IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > H. Latin America, 1500–1800 > 10. The Portuguese Colonial System
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
10. The Portuguese Colonial System
Population. At the beginning of Portuguese colonization, a large group of mestiços emerged as a result of intermixture between Portuguese men and Indian women. The heavy influx of African slaves from the mid-16th century on resulted in new racially mixed groups, children of African and Indian parents and of African and white parents. In 1583 the population was estimated at 25,000 whites and mestiços, 18,000 subjugated Indians, and 14,000 slaves. In the mid-17th century, considerable immigration occurred. Population was estimated at 150,000 to 200,000, three-quarters of whom were Indians, blacks, and mestiços or mulattos. In 1818 the population was estimated at 843,000 whites, 1,887,000 blacks, 628,000 mestiços, and 259,400 Indians. The bulk of the population was concentrated in São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, and Bahia. Originally the crown permitted any person of Catholic faith to enter Brazil, but after 1591 aliens were excluded.  1
Portuguese colonial administration was not clearly differentiated from that of the metropolis prior to the union of the crowns of Portugal and Spain. The Mesa da Conciência e Ordens, with ecclesiastical and financial powers, was created in 1532. Upon the establishment of a more centralized government in Brazil, a commissioner of finances and a chief justice were appointed for the colony (1548). Corregidores, with judicial and military functions, were in charge of local administration. Municipal organization was patterned on that of Portugal. The fundamental code was the Ordenanças Manuelinas (1521).  2
During the period of the union of the thrones of Spain and Portugal (1581–1640), Spanish administrative forms were introduced. The Casa da Índia was established (1591). The inspector of finance was created (1604), a supreme court was established in Bahia (1609), and the title of viceroy was introduced (1640). Under Philip III (1598–1621), the Ordenanças Philipinas, which permitted greater local autonomy, superseded the Ordenanças Manuelinas.  3
By the close of the 18th century, the structure of royal government was fully formed. The Overseas Council (Conselho de Ultramar), created in 1642, exercised general religious and military authority over Brazil. Pará, Maranhão, Pernambuco, Bahia, São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso, and Rio de Janeiro were captaincies-general, provinces of the first rank, under captains-general usually appointed by the crown. The viceroy, who was also captain-general of Rio de Janeiro, possessed legal authority over the captains-general in certain matters, but the latter frequently received instructions from the crown, with which they could correspond directly. A tendency toward local autonomy existed. Two superior judicial districts existed, with high courts at Bahia and Rio de Janeiro (founded in 1757), respectively. Appeals from these courts went directly to Lisbon. The municipalities, with their councils (senados de câmara), enjoyed a certain degree of self-government.  4
Economy. Restrictions were placed upon industry and agriculture that competed with Portuguese enterprises, and a government monopoly, which produced important crown revenues, existed for the exploitation of Brazil wood, mining of diamonds, and other activities. Customs duties were levied and a royal fifth (quinto) was collected on all gold mined. The mining of gold and diamonds and the production of sugar, cotton, and hides were the chief industries. Slavery, first Indian, then predominantly African, was the main form of labor in Brazil. Portugal controlled Angola and Portuguese traders supplied slaves to the Brazilian planters.  5
Commerce was a Portuguese monopoly until 1808 and trade was restricted to Lisbon and Oporto and carried out through convoyed fleets. In 1649 a monopolistic Commercial Company of Brazil was organized. In 1682, the also monopolistic Maranhão Company was formed. Both companies aroused opposition and were abolished in the first decades of the 18th century. During the Pombaline period, two more monopolistic companies were formed, but both were abolished after his fall. Pombal abolished the system of convoyed fleets.  6
The Church. The papal bull of Julius III conceded to the crown the right to nominate bishops, collect tithes, dispense church revenues, and receive appeals from ecclesiastical tribunals. The bishopric of Bahia was erected in 1551. In 1676 Innocent XI created the archbishopric of Brazil, with Bahia as the metropolitan seat, at the same time erecting the bishoprics of Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco. The Jesuits, until their expulsion by the crown (1759), played an important role through conversion of the natives, extension of the Portuguese influence, and establishment of schools and colleges (1554). They had frequent clashes with the colonists, who abhorred the Jesuit campaign against Indian slavery. Jesuits, however, did not oppose African slavery and owned many slave plantations in Brazil. The Inquisition of Lisbon was in charge of religious infractions, but no tribunal was established in Brazil, all the cases being reviewed by visitadores (inspectors).  7
Society and culture. Sugar mill owners (senhores de engenho) and sugarcane growers occupied the highest social and economic positions, along with high royal officers and Portuguese merchants. Marriage and kinship ties solidified their social position. This elite minority sent its children to Portugal for higher education since, in Brazil, there was no university-level instruction during the colonial period. Jesuits controlled most of the institutions of secondary education, with ten colleges and four seminaries. The most distinguished Brazilian-born scholar was the Jesuit Antônio Vieira (1608–97), a constant defender of the Indians, whose sermons achieved fame throughout the Iberian dominions. There was a significant population of New Christians (Jews recently converted to Christianity or their children) engaged in commerce, artisanal trades, and sugarcane growing, but Jewish collaboration with Dutch invaders weakened the New Christians' position and inquisitorial inspections frequently harassed them. Wealth from the gold rush and sugar commerce allowed the development of highly elaborate religious architecture and arts in the main cities. The most distinguished artist of this era was the mulatto architect and sculptor Antônio Francisco Lisboa (c. 1730–1814), called Aleijadinho.  8
The rural sector of society was predominant. Indians and African slaves occupied the lowest social position. Often, slaves fled to remote areas to form maroon communities. Slaveholders hired professional slave-catchers (capitães de mato) to recapture their slaves. Slaves could also obtain freedom by self-purchase or by manumission. People of mixed background (called mulatos, mamelucos, caboclos), although free, were subjected to discriminatory laws and customs. They lived as squatters, sharecroppers, artisans, wage laborers. Black slaves introduced customs and beliefs from different African societies, which played a major role in the formation of popular religiosity and culture in Brazil. (See Latin America, 1806–1914)  9
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.