Indigenous Peoples Liberated in Brazil’s Amazon Region

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108. [COMPANHIA GERAL DO GRÃO-PARÁ E MARANHÃO]. PORTUGAL. SOVEREIGNS (Jose I). [Text begins] Dom Joseph por graça de Deos Rey de Portugal, e dos Algarves dáquem, e dálem mar em Africa, Senhor de Guiné, e da Conquista, navegação, e commercio de Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, e da India, & verdadeiras causas com que desde o descobrimento do Grão Pará, e Maranhão até agora não só se não tem multiplicado, e civilizado os Indios daquelle Estado; desterrando-se delle a barbariadade, e o gentilismo, e propagando-se a douctrina Christãa.... [At end] Ley, porque V. Magestade ha por bem restituir aos Indios do Grão Pará, e Maranhão a liberdade das suas pessoas, e bens, e commercio: na forma que nella se declara.... Dated in type, Lisbon, June 6, 1755. Registrada na Secretaria de Estado dos Negocios extrangeiros, e da Guerra, no livro primeiro da Companhia do Grão Pará, e Maranhão (p. 12). [Lisbon? 1755]. 1-12 pp. Folio (30 x 20.5 cm), left blank margin slightly chipped where removed, contemporary ink foliations in upper right corners, overall fine.

     First edition. Gauz, Portuguese and Brazilian Books, 1755/22. Not in Borba de Moraes or Sabin. This text is divided into four sections. The preamble (pp. 1-2) justifies the law; “Ley do primeiro de Abril de mil seiscentos e oitenta” (pp. 2-4) includes extracts from that law that freed the indigenous people; the “Principe” is on pp 4-5; “Ley de dez de Novembro de mil seiscentos quarenta e sete” (pp. 5-6), which declared indigenous people could work for whomever they pleased; law of 1611 (pp. 6-7), which freed all indigenous people who were slaves; the remainder is taken up by the main order.

     This law is an interesting example of the type affecting American indigenous populations and was very liberal for the time. This significant ruling apparently was meant to favor the Companhia Geral do Grão-Pará e Maranhão, which had been established in 1755 by the Marquis of Pombal as a monopolistic trading company, given commercial control of the northern region of Brazil, and was intended to produce cheap exported products for the metropole. The company was expected to use slaves, which it imported in large numbers, and to have little use for impressed indigenous labor. This law was one of the numerous passed in Portugal affecting the company’s operations. The effect of this law was to liberate the indigenous population of Grão Pará and Maranhão in present northern Brazil. The law was also a slap at the Jesuits and other religious orders operating in Brazil and was calculated to vastly reduce their power and influence.

     Mathias C. Kiemen, “The Indian Policy of Portugal in America, with Special Reference to the Old State of Maranhão,” The Americas, Vol. 5, No. 2 (October 1948), pp. 131-171 and Vol. 5, No. 4 (April 1949), pp. 439-461, discusses the background of and the effects of this law:

Unfortunately for the Jesuits, complaints made by Paulo de Silva Nunes over a period of many years now began to bear fruit. Pombal was determined to spare no effort to humble the missionaries who seemed to be defying his authority. To Pombal the temporal authority and resources of the missions were an anachronism. It was his wish that priests confine themselves purely to spiritual labors. This would naturally preclude the operation of missions by the missionaries....

Pombal decided to develop the commercial resources of the Maranhão through a plan which involved the liberation of the Indians, the secularization of the administration of the aldeias, and the establishment of a commercial company, the Companhia de Grão Pará e Maranhão. The Indians, instead of being limited to work on the missions and certain private plantations, would now be free to hire themselves for work anywhere they wished. They would continue to live in their villages, near the white settlements, but under secular authority. The Company would take care of the needs of the colony, receiving a monopoly of shipping, external commerce and Negro slaves.

In furtherance of the plan, Pombal decreed the liberation of the Indians on June 6, 1755.... The governor...was to set up a wage-scale in conformity with the skills of the Indians.... These wages were to be paid on Saturday of each week, in cloth, coin, or money. The natives from the sertão were to be settled in convenient places, and were not to be obliged to move from these places against their will. The governor was to give the Indians some of the adjacent land for their own cultivation.... Trade with these interior Indians was to be encouraged. The governor was to see that these Indians keep the freedom of their persons and the freedom of trade at all times. Finally, all previous laws on the subject of Indian slavery or forced labor were declared annulled.

     The Pombaline Reforms, including the establishment of this company, were a series of reforms with the goal of making Portugal an economically self-sufficient and commercially strong nation, by expanding Brazilian territory, streamlining the administration of colonial Brazil, and reforming fiscal and economic matters. The Jesuits were finally officially ejected from Brazil in 1759 as part of this movement.


Sold. Hammer: $300.00; Price Realized: $367.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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