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The different ways of being coloured and free in a slaveholding society and its possibilities of social mobility: south-eastern Brazil, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries

As diferentes formas de ser de cor e livre em uma sociedade escravista e suas possibilidades de mobilidade social: sudeste do Brasil, final do século XVIII e início do século XIX
Mônica Ribeiro de Oliveira et Ana Paula Dutra Bôscaro

Résumés

The main theme of this article is to reflect on the different possibilities of social mobility of freed individuals at the height of the slave system in south-eastern Brazil. To this end, three trajectories of individuals and their family groups were chosen to be monitored, having in common the fact that their lives were led in rural areas. The mobilization of resources such as access to land and slave ownership as well as family agency operated the main factors of social distinction and consequently access to vertical mobility.

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  • 1 There is in Brazilian historiography a profound discussion about the concept of pa (...)

1This article analyses the insertion of freed slaves and their descendants into the world of the free while slavery was still in force. It deals with the challenges faced, the different alternatives of social ascension, the strategies used, and the meanings which social mobility assumed for these individuals. It focuses mainly on those individuals who lived in the rural areas of the Capitania of Minas Gerais, in south-eastern Brazil, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Our central argument is that in rural areas, unlike those in urban areas, individuals leaving slavery mobilized a number of resources to lead their lives in a situation of freedom. We refer to the resource “labour” of enslaved people as a source of accumulation in urban areas as well as its association with family “labour”, constituting a family agency, very important for the success of the experience of freedom. Another important resource was access to land, an element of stability, a space in which the intercession of other factors was consolidated. These individuals and groups coexisted around the dynamic townships and, on their small or medium-sized properties, made up the hierarchies of poor slave owners or those of modest means, people named in the sources indistinctly and in their vast majority as “parda”. 1

  • 2 Through the variation of scales, as a procedure from the perspective of micro hist (...)

2Any historical investigation focused on the trajectory of individuals and social groups that emerged from slavery in Colonial Brazil faces many challenges. The historical records of these groups in official sources are few, and nominal accompaniment is hampered by the absence of “family names” or the presence of many homonyms. The lower the position in the local or regional social hierarchy, the more “invisible” the trajectory of these groups becomes, which imposes on us a methodology centred on spatial and temporal limitations, and the exhaustion of available sources, in addition to the need for constant cross-referencing in order to validate information. We have conducted our research in this way in recent years, and present part of our reflections here.2 Information from post-mortem inventories, name lists (local population censuses), ecclesiastical archives (especially of baptisms) and fiscal documents, among others, were intersected.

3In the present article, we will analyse some trajectories of this coloured population egressed from slavery. These allow us to perceive different paths taken in the experience of freedom and how they connected the possession of land and slaves, as well as their family agency, in a process of social distinction and, on the other hand, how the absence of any of these elements hampered this process of differentiation and upward social mobility.

  • 3 Karasch, M. A vida dos escravos no Rio de Janeiro: 1808-1850. Tradução Pedro Maria Soares, (...)
  • 4 R.Graham's classic book analyses how social mobility was the foundation of a hierarchy (...)

4The theme of upward social mobility in Brazilian historiography is linked to the pulverisation of slave ownership in both urban and rural areas; however, the majority of studies is certainly on urban areas. Mary Karasch emphasizes that slaves were a source of wealth and capital for their masters, without however quantifying the value invested in slaves by the elites, which tended to be less than that invested by the poorer slave masters and those of more modest means, since they invested in other more profitable sectors.3 Zephyry Frank highlights how access to slaves by average urban groups contributed to a process of upward social mobility. For the author, slaves constituted an asset equally distributed among the free population and produced the effect of dampening economic inequalities for this class, offering opportunities for social ascension.4

  • 5 Russel-Wood, A.J.R. Escravos e libertos no Brasil Colonial. Rio de Janeiro: Civili (...)
  • 6 Russel-Wood, A.J.R, op. cit., p. 86

5There are other important contributions to this theme, especially focused on reflecting on the population of the free coloured people, whose freedom was acquired through emancipation or who were simply born free. We could cite two representatives of this discussion in the 1970s, such as Herbert Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna, and Russell-Wood in the following decade. Unlike this last, who sought comparisons with North American experiences, Klein and Luna centred their analyses on Minas Gerais.5 They discussed the high proportion of forros (emancipated slaves) and their participation as slave owners. They highlighted the importance of the latter and, within this group, the high percentage of women – the greatest beneficiaries – as heads of families and carrying out various activities. In general, coloured freedmen constituted a part of slaveholding society, reproducing the structures of that society. In Escravos e Libertos no Brasil Colonial, Russel-Wood analysed three options used by free blacks and free mulattos to earn a living: the first was commercial opportunities to gain independence; the second consisted of making concessions and being absorbed into the system, performing functions as a waged employee or as an overseer; and the third involved what he called ‘vagrancy,’ performing small occasional services.6 All the analyses were similar in understanding the insertion of free individuals of colour in urban areas, without considering possibilities of migration or the search for alternatives of survival in roças (small plots of rural cultivable lands) and vacant lands.

  • 7 Ferreira, R. Guedes. Estratégias de mobilidade social em sociedades escravistas. U (...)

6This theme was recently revisited by Roberto Guedes Ferreira, who intensified the debate and returned to the question of social mobility in a comparative view of Brazilian and Antillean slaveholding areas. He questions whether it would be possible to compare degrees of social mobility in slaveholding societies with different profiles of slave ownership structure and discrepant levels of emancipation, opting to investigate both in order to highlight their similarities and differences.7

  • 8 Scott, Rebecca J., Drescher, Seymour, Castro, Hebe Maria Mattos, George Reid Andrews and (...)
  • 9 Lara, Silvia Hunold. Fragmentos setecentistas: escravidão, cultura e poder na Amér (...)

7Regardless of the different treatments that have been given to the theme, working with the view that the Brazilian society of the 18th century could be structurally defined by slavery, and on the other hand this same society may have been the one that produced most emancipations, means facing a very complex situation. This is what Rebecca Scott considered when analysing slavery in Brazil.8 Likewise, Sílvia Lara highlighted how much the presence of free coloured men and women tensioned the social and political relations in colonial society.9

8Therefore, being a free coloured person in the context of Portuguese America in the eighteenth century, in the interior of Minas Gerais, with its high levels of emancipation, meant that a series of challenges had to be faced. Since the early seventeenth century, mining towns had received thousands of Portuguese adventurers and immigrants who rapidly occupied the most strategic areas. For the freed slaves, distancing themselves from populous urban areas, characterized on a daily basis by the control of the space for sociability and an exacerbated baroque religiosity, must have been a good alternative. The rural areas surrounding the towns offered the necessary refuge for the reconstruction of trajectories with the status of freedom.

  • 10 Cardim, Pedro. Cortes e cultura política no Portugal do Antigo Regime. Lisboa: Edi (...)

9Former slaves and their descendants, using their spatial mobility and motivated to occupy vacant lands, found greater alternatives for settlement in the ‘sertão’ (an arid region of scrub) areas. Apart from the roadsides, the occupation of vast areas of the interior was required not only by free coloured, but also by rural Portuguese individuals who soon became representatives of a more rural seigniorial category. These had the same profile of incorporation of lands and slaves as the generations of the original conquerors. They controlled their homes and families; they submitted their economic interests to a series of political and social relations; they maintained a vast clientele of free and poor men under their control; however, their power of command was exercised more autonomously. They took to the extreme what Pedro Cardim called the typical ‘peripheralization’ of power, since they prioritized their personal interests above those of the Portuguese Crown.10

10Therefore, for free men of colour, entering the vast woodlands meant facing many challenges, such as the relationships with this group of local lords, but also the coexistence with indigenous groups and individuals who still resisted so as to remain in their lands of origin. In these areas there was space for ‘faiscação autônoma’ (simple and rudimentary manual gold extraction) and for the constitution of small independent farmsteads, as ‘situados’ or ‘agregados’ (types of rural workers), or even as a favour on the lands of the more affluent.

11We consider that for coloured groups and individuals, after achieving their emancipation, the trajectory of freedom and the success or failure of this venture, could vary in accordance with greater or lesser access to two fundamental accomplishments: the land associated with the family and the possibility of savings so as to have access to slave labour. These factors were connected, as in a symbiosis, since production on the land only became feasible with the constitution of a family, creating a domestic production unit; the family, in turn, was only stabilized by access to land, thereby guaranteeing the survival of its members and of future generations. The family agency provided the means for the acquisition of slaves and, to a greater or lesser extent, restored small and average owners within the local and even the regional social hierarchy. Allied to these conquests were other strategies of social establishment and social distinction.

Problematizing colour and social condition in Brazilian slave society

  • 11 Libby, Douglas Cole. A empiria e as cores: representações indenitárias nas Minas Gerais (...)
  • 12 Karasch. Mary. C, op. cit., p. 37.

12In Brazilian colonial society, the colour and social condition of individuals were connected, which generated a fluid social category, that is, the mention of colour changed, was not fixed and depended on the social position that the individual reached. Designations also varied over time and across regions. Indeed, to be designated as “black” meant mainly to have been born in Africa and bear the stigma of slavery. The black African might even be free, but he would forever bear the mark of his captive past.11 However, terms and nomenclatures were in fact variable conditions, although the term “black” was commonly used to describe African captives, it was not only linked to them, being occasionally used in the designation of slaves born in Brazil.12

  • 13 Soares, Mariza Carvalho. Devotos da cor. Identidade étnica, religiosidade e escravidão n (...)

13The term Creole, riddled with particularities, was used in different ways and in different contexts. For Rio de Janeiro in the 18th century, for example, Mariza Soares de Carvalho proved that the use of the term Creole was used only for the first generation of children of Africans, unlike what happened in Minas Gerais, where, according to Douglas Libby, from the middle of the seventeen hundreds, all blacks born in Brazil were designated as Creoles, regardless of whether their parents were from the colony, from Africa or both13.

  • 14 Machado, Cacilda. A trama das vontades: negros, pardos e brancos na produção da hierarqu (...)
  • 15 Faria, Sheila de Castro. A Colônia em movimento: família e fortuna no cotidian (...)

14The colour and social status of pardo, like that of Creoles and Africans, also varied according to the location and the context in which it was employed. When studying the village of São José dos Pinhais, in Paraná, from the 18th to the 19th century, Cacilda Machado noticed a significant number of pardo men and women. The proportion was so high that the author raised the possibility that specifically for that region the term “pardo” was used to designate individuals born in the locality, with all other foreigners registered as black.14 In the context analysed by Sheila de Castro Faria, Campos dos Goitacazes of the 18th century, the term had a double meaning, and was used both to indicate miscegenation and to refer to children or descendants of Creoles, even if black.15

  • 16 Mattos, Hebe Maria. Escravidão e cidadania no Brasil Monárquico. Rio de Janeir (...)
  • 17 Mattos, Hebe Maria. Das cores do silêncio, 1995.

15In the conception of Hebe Mattos, who alluded to Rio de Janeiro in the second half of the 19th century, the term pardo, which emerged strongly in the late 18th century, was initially used to designate the lighter colour of some slaves, but expanded its meaning “when it was necessary to account for a growing population for which the classification of 'black' or 'creole' was no longer applicable, as they tended to socially freeze the condition of slave or ex-slave”.16 However, more than defining the subject's skin tone, colour / social condition represented the social place occupied by him in society, and for this reason, “becoming pardo” presupposed a social recognition that was given through alliances, networks of friendship and socioeconomic position17.

  • 18 Ferreira, R. Guedes. Estratégias de mobilidade social em sociedades escravistas… op. cit(...)

16The intrinsic relationship between colour and social place became evident in the work of Roberto Ferreira who, when analysing the population of Porto Feliz, São Paulo, in the 19th century, realized that a person's change of colour was directly related to economic and social mobility. According to Ferreira, the colour of an individual's skin depended, among other factors, on work strategies, family relationships, and insertions in sociability networks.18

  • 19 Around 9,000,000 baptism records were collected in the Metropolitan Curia of Juiz de For (...)

17In the baptism records we collected for a group of settlements in the region of Mantiqueira, in the vicinity of Barbacena,19 the designation parda was almost always linked to the condition of being emancipated. Other designations, such as preto, africano, crioulo, cabra, forro, appeared in lesser number. Specifically, for this group of slaves, the differentiation in the sources was only between Africans and crioulos, with a minimal mention of pardos.

Different destinations of the free coloured population

18Being coloured and becoming successful in this society also meant employing a series of strategies to defend the land, the family groups, production, and reproduction over time. Social ascension was facilitated for few by a series of factors and the prejudice arising from slave origin was supplanted to the point where it did not translate into insurmountable limits to this process of social distinction. For the great majority who did not have access to land, the challenges were others, and submission to the former master or the mere condition of ‘agregado’ (a sort of rural worker) on the lands of others became the only possible alternatives after the acquisition of freedom. Thus, there were various destinies, and the margin of autonomy was the measurement of good or bad performance in the world of the free.

  • 20 We refer to the scale variation procedures that, from the perspective of micro (...)

19We will now analyse three trajectories of coloured individuals and their relatives in the world of the free. Three different life histories which have in common the fact that these individuals are referenced in the sources, as ‘pardos’ (mixed race), but who ended up following different paths. As considered above, due to the scarcity of sources, we are not able to survey and verify all the facts surrounding the trajectories of these individuals and groups and, therefore, the motivations of the manumissions and when they took place are unknown to us. However, this does not prevent us from placing them under the lens of a microscope and accessing other dimensions of their lives in the world of the free.20

  • 21 Post-mortem inventory - AHMPAS - Professor Altair José Savassi Municipal Histo (...)
  • 22 Idem
  • 23 Bôscaro, Dutra Ana Paula. Sociedade Traficante: o comércio interno de escravos (...)

20We refer to the trajectory of the freed creole Manoel Linhares Pereira, referred to in the sources as “black man”; “black coloured”; “freed creole”.21 It was thus that police officials described him repeatedly. Manoel was a native and resident of Minas Gerais, “he lived off the land”22, possibly involved in the trade of food supplies for the “capitania” or province of Rio de Janeiro, maintaining an active participation in the Rio de Janeiro-Minas circuit, from 1809 to 1831.23

21Until the year 1819, his colour and social condition, which referred to his captive past was frequently referred to in the sources; however, we did not identify these characteristics in later years. The 1831 Census of the village of Santo Antônio do Juiz de Fora, where Manoel lived, described him as “pardo”.24 Why did police officials and local census workers fail to designate him as a “free Creole”? This is a question that will be discussed later.

22A 78-year-old farmer, Linhares resided in the company of his wife, the ,’parda’ Ana Luiza Leal, their children Manoel, Francisca and Florência, and six African slaves, all of working age, five men and one woman25. Born in the middle of the 18th century, he was possibly originally from Prados, Minas Gerais, because his son Manoel Gregório, who would later become his father's namesake in the district of Santo Antônio do Juiz de Fora, was also born there. About six years later, when Ana Luiza passed away, Manoel was responsible for taking the inventory, providing us with important clues about the assets accumulated by the family and the social relationships they had forged over the years.

  • 26 Ana Luiza's post-mortem inventory was not completed, so we can infer nothing a (...)

23When the post-mortem inventory was taken, the couple had two slaves less than in 1831, they had few animals and almost no valuables. The bulk of their fortune was based on land, with some betterments, buildings and works26; however, we have no information on how Manoel acquired his land, whether by inheritance, purchase, donation or dowry, since no trace of it was mentioned in the documentation researched.

24The second trajectory is that of the pardo Brás Antônio Lopes. Married to Francisca Pereira da Silva, Brás started his life in the small settlement of Santana do Garambéu, a society marked by the majority presence of free coloured people.27 A 60-year-old farmer, in 1831 he lived in the company of his wife and five children: Úrsula Antônia da Silva, Emerenciana Pereira, Ana Joaquina, Maria Romana, and Silvério Antônio Lopes. Like Francisca and the majority of women who lived in the community, Brás' daughters were occupied with handicrafts related with fabrics and clothing, being described in the names list as hand spinners. The pardo Silvério, on the other hand, the only male child in the household, worked as a herdsman.28

  • 29 Baptism records collected in the Metropolitan Curia of Juiz de Fora (AHCJF) and in the A (...)

25Besides the children who were mentioned in the census, Francisca’s inventory tells us of the existence of another five. Of the children mentioned, three were born in the first decade of 1800. Silvério Antônio Lopes, for example, was baptized in the Chapel of Santana do Garambéu in 1805, when he was just one year old. In this ceremony, the couple Joaquim Gurgel do Amaral and Genoveva Antônia de Moura became Silvério’s godparents, and declared that they were the compadres of Brás and Francisca, who through ties of ‘compadrio’ forged relations of friendship and solidarity with white people who lived in the community.29 We did not manage to gain access to the baptism registers of all Brás’s children, but based on the documents analysed, and supposing that the compadres selected were similar as regards a very specific point: their free status, without any allusion to captivity, typical conduct of freedmen already much studied by historiography.

  • 30 In this location, the structure of captive possession was already established: (...)

26In this locality, the presence of small non-slave productive units was preponderant, followed by those properties, which had up to three slaves in their social composition. Unlike most non-owner heads of family, Bras had a 24-year-old African captive. Certainly, the family effort was enough for them to acquire, through the slave traffic, a slave who was still young and in good conditions to work.30

  • 31 Arquivo do Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (APHAN) – São João Del (...)

27Apparently, the roceiro (small farmer) Brás and Francisca succeeded in making their business progress, and 16 years later, when the inventory of Francisca was taken, the property already had a team of five slaves.31 The first African previously acquired was cited as being 42 years of age, together with another African couple aged 22 and 20 years, as well as two creoles aged seven and sixteen. The seven-year-old crioulo was probably the son of the couple, as he was listed just below and not mentioned in the division of goods, and we presume that he remained in the company of his parents. Among the family goods, there was a small farm, a small house with roof tiles – possibly where Brás, his wife, and children lived –, five oxen for carts, four cows and calves, which were probably used to provide for family subsistence, as well as a few tools and cooking utensils.

28The growing of crops associated with raising animals brings us to the search for self-sufficiency. A little of everything was produced, so that the resort to the marketplace and any monetary expenditure or exchange was reduced to the minimum necessary, typical behaviour of small rural landholders. We do not have any information about the production of craft goods in the documents, but it is known that traditionally the tendency was to provide the house and the property with everything necessary, from utensils to heavy cotton fabrics. The extreme rusticity of the material culture found, with few agricultural tools and coarse utensils, denote the suppression of any item which may not have been internally produced, following a standard of material existence reduced to the minimum possible. This situation was compensated by the concentration of the only investments in obtaining slave labour, which represented the possibility of success in the venture.

29The farmer and drover Manoel Linhares and the roceiro Brás, both pardos and with distinct trajectories, represent the possibility of success and social ascension in a slaveholding and excluding society, which condemned thousands of other children of captivity to conditions of poverty, hardship, and often dependency. We do not know their origins, the conditions of access to freedom, which showed their mixed origins, the possibility of savings, or even the existence of personal virtues such as intelligence and abilities, which distinguished them and opened up greater alternatives of success. Any such information would help to explain how a free coloured individual managed to overcome the enormous barriers of a slaveholding society cast in conservative values.

30However, we will now present another path, which certainly became the most common one among those freed from the chains of slavery who did not manage to achieve any trait of social distinction, whether through colour or the possession of goods. Saint-Hilaire’s description when he was passing through Serra do Ibitipoca, close to the residence of the roceiro Brás, in the second half of the eighteenth century, portrays this difficult reality:

  • 32 Saint-Hilaire, A. Segunda viagem do Rio de Janeiro a Minas Gerais e a São Paulo: 1822. 2 (...)

A small distance from this place we arrived at a roughly built adobe hut, covered with thatch, and whose entrances were narrow doors covered with leather. (...) On my arrival, I was received by a mulatto woman wearing a very dirty skirt and cotton shirt. A large number of pretty children, more poorly dressed, surrounded her. (...) She told me that she had been there for a year and had never felt a single moment of boredom. The housework, the chickens, and the domestic animals took up all her time. In addition, there was always something new in her small home. It was time to plant, time to reap, her children were born; her husband and oldest son went out to hunt and brought back a wild pig, whose roasted meat they all ate, or sometimes a wild cat.32

31These were free coloured roceiros who had been living for only a short while in the Mantiqueira woodlands, probably without formal ownership of the shack in which they lived, tending their small plots and ensuring the survival of their family through a close relationship with nature. Did they settle there due to some previous kinship connection? For how long would they remain there before their ownership was questioned? On the other hand, perhaps they were living there under the protection of some landholder. There are many questions whose answers we are unable to verify, but which reveal a possible trajectory of the coloured population, especially the more ‘invisible’ ones due to conditions of poverty and exclusion.

32Close to this abode, in the settlement of Conceição de Ibitipoca, lived another pardo couple, Francisco José da Silva and Maria Teresa de Jesus, who in 1826 brought João, the third of their four children, to the baptismal font.33 There they lived modestly with the parda Senhorinha, aged 99, possibly one of the couple’s grandmother; in other words, it was a hearth around which three generations of free pardos lived.34 We do not have further data about these individuals. We could cite them generically, based on the percentage of free coloured pardos, without goods, lands, or slaves, or other alternatives and opportunities for bettering their lot.

  • 35 Derrama da Capela da Borda do Campo. Documentos avulsos. Casa dos Contos – ANR (...)

33A perception of this free population – egressed from slavery and marked by poverty – became possible when, after an exhaustive investigation, we accessed documentation related to the obligation to pay taxes required of the entire rural population of the Captaincy of Minas Gerais.35 Through this documentation, we were able to validate the information on the large presence of individuals and families from small villages, living under the tutelage of local lords as dependent workers, without autonomy and without access to land ownership.

  • 36 Oliveira, 2016, 95-6.

34In Minas Gerais there were villages consisting mostly of people of colour or simply named as “pardos” or other combinations of names that, taken together, referred to those with ties to slavery, as well as involving Indians and mestizos. While for many access to freedom meant autonomy, for this group of individuals, in addition to the poverty that characterized them, freedom perpetuated a relationship of dependence. Faced with the absence of alternatives or simply the inability to defend their autonomy, submission to a local chief could be the only alternative for inclusion in local life. In this context of lack of resources and difficult access to land, living under the tutelage of a local potentate constituted a stable alternative for the maintenance of survival, security and community living, especially in the absence of alternative social horizons.36

35Investigating the behaviour of poor free men, after they had left captivity, and understanding them within their communities constitutes a very complex task, whether due to the fact that most sources were produced by the authorities at the time, or to the almost complete absence of documentary registers for these social segments, since they did not buy, sell, inherit and could barely defend their rights. Only by crossing different documentary sources and with a good measure of luck can we gain access to this universe.

Being pardo and free in colonial society

  • 37 In the nominative lists the large majority were defined as mixed (pardo). However, there (...)

36In these distinct trajectories, there is the same reference to one shared characteristic: there were all referred to as pardos in the documentation researched. This scenario leads us to think that regionally pardo was a designation given indiscriminately to all freed slaves, whether they were Africans or crioulos.37 We observe that the denomination free pardo only stopped being used when the person in question adopted a surname, which certainly denoted a change in social condition. For the freed people and their descendants who achieved some form of social mobility, through the possession of land or slaves, the adoption of a surname constituted a further form of distinction, distancing them not only from captivity, but also the condition of forro. This situation is clear in all references to Manoel Linhares.

  • 38 AHMPAS, Ana Leal Luiza’s inventory, code 25VC, box 123, order 03, 1837; names list of (...)

37Manuel was a man of the road. He lived by ploughing his fields and trading all sorts of sellable products on the Rio-Minas circuit, including newly arrived slaves from Africa. He had in the family and in the slaves that he possessed the foundation of his productivity. In Manoel's post-mortem inventory owned a culture farm that contained betterments, houses, stores, a mill, a water scoop, slave quarters and more outbuildings, all highly valued.38 As regards the pardo Brás, we wonder how a coloured family, with scant resources, who started their lives in the sertão of Mantiqueira, facing all the difficulties related to stable access to land, managed to obtain an estate capable of ensuring the survival of all and to potentialize their property? In their daily lives, in the coming and going of cattle drives, in the sale of their crops of corn and beans, and in the endless work of looms, resided the secret of success. The family venture was responsible for overcoming challenges. Farmers, drovers, and spinners worked together for the subsistence of the family and to build up a nest egg. The complementarity of the tasks of all the members of the family was to strengthen the small property 15 years later.

38Especially at the time of the division of the property of the family of Brás Antônio Lopes, we can reach other conclusions. Did the family lands harbour other family cycles that could work together to obtain profits? Was family subsistence not impaired by dividing the estate among many parties? Can we observe pre- and post-inventory arrangements that assure the benefit of all? We considered the answer to the three questions to be affirmative. What stands out is the prospect of the permanence of the main reproduction group of the property, when the widower inherited the three African slaves. The father, at that time 76 years of age, would carry on the family business. The other goods (land, animals, and the few objects they possessed) were to be ‘divided’ among nine adult heirs and a further three grandchildren, with one of the heirs getting the 16-year-old slave. They may have continued to live on the land, residing separately but working together in the business, benefitting from the work of slaves and the part of the labour of each of the members of the family.

39The division among so many parties made the subsistence of everyone impracticable. This brings us to the idea of negotiation, of an arrangement for the maintenance of the productive unit destined to the reproduction of the entire family. This was the strategic behaviour of poor people who during their lives managed to distinguish themselves, even if in the social hierarchy of the Brazilian countryside they continued to belong to the group of roceiros and poor coloured farmers. Spatial mobility continued to be a characteristic of these populations, always guided by the desire for land to ensure the survival of the family. On more distant lands they could settle and start their rural ventures/businesses, which needed to be assured, above all, by the joint action of the family.

40The mulata in a dirty cotton dress who was described by Saint-Hilaire, the pardo couple Francisco José da Silva and Maria Teresa de Jesus, together with their children and possibly the grandmother – the parda Senhorinha –, represent the majority of the black population freed from the chains of slavery. They were roceiros, small landholders entrenched on the land or living ‘by favour’ of others. In general, most of the community of free pardos, crioulos, and Africans in the southeast of Brazil sought the necessary conditions for their stabilization. Characterized by the presence of households formed of family units that counted on the incorporation, though not always regular, of some other relative or individual, linked by bonds of affinity. They tended their crops and raised their animals linked to the market in various forms, and in accordance with their different abilities and capabilities to face difficulties. They pooled their knowledge and their scant savings, forged networks of friendship and companionship among their members, and had the main support of their relationships in their families.

Final considerations: A community life strategy

41Investigating the behaviour of individuals and families released from slavery and accompanying them in their trajectories for generations is a great challenge. With the exception of official sources produced by the dominant authorities, there are few documentary records for these social segments. Geographically, we find these groups in areas far from dynamic urban centres, not yet occupied, called “sertão” areas. These free coloured individuals sought to establish themselves, facing the interests of landowners already established in neighbouring regions, as well as indigenous resistance. We have discussed and analysed how Brazilian historiography understands the relationship between the colour designated in the documentation of the individual released from captivity and his social condition, and how this was defined in each region.

42Through a lot of information crossing, we were able to follow two social trajectories marked by upward social mobility, characterized by land and slave ownership and, mainly, by the family agency bringing together different life cycles in the same residence. This guaranteed the subsistence of all its members, enabling them to build up savings and, as a result, to acquire slaves. These truly were strategies for the defence of the family nucleus. In this way, this new category found a place in the local and even regional social hierarchy.

43As a result of extensive research, it was found that few distinguished themselves with successful trajectories, but the large majority settled there without any savings or knowledge which could distinguish them from others, facing numerous difficulties to establish themselves in the region when it was still the target of the interests of wealthier groups.

  • 39 On the importance not only of kinship, but also of neighbourhood and community relations (...)

44As residents of rural areas, marked by isolation, with their huts deep in the woodlands, apart from baptisms performed wherever possible, few can have benefitted from their mobility for the exercise of community relations experienced in the restricted urban space of the settlements. Life for these men and women was marked by the seasons of the year, times of planting, caring for animals, and carrying out routine tasks on their small plots. What remained were ties of mutual aid and kinship, established within the properties and with neighbouring properties, very important for the sustenance/livelihood of groups from the lowest layers of rural society. This conviviality generated a very important mutual assistance network to face the difficulties of the new status of freedom. Security, exchange of goods, collective work, the networks of protection of brotherhoods, and other forms of sociability cemented the relationships between the individuals who belonged to these groups. 39

45While for many people access to liberty meant autonomy, for these groups of individuals, as well as the poverty which characterized them, freedom perpetuated a relationship of dependence. Given the absence of alternatives or simply the incapacity to defend their autonomy, the submission to a local leader could be the only alternative for establishing themselves in the locality.

46In a context marked by the absence of resources and difficult access to land, living under the protection of a local potentate constituted the most stable alternative for the maintenance and survival of the family, guaranteeing security and community conviviality, particularly in the absence of alternative social horizons. In this space various generations of free pardos lived together, tending to create mechanisms to overcome difficulties through a series of strategies, such as co-residence, extension of mutual aid and, even for a few, the purchase of slaves.

Acronyms

47AHMPAS - Professor Altair José Savassi Municipal Historical Archive
AHCJF - Metropolitan Curia of Juiz de Fora
AECM - Archive of the Archdiocese of Mariana
APHAN - Archive of the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute – São João Del Rei
LAHES - Laboratory of Economic and Social History

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Notes

1 There is in Brazilian historiography a profound discussion about the concept of pardo, both related to regional conditions and as markers of social hierarchy. These reflections will be made throughout the text.

2 Through the variation of scales, as a procedure from the perspective of micro history, we access the different dimensions of life, the gaps, contradictions and irregularities of different social groups. See Ginzburg, C. Micro-História: duas ou três coisas que sei a respeito – O Inquisidor como antropólogo. In: O fio e os rastros – verdadeiro, falso, fictício. SP - Cia das Letras, 2006 and Levi, G. Le pouvoir au village. Histoire d’um exorciste dans le Piémont du XVIIe siècle. Paris- Gallimard, 1989.

3 Karasch, M. A vida dos escravos no Rio de Janeiro: 1808-1850. Tradução Pedro Maria Soares, São Paulo-Companhia das Letras, 2000; Frank, Zephyry L. Entre ricos e pobres. O mundo de Antônio José Dutra no Rio de Janeiro Oitocentista. Belo Horizonte-Minas Gerais, AnnaBlume, 2000, p. 14

4 R.Graham's classic book analyses how social mobility was the foundation of a hierarchy characterized by its great stability. Graham, Richard. 1997. Clientelismo e Política no Brasil do Século XIX.

5 Russel-Wood, A.J.R. Escravos e libertos no Brasil Colonial. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2005, p. 320; Luna, Francisco Vidal; Klein, Herbert S. Escravismo no Brasil. São Paulo: EDUSP/Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo, 2010, p. 199-200

6 Russel-Wood, A.J.R, op. cit., p. 86

7 Ferreira, R. Guedes. Estratégias de mobilidade social em sociedades escravistas. Uma análise comparada (Porto Feliz/ São Paulo/ Brasil e Torbee/ São Domingos, séc. XVIII e XIX). In: Fronteiras, Dourados, MS, v. 18, p. 51-93, jul./dez, 2008

8 Scott, Rebecca J., Drescher, Seymour, Castro, Hebe Maria Mattos, George Reid Andrews and Robert M. Levine (contributors). The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press, 1988. Scott, Rebecca J. Degrees of freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after slavery. Cambridge e Londres. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005

9 Lara, Silvia Hunold. Fragmentos setecentistas: escravidão, cultura e poder na América Portuguesa. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2007, p. 17-24

10 Cardim, Pedro. Cortes e cultura política no Portugal do Antigo Regime. Lisboa: Edições Cosmos, 1998, p. 135; Oliveira, M.R. Negócios de Família: mercado, terra e poder na formação da cafeicultura mineira 1780-1870. Bauru, São Paulo: Edusc; Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais: FUNALFA, 2005.

11 Libby, Douglas Cole. A empiria e as cores: representações indenitárias nas Minas Gerais dos séculos XVIII e XIX. In: PAIVA, Eduardo França, IVO, Isnara Pereira and Martins, Ilton Cesar (eds.). Escravidão, mestiçagens, populações e identidades culturais. São Paulo: Annablume, 2010.

12 Karasch. Mary. C, op. cit., p. 37.

13 Soares, Mariza Carvalho. Devotos da cor. Identidade étnica, religiosidade e escravidão no Rio de Janeiro, século XVIII. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2000; Libby, Douglas Cole. A empiria e as cores: representações indenitárias nas Minas Gerais dos séculos XVIII e XIX. In: Paiva, Eduardo França; Ivo, Isnara Pereira; Martins, Ilton César. (Orgs.) Escravidão e mestiçagem, populações e identidade culturais. São Paulo: Annablume, Belo Horizonte: PPGH-UFMG; Vitória da Conquista: Edições UESB, 2010. p. 41-62.

14 Machado, Cacilda. A trama das vontades: negros, pardos e brancos na produção da hierarquia social do Brasil escravista. Rio de Janeiro: Apicuri, 2008, p. 127.

15 Faria, Sheila de Castro. A Colônia em movimento: família e fortuna no cotidiano colonial. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1998, p. 138.

16 Mattos, Hebe Maria. Escravidão e cidadania no Brasil Monárquico. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar. Ed., 2000, p. 16-17

17 Mattos, Hebe Maria. Das cores do silêncio, 1995.

18 Ferreira, R. Guedes. Estratégias de mobilidade social em sociedades escravistas… op. cit.

19 Around 9,000,000 baptism records were collected in the Metropolitan Curia of Juiz de Fora and in the Archdiocese of Mariana. These records make up a database available at the Economic and Social History Laboratory of the Federal University of Juiz de Fora. https://www.ufjf.br/lahes/. These data formed the basis for a series of research projects, such as: Oliveira, M.R. A terra e seus Homens, 2016 e Bôscaro, Ana Paula. Uma Serra de Almas Negras: escravidão e pequena propriedade. Editora: Multifoco, 2018.

20 We refer to the scale variation procedures that, from the perspective of micro history, help to build a global perspective. For further considerations on this issue, see REVEL, Jacques (ed.). Jogos de escalas: a experiência da microanálise. RJ: FGV, 1998.

21 Post-mortem inventory - AHMPAS - Professor Altair José Savassi Municipal Historical Archive

22 Idem

23 Bôscaro, Dutra Ana Paula. Sociedade Traficante: o comércio interno de escravos no centro-sul brasileiro e suas conexões na primeira metade do século XIX (Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais). (Tese de Doutorado em História), Universidade de Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF), 2021.

24 Nominative List: http://poplin.cedeplar.ufmg.br/principal.php?t=true&popline=listaNominativa&d=11309 Accessed on: 15th May 2016.

25 Nominative List: http://poplin.cedeplar.ufmg.br/principal.php?t=true&popline=listaNominativa&d=11309 Accessed on: 15th May 2016.

26 Ana Luiza's post-mortem inventory was not completed, so we can infer nothing about the sharing of assets, and Manoel Linhares Pereira's inventory was not found. AHMPAS, Inventário de Ana Luiza Leal, código 25VC, caixa 123, ordem 03, 1837.

27 Bôscaro, Dutra Ana Paula; Guimarães, Elione. Valentim Gomes Tolentino: a mobilidade econômica e social vivenciada por um pardo no século XIX - (Zona da Mata mineira, 1817-1855). In: Topoi. Revista de História, 2018, p. 64

28 Nominative List: http://poplin.cedeplar.ufmg.br/principal.php?t=true&popline=listaNominativa&d=11309 Accessed on: 15th May 2016.

29 Baptism records collected in the Metropolitan Curia of Juiz de Fora (AHCJF) and in the Archive of the Archdiocese of Mariana (AECM).

30 In this location, the structure of captive possession was already established: 57% of hearths were from owners without slaves; 19% had between 1 and 3 slaves; 13% had 4 to 6 slaves; 4% from 7 to 10; and 5% from 11 to 15. Nominative List: http://poplin.cedeplar.ufmg.br/principal.php?t=true&popline=listaNominativa&d=11309 Accessed on: 15th May 2016.

31 Arquivo do Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (APHAN) – São João Del Rei, SJDR - 1 SVC - caixa 146 - ordem 8.

32 Saint-Hilaire, A. Segunda viagem do Rio de Janeiro a Minas Gerais e a São Paulo: 1822. 2. ed. São Paulo, SP: Nacional, 1938, 1938, p. 61

33 Baptism record collected in the Archive of the Archdiocese of Mariana (AECM). Conceição de Ibitipoca – 1826.

34 Nominative List: http://poplin.cedeplar.ufmg.br/principal.php?t=true&popline=listaNominativa&d=11309 – fogo 0-29-1. Accessed on: 15th May 2016.

35 Derrama da Capela da Borda do Campo. Documentos avulsos. Casa dos Contos – ANRJ. The “spill” was a collection of the eventual deficit in the annual collection of the tax on the extraction of gold. This documentation, specifically, consisted of a list of residents of a small village in the region in 1763.

36 Oliveira, 2016, 95-6.

37 In the nominative lists the large majority were defined as mixed (pardo). However, there appears a minimal identification of crioulos and Africans as forros. It is inconceivable to think that it was skin colour which defined this nomenclature, since the forros were referred to very little. We maintain the idea that regionally the denomination parda was given to everyone, principally to those who had achieved freedom some time earlier.

38 AHMPAS, Ana Leal Luiza’s inventory, code 25VC, box 123, order 03, 1837; names list of inhabitants of the district of Santo Antônio do Juiz de Fora, 1831. Available in: http://poplin.cedeplar.ufmg.br/. Accessed on 15th May, 2018 apud Bôscaro, Dutra Ana Paula, op. cit.

39 On the importance not only of kinship, but also of neighbourhood and community relationships in rural societies in slave-holding Brazil, see Oliveira, 2016. Karl Polanyi, drawing on H. Maine and F. Toennies, highlighted that communities were based on affective relations and on status, as opposed to more impersonal societies regulated by contracts. For Max Weber, the spatial proximity between neighbours could generate various relationships of solidarity or even conflict and, as a result, there could emerge within it the regulation of participants’ behaviour. Polany, Karl. A subsistência do homem e ensaios correlatos. Rio de Janeiro: Contraponto, 2012.; Weber, Max. Economia e sociedade. Brasília: Edunb, 1991.

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Référence électronique

Mônica Ribeiro de Oliveira et Ana Paula Dutra Bôscaro, « The different ways of being coloured and free in a slaveholding society and its possibilities of social mobility: south-eastern Brazil, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries »Nuevo Mundo Mundos Nuevos [En ligne], Débats, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2022, consulté le 13 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/nuevomundo/88114 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/nuevomundo.88114

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Auteurs

Mônica Ribeiro de Oliveira

Professora da Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora (UFJF); Pesquisadora CNPQ; Fapemig

Ana Paula Dutra Bôscaro

Pesquisadora do Laboratório de História Econômica e Social (LAHES/UFJF)

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