that their descriptions of the structure and behavior of elite families of very specific regions could be applied to the families of different classes, regions, and periods. See “Repensando a família patriarchal brasileira,” in Colcha de retalhos: Estudos sobre a família no Brasil, Maria Suely Kofes de Almeida et al., eds. (São Paulo, 1982).


See Muriel Nazzari, “Women, the Family, and Property: The Decline of the Dowry in São Paulo, Brazil (1600-1870)” (Ph. D. diss., Yale University, 1986). Other studies of dowry for Brazil include: Maria Beatriz Nizza da Silva, “Sistema de casamento no Brasil colonial,” in Ciência e Cultura, 28:11 (Nov. 1976) and Sistema de casamento no Brasil colonial (São Paulo, 1984), 97-110; Eni de Mesquita Samara, “O dote na sociedade paulista do século XIX: Legislação e evidências,” Anais do Museu Paulista, 30 (1980-81). For other parts of Latin America, see Asunción Lavrin and Edith Couturier, “Dowries and Wills: A View of Women’s Socioeconomic Role in Colonial Guadalajara and Puebla, 1640-1790,” HAHR, 59:2 (May 1979); Silvia Marina Arrom, The Women of Mexico City, 1700-1857 (Stanford, 1985), chap. 3; Couturier, “Women and the Family in Eighteenth-Century Mexico: Law and Practice,” in Journal of Family History, 10:3 (Fall, 1985); Susan Socolow, The Merchants of Buenos Aires, 1778-1810 (Cambridge, 1978), chap. 2; Laurel Bossen, “Toward a Theory of Marriage: The Economic Anthropology of Marriage Transactions, Ethnology, 28:2 (Apr. 1988).


See Luiz de Aguiar Costa Pinto, Lutas de famílias no Brasil (São Paulo, 1980) for a study of this family-based society in São Paulo. For the clan as organizing principle of other societies with weak governments, see Jack Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge, 1983), 15.


For the history of the bandeirantes, see Richard M. Morse, ed., The Bandeirantes: The Historical Role of the Brazilian Pathfinders (New York, 1965) and From Community to Metropolis: A Biography of São Paulo, Brazil (Gainesville, 1958); Affonso d’E. Taunay, História geral das bandeiras paulistas, 11 vols. (São Paulo, 1951). For commerce in seventeenth-century São Paulo, see Roberto Simonsen, História econômica do Brasil (1500-1820) (São Paulo, 1978), 215-219; John French, “Riqueza, poder e mão-de-obra numa economia de subsistência: São Paulo, 1596-1625,” Revista do Arquivo Municipal, 45:195 (1982).


Perhaps the ultimate example of São Paulo’s previous independence was the unilateral measures taken by the municipal council in 1690 regarding the value of coins, which were always in short supply since merchants who brought goods from Portugal wanted payment only in specie. Despite colonial requests for the creation of a colonial coin that could not be used in Portugal, in 1688 the crown decreed that coins would have uniform value in the entire empire, increasing the shortage throughout Brazil. But it was only in São Paulo that countermeasures were taken when in 1690 the municipal council decreed that coins in São Paulo would be worth more than in the rest of the empire and set exchange rates for trade with other towns (Simonsen, História econômica, 222-227; d’E. Taunay, História da cidade de São Paulo [São Paulo, 1953], 52-56). Three years later, the value of specie was reflated even further in São Paulo, leading the exasperated governor-general to write that the crown’s monetary reform was enforced without opposition in the whole colony, “save only in São Paulo, where they know neither God, nor Law, nor Justice, nor do they obey any order whatsoever” (as quoted in Charles R. Boxer, The Golden Age of Brazil, 1695-1750 [Berkeley, 1962], 34). Interestingly enough, by 1694 the crown had decided to create a colonial coin with greater value than the Portuguese.


Raymundo Faoro, Os donos do poder: Formação do patronato político brasileiro, 2 vols. (Pôrto Alegre, 1979), I, 162, argues that the biggest push toward state control took place in the eighteenth century.

Until then the vila of São Paulo had belonged to the donatary captaincy of São Paulo and São Vicente. In 1709, a wealthy Paulista, José de Góis Morais, offered to buy the captaincy from the donatary captain for 40,000 cruzados, but instead the crown bought it at the same price with the income from the tax on gold (Simonsen, História Econômica, 229). Though the crown was to elevate São Paulo to the status of a city in 1711, it progressively dismembered the captaincy, creating the separate captaincies of Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, and Goiás, and, finally, in 1748 further diminished São Paulo’s independence by making it a part of the captaincy of Rio de Janeiro until 1765 (see Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, História geral da civilização brasileira [São Paulo, 1981], I, part 2, 34-36).


See Taunay, História da cidade, 118; Elizabeth A. Kuznesof, “The Role of the Merchants in the Economic Development of São Paulo, 1765-1850,” HAHR, 60:4 (Nov. 1980).


Alvará of May 8, 1758. See Caio Prado, Jr., The Colonial Background of Modern Brazil, Suzette Macedo, trans. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1971), 102.


See Mafalda P. Zemella, O abastecimento da capitania das Minas Gerais no século XVIII (São Paulo, 1951).


See Sergio Buarque de Holanda, Monções (São Paulo, 1976).


The market for agricultural commodities exported through Santos, mainly sugar and rum, was only to rise after São Paulo renovated the road over the Serra do Mar in the 1770s. See Kusnesof, “The Role of the Merchants” and Maria Thereza Schorer Petrone, A lavoura canavieira em São Paulo: Expansão e declínio (1765-1851) (São Paulo, 1968).


Morgado de Mateus, 1767, quoted in Alice P. Canabrava, “Uma economia de decadência: Os níveis de riqueza na capitania de São Paulo, 1765/67,” Revista Brasileira de Economia, 26:4 (Oct.-Dec. 1972), 115-116. Also Governor Martim Lopes, 1775, quoted in Paulo Prado, Paulística, história de São Paulo (Rio de Janeiro, 1934), 147. Canabrava, in “Uma economia de decadência,” 117-118, believes decadence came about with the decline of gold mining activities in all mining areas after 1765; also see the opinion of Simonsen in História econômica, 231. Buarque de Holanda, in “Movimentos da população en São Paulo no século XVIII,” Revista de Estudos Brasileiros, 1 (1966), 110, maintains, however, that the greatest decadence was during the period when São Paulo was under the captaincy of Rio de Janeiro, 1748-65. This is a more reasonable periodization, since agriculture and the provincial economy improved in the last third of the century with the growing production and commercialization of sugar.


Maria Luiza Marcílio, “Crescimento demográfico e evolução agrária paulista, 1700-1836” (Livre-Docência thesis, University of São Paulo, 1974), 293.


This is the central thesis of Alcântara Machado’s Vida e morte do bandeirante (Belo Horizonte, 1980).


Pedro Taques de Almeida Paes Lerne, Nobiliarquia paulistana histórica e genealógica 5th ed. (São Paulo, 1980).


See Canabrava, “Uma economia de decadência,” 115-116 and Kuznesof, “The Role of the Merchants,” 100. The four wealthiest estates in my eighteenth-century sample were of merchants.


For the low status of merchants, see Holanda, Monções, 117; for the marriage of merchants into Paulista families, see Kuznesof, “The Role of the Merchants,” 576, 583; for evidence of merchants marrying their daughters to merchants but having their sons follow other careers, see Nazzari, “Women, the Family and Property,” 156-160.


Family law during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was contained in the code promulgated in 1603 by Philip III. See Candido Mendes de Almeida, ed., Codigo philippine) ou ordenações do Reino de Portugal, 14th ed. (Rio de Janeiro, 1870). All references are to this 14th edition, hereafter called Ordenações.


Nazzari, “Women, the Family, and Property.”


See Ordenações, livro 4, tit. 96, para. 12 and tit. 97.


The only criterion used for choosing inventários for the samples of each time period was the presence of married daughters of the deceased (or their children). The seventeenth-century sample is 32.8% (48 out of 147) of the published inventários for 1640-1651 (which are all the extant inventários in São Paulo for the period). The eighteenth-century sample is 28.5% (71 of 249) of the inventários for the period 1750-69 in “Inventários Não Publicados” (I excluded from the sample three inventários that had been damaged by water and were unreadable). The collection “Inventários Não Publicados” contains approximately half the extant inventários for the period. The low percentage of inventários with married daughters is explained by the fact that both samples were taken from collections of inventários with minor heirs, by definition skewed against the existence of adults as heirs to the estate. The extant inventários appear to be quite representative of property owners, considering the relatively small size of São Paulo during the period—an estimated 400 European or mestizo households in the midseventeenth century (Buarque de Holanda, “Movimentos da população”) and 14,760 free inhabitants in 1765 (Marcílio, A Cidade de São Paulo, povoamento e população [São Paulo, 1974], 98).


See Clovis Bevilaqua, Direito de família (Bio de Janeiro, 1933), 392.


The sample was 48 families with married daughters between 1640 and 1651. Four of these had not been given dowries, and to a fifth, who came from a bankrupt estate, it is unclear whether a dowry was given.


Estates with married daughters where there were no dowries were Anna Cabral, 1643, in Inventários e testamentos (hereafter IT), 44 volumes (São Paulo, 1921-1975) XXIX; Domingos Simões, 1649, IT, XXXIX; Gaspar Barreiros, 1646, IT, XXXIII; and Manoel de Massedo, 1650, IT, XLI.


Martim Rodrigues, 1603-1612, IT, II, 30. The dowry also contained six Indians, twelve cows, one bull, one colt, a tablecloth, six napkins, towels, a table, and a dress.


Maria Gonçalves, 1599, IT, I.


Clemente Alveres, 1641, IT, XIV.


Since the dowry was given by both parents, who owned their property jointly as community property, only half the value of the dowry came in à colação at the time of each parent’s death (the surviving spouse retained one-half the estate). The exception was when a widow or widower endowed a daughter; then the whole dowry came in à colação.

See Ordenações, liv. 4, tit. 96, para. 17. Also Eni de Mesquita Samara, “O dote na sociedade paulista do século XIX: Legislação e evidências,” Anais do Museu Paulista, 30 (1980-81) and Maria Beatriz Nizza da Silva, Sistema de casamento no Brasil colonial (São Paulo, 1984), 101-102.


Refusing the inheritance also absolved the heir from the responsibility for a deceased parent’s debts.


Catharina do Prado, 1649, IT, XV.


Suzanna Dias, 1628, IT, XXXIII, 13.


When a married woman or man died, the community property was first divided in half, with the surviving spouse keeping his or her half. The other half was considered the estate of the deceased. The law required that two-thirds of the estate of the deceased be divided equally among the necessary heirs of the deceased, his or her children (or grandchildren, per stirpes, in the case of children’s having predeceased the parent), or, in the absence of children, to the parents of the deceased. Spouses did not inherit from each other, they just kept their half of the property, though they could receive bequests. See Ordenações, liv. 4, tit. 46, para, 1 and tit. 96.


Pedro de Oliveira, 1643, IT, XIV. When her husband died five years later, Antonia’s half of the estate was worth 61$310. (Affonso Dias, 1648, IT, XV.)


Pedro Dias, 1633, IT, IX, 56, 65-67.


His gift was worth 59$200, the largest dowry, 718$000. Messia Rodrigues, 1665, IT, XVII.


His gift, 60$000; her dowry, 170$500. We know the total value of only the smallest dowry, for it was the one to come back into the estate. Manoel João Branco, 1641, IT, XIII.


There were no priests in my seventeenth-century sample itself. Priests had to own property to maintain themselves, for the crown received tithes but did not redistribute them so that all parish priests received support. See Dorn Oscar de Oliveira, Os dízimos eclesiásticos do Brasil nos períodos da colônia e do império (Belo Horizonte, 1964).


Stanley Chojnachi, “Dowries and Kinsmen in Early Renaissance Venice,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 5:4 (Spring 1975), 593, shows that in Venice brothers also bore the brunt of the custom of giving ever-larger dowries.


Estevão Furquim, IT, XVI, 301. Also IT, XVII, 55.


Ursulo Colaço, 1641, IT, XXXIX, 21-22.


Izabel de Proença, IT, XXXVII, 113.


A. J. R. Russell-Wood, “Women and Society in Colonial Brazil,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 9:1 (May 1977), 15.


Testators were allowed to freely dispose of only one-third of their estate (in the case of married testators, one-sixth of the community property), See Ordenações, Liv. 4, tit. 96.


Pedro de Araujo, 1638, IT, XXIX.


Domingos Cordeiro, 1643, IT, VIII.


It would appear that the daughter herself is listed as a part of the dowry, but since she is one of its recipients, I would argue that the emphasis is on the extremely expensive clothes, the idea being that the bride went to marriage dressed as befitted her station. Alcântara Machado first documented examples of this wording in seventeenth-century dowries in Vida e morte, 156-158.


Arquivo do Estado de São Paulo (hereafter AESP), Livro de Notas 1640-1642, Ord. 6074, #26. I thank John Monteiro for bringing this dowry to my attention.


Izabel Fernandes, 1641, IT, XXVIII; Pedro de Moraes Dantas, 1644, JT XIV, 289.


Mecia de Siqueira, 1648, IT, XXXVII.


Raphael de Oliveira, 1648, IT, III, 309-310. Another example of this kind of marriage is that of Catharina Conçalves’s daughter by her first husband, who married her second husband’s son by his first wife. See Luis Gonzaga da Silva Leme, Genealogia paulistana, 9 vols. (São Paulo, 1903-1905), IV, 429, n. 1.


Pedro de Araujo, 1638, IT, XXIX, 254.


It is possible that some of the dowries that did not list land, nevertheless still contained it, just as many seventeenth-century inventários did not list the land belonging to the estate, though it appeared in later documents.


Messia Rodrigues, 1665, IT, XVII, 119-120, 143; Belchior de Godoy, 1649, IT, XXXIX.


Catharina do Prado, 1649, IT, XV; João Gago da Cunha, 1639, IT, X. Anna Pires’s husband and his father were famous bandeirantes (see Francisco de Assis Carvalho Franco, Dicionário de bandeirantes e sertanistas do Brasil [São Paulo, 1954], 133).


Pedro d’Araujo, 1638, IT, XXVIII. He was married in November 1637, at the age of 23, and he had been to the sertão at least once (p. 251). His age was calculated from the fact that Pedro was 3 years old in 1617 in the inventário made after his father, also Pedro d’Araujo, died in the sertão (IT, V, 171). See another reference to his father in Carvalho Franco, Dicionário, 35. His father and his mother, Anna de Alvarenga, are mentioned in Taques, Nobiliarquia paulistana, III, 280, but Taques confuses Pedro’s wife and heirs.


Unless land had been received in sesmaria, seventeenth-century Paulistas did not have title to the land they worked, and inventários just appraise the value of crops.


When Pedro’s mother died in 1644, Pedro’s son received six Indians who would have been his father’s had he lived long enough (Anna de Alvarenga, 1644, IT, XXIX.).


Pedro de Araujo, 1638, IT, XXIX, 253.


Fifty-five of the 68 families in the eighteenth-century sample gave dowries; 43 of the 48 families in the seventeenth-century sample gave dowries (in one inventário information is missing).


João Fernandes da Costa, 1750, AESP, INP #ord. 523 c. 46. His net estate, minus the half belonging to his widow, was worth 255$600, while the net estate of the widower José Rodrigues Pereira was worth 14:632$500, the largest in the sample.


Of course, people could acquire property more easily in the seventeenth century than in the following one. A man could acquire Indians by going on a bandeira with an arrangement to receive a percentage of the captives. There was plenty of unoccupied land to settle on, and after a man had acquired a few Indians and married, he could apply for a grant of land from the crown, a sesmaria.


The average dowry was 147 percent of the legítima in the whole sample (47 estates in which their value and the number of slaves are known), 97 percent in families with more than ten slaves, 131 percent in families owning four to nine slaves, and 163 percent in families with fewer than four slaves.


Moreover, the eighteenth-century practice established a trend, for by the nineteenth century there were no cases in my sample of daughters refusing to inherit; the practice had completely disappeared. A nineteenth-century jurist, T. de Freitas, confirms the trend, declaring in a note to Ordenações, liv. 4, tit. 97, article 119 that people no longer were using the right given by the law to refuse to inherit; everyone brought dowries or gifts back à colação.

Spanish law must have had a procedure similar to colação, because it also required that a dowry be subtracted from the legítima (Law XXVI of Toro). See Lavrin and Couturier, “Dowries and Wills,” 286, n. 19.


This third is in fact one-sixth of the community property owned jointly by both spouses. Ordenações, livro 4, tit. 97, para. 3. A nineteenth-century jurist, Coelho da Rocha, explains that the purpose of colação was to preserve equality between children in relation to their parents’ estate, only allowing parents the free disposition of one-third of their estate. See Ordenações, liv. 4, tit. 97, para. 1, p. 968, n. 4.


See Messia Rodrigues, 1665, IT, XVII.


Inventários with litigation: Captain Antonio Rodrigues de Medeiros, 1764, AESP, INP #ord. 542 c. 65; Manoel João de Oliveira, 1760, AESP, INP #ord. 537 c. 60; Suzanna Rodrigues de Arzão, 1754, AESP, INP #ord. 542 c. 55; Maria Leite de Barros, 1773, AESP, INP #ord. 550 c. 73; João do Prado de Asevedo, 1790, AESP, Inv. 1° Of. #ord. 693 c. 81; João Machado da Silva, 1756, AESP, INP #ord. 533 c. 56; Ignacio Correa de Lemos, 1787, AESP, Inv. 1° Of. #14.768; and Anna Pires de Barros, 1750, AESP, INP #ord. 523 c. 46.


Maria de Lima de Siqueira, 1769, AESP, INP #ord. 545 c. 68. Because of the accounting process involved, both kinds of dowries had to be appraised. Contrary to the situation in the seventeenth century, therefore, we know the value of all eighteenth-century dowries in the sample.


Manoel Pacheco Gato, 1715, IT, XXVI, 469.


Manoel João Branco, 1645, IT, XIII; Maria Lerne, 1663, IT, XIII.


Pero Nunes, 1623, IT, VI, 59.


Frei Gaspar da Madre de Deus, Memórias para a história de São Vicente, hoje llamada de São Paulo (São Paulo, 1953) 83-84.


Russell-Wood, “Women and Society, 19.


A study by Marcílio shows the same tendency. She examined marriage registers in the Sé parish of São Paulo for the period 1728 to 1770, and found that 9.6 percent of the men were remarrying versus only 8 percent of the women; 887 marriages were studied. See Marcílio, A cidade de São Paulo, 166. The trend for fewer and fewer widows to remarry intensified in the nineteenth century, for only 10 percent of the female deceased in my sample had married more than once.


The seventeenth-century São Paulo pattern of more women than men remarrying appears to be very unusual. Studies of certain communities in France and Bavaria in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in the United States in the early nineteenth century show that there is an inverse relationship between age at widowhood and the proportion of widows who remarry, and a much lower remarriage rate for women than for men except among the very young. At the same time, there appeared to be no direct or inverse correlation between remarriage and wealth. See Susan Grigg, “Toward a Theory of Remarriage: A Case Study of Newburyport at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century,” in Marriage and Fertility: Studies in Interdisciplinary History, Robert I. Rotberg and Theodore K. Rabb, eds. (Princeton, 1980).


Some inventários in which parents outfitted sons were Domingos Lopes de Oliveira, 1766, AESP, INP #ord. 544 c. 67; Catharina Ribeiro, 1757, AESP, INP #ord. 533 c. 56; Maria de Araujo, 1755, AESP, INP #ord. 535 c. 58; Salvador Lopes de Medeiro, 1760, AESP, INP #ord. 537 c. 60; Bartholomeu de Quadros, 1722, IT, XXVI, 271.


Mariana Machado, 1759, AESP, INP #ord. 537 c. 59. Also see Bras Lerne do Prado e Maria Domingues de Mattos, 1751, AESP, INP #ord. 525 c. 48; and Joanna da Cunha, 1766, AESP, INP #ord. 544 c. 67.


Alida Metcalf, “Fathers and Sons: The Politics of Inheritance in a Colonial Brazilian Township,” HAHR, 66:3 (Aug. 1986), 476-78.


The children of the merchant Thomé Alves de Crasto are also a good example of the continuing inequality brought about by the changing marriage bargain. Thomé died at 85 in 1772. Through his inventário, we know the value of his daughters’ dowries and the gifts he made in his lifetime to his sons; we can make a good estimate of what their maternal legítima had been, and through the censuses of 1765 and 1767 we know the declared capital of two sons and two daughters. Thomé’s two daughters had undergone upward mobility, for the fortunes they declared to the census takers were, for the second daughter, twice as large as her dowry, and, for the third, four times as large. His sons had remained at his level at best, for one declared property one-tenth the size of his maternal inheritance (underdeclaring to the census taker was common), while the second declared approximately the same amount as his inheritance.


Escolastica Vellozo, 1753, AESP, INP #ord. 530 c. 53.


1767 Census in Documentos interessantes para a história e costumes de São Paulo (São Paulo, 1895-), LXII, 268.


She had, however, contributed something else to the marriage that was more important to a merchant than a dowry, for both her stepfather and her maternal grandfather were merchants, providing him with a network of merchant relatives and an entry into one of the founding families. See Manoel Vellozo, 1752, AESP, INP #ord. 528 c. 51. Also see the Maciel family in Silva Leme, Genealogia, VIII, 167 ff.

Author notes


Research for this project was partially supported by a Tinker Foundation Summer Grant and by a Woodrow Wilson Women’s Studies Fellowship.