To strengthen its position against Spain, Portugal forged an alliance with the English. This alliance remained as part of the bedrock of Portuguese foreign policy for the next five centuries. (Skidmore 1999:7)


While Spanish sailors set out in search of a route to Asia by sailing westward in the 15th century, the Portuguese opted instead for the so-called "Southern Cycle" sailing southward along the African coast. Portuguese navigators reached the Cape of Good Hope in 1487.


In 1494, the Treaty of Tordesillas between Spain and Portugal, settled the question of possession of the lands to be discovered. In the treaty, it was agreed that territories lying east of an imaginary meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands would belong to Portugal, and the lands to the west of that imaginary line would be under Spanish control. This line, extending from pole to pole, dissected the easternmost part of the South American continent and constituted Brazil's first frontier. This arrangement would hold until the Treaty of Madrid, in 1750.


Ten years later, led by Vasco da Gama, the sea route across the Indian Ocean to the Far East was discovered. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the Portuguese language was often the only common language in many ports throughout Africa and Asia.


Cabral's expedition left Lisbon on March 3, 1500, and made landfall north of Porto Seguro (Bahia) on April 24th. Fifteen hundred men sailed with the expedition, which amounted to almost three per cent of the population of Lisbon at the time. Among those present in the expedition was Bartholomeu Marquione, Florentine banker and emissary of Lorenzo de Medici. Pedro Cabral set sail from Lisbon with 13 ships; he was supposed to replicate the voyage of Vasco da Gama who had sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to India. But winds blew the vessels off course.

April 22

Cabral reaches what is now the southern coast of Bahia. He found a safe harbor which he named Porto Seguro (Safe Port).

After a cursory week exploring the coast he continued to India, where he drowned in a shipwreck a few months later.

Portugal established a few trading posts.


In 1501 King Manuel I sent Amerigo Vespucci to explore. He entered Guanabara Bay on New Year's Day 1502. He called it Rio de Janeiro (the River of January).

They found brazilwood, the raw material for a valuable red dye and this led Lusitanian merchants to take an interest in the new area. The land was called Terra do Brasil, after a tropical redwood that was its first export; the scarlet dye it yielded was called brasa, "a glowing coal."

Next 2 decades

Portugal ignores the area for the next couple of decades, apart from a few lumber camps and scattered stockades.


French explore Brazilian coast.


Two Indian groups: tropical-forest Indians who inhabited the rain forests of the Amazon and the coastal plains and lived off agriculture and fishing; and the marginal-culture Indians, nomadic inhabitants of the plains and plateaus who hunted, gathered, and fished. The first Portuguese explorers and colonists came into contact with tropical-forest Indians, mainly belonging to Tupi tribal groups. (Page 1995:86-87)

The Native American peoples who were the original inhabitants of what is now Brazil included the Arawak and Carib groups in the north, the Tupi-Guarani of the east coast and the Amazon River valley, the Ge of eastern and southern Brazil, and the Pano in the west. For the most part these groups were essentially seminomadic peoples, who subsisted by hunting and gathering and simple agriculture. Those groups in the more remote areas of the interior maintained their traditional way of life until the late 20th century, when their existence was threatened by the advancing frontier.

Portugal decides to colonize Brazil as a means of protecting it against other Europeans.

First official colonists were at what is now the port of Santo, Sao Paulo.

In 1530, the expedition of Martim Afonso de Souza, surveyed the coast of Brazil in order to find favorable areas for settlement. Soon afterwards the first immigrants arrived with domestic animals, plants, and seeds.


During this time, the city of São Vicente on the coast of the State of São Paulo was founded in 1532.


With the influx of immigrants, a system of colonial administration became necessary. It was decided by the Portuguese Crown (King Joao III) to create a number of hereditary fiefs, known as "captaincies". Fifteen of these captaincies (sesmarias) - some larger than Portugal itself - were established between 1534 and 1536. The "captaincy system", which influenced the basic territorial and political patterns of modern Brazil, lasted until 1759 (when the Jesuists were thrown out of the country).

Portugal divides Brazil into 15 captaincies, each stretching at least 90 miles along the coast

Most of the captaincies floundered, except for Santo and Pernambuco (in the northeast). Six of the modern states bear the names of the captaincies.

The captaincy of Pernambuco became one of the most successful, primarily through the exploitation of cane for sugar production. The sugar plant and the technique of its cultivation came to Brazil at this time from Madeira. With its moist and fertile coastal lands, Pernambuco was suitable for growing sugar, but also conveniently located as a port of call for sailing ships traveling from Portugal to West Africa and Asia.

A "triangular trade" soon developed, based on the importation of slave labor from West Africa to work on sugar plantations. The sugar was, in turn, exported to European markets, where demand was outstripping world supplies, and manufactured goods were exported from Europe to colonial markets.


First slaves imported to feed the demands of the sugar industry in the Northeast. (In the course of 3 centuries about 3.5 million blacks -- six times the number brought to the U.S. -- came to Brazil.) One historian calculated that 40 percent of the estimated 9.5 million slaves transported to the New World went to Brazil.

Clovis Moura, a black sociologist, believes that slavery became the blue-print for Brazilian society. It provided the dominant ethos, laid the foundations for economic inequality & exploitation, and influenced the way institutions, groups, and classes developed after abolition.


Spanish establish settlements on the coast of modern Santa Catarina. These settlements did not survive.


Gaspar de Carvajal described taking several days to pass through the large towns of the Omagua tribe on the Amazon in 1542. Carvaljal was a Dominican missionary, born in Estremadura, Spain, c. 1500. Having entered the Order of St. Dominic in Spain, he went to Peru in 1533 and devoted himself to the conversion of the native Indians. In 1540 Carvajal accompanied the famous expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro to the territory of Quixos and the Amazon. After several months of toilsome travel, Pizarro and his followers reached Canelos, the limit originally proposed for their expedition. Hearing from the natives of the existence of a rich and fruitful land beyond, they resolved to press forward. They soon found themselves in a country destitute of provisions and infested with tribes of fierce and unfriendly Indians. Coming to the River Napo, Pizarro decided to send a small band of men accompanied by Carvajal and under the command of Francisco de Orellana down the river in search of provisions. Having reached the point of confluence of the Napo and Amazon, Orellana resolved to abandon his brigantine to the course of the river. Carvajal and another member of the expedition, Sánchez de Vargas, protested against this proceeding of dishonour and treachery. They were both promptly landed by Orellana, and later Pizarro and his men found them in the wilderness.

The expedition returned to Quito in 1542 with only eighty survivors of the original four hundred.

Carvajal was sent by his superiors to the mission of Tucuman, where for several years he laboured with unceasing zeal and devotion for the conversion of the native tribes in this immense territory. Having been elected to the office of provincial, he spent the greater part of four years in organizing and extending the province and founding new convents. In 1565 he was chosen to represent the province of Peru at Rome, but in all probability he did not cross the ocean. He died in Lima, Peru, 1584. (Stephen M. Donovan,


King Joao III, seeing the captancies were not very successful and irritated by this lack of progress, repossessed the captaincies.


Portugal decided to centralize control over the captaincies. So they established Salvador in Bahia. Sent out the first governor-general, Tome da Sousa, to the newly designated capital at Salvador. The most readily exploitable resource was a wood that produced red and purple dyes, known as pau-brasil (from which the country derived its name).

Sugar plantations began to spring up around Salvador and Olinda.

Bahia continued to be the first commercial city of Brazil until about 1830, when Sao Paulo replaced it. Bahia played such a prominent role up to independence that it has been called "the Brazilian Virginia." (Pierson 1967:8)


1549 was the year of the arrival of the first Jesuit missionaries. They acquired power in Brazil second only to that of the Crown itself. In Salvador they built the largest Jesuit college outside Rome, and set in motion a crusade to convert the Indians. From 1600 they established dozens of missions, especially in the Amazon and in the grasslands of the southeast.


Led by Nicolas de Villegaignon, a naval officer, the French control the area of Rio de Janeiro. The French saw this as a possible future refuge for French Protestants.


A German mercenary, Hans Staden, captured by the cannibal Tupi. He spent three nervous years among them.

Hans Staden was a German gunner who sailed to Brazil twice on Portuguese ships. Staden's second voyage to the New World in 1549 proved disastrous. All three ships were wrecked. Staden then served as a gunnery instructor in a coastal Portuguese fort before being captured by cannibal Tupinamba warriors in 1552, who assumed he was Portuguese.

Knowing the language of the Tupi (a trading lingua franca) after three years in Brazil, Staden was well aware of his precarious situation. His captors, having shaved his eyebows with glass, clearly intended to eat him. Staden attempted to convince the natives that he was German, not Portuguese, and thus a friend of the Tupinamba's French allies.

A Frenchman called Karrwattware was summoned from a Tupinamba village four miles away. After the unfortunate Staden failed to understand his French, however, Karrwattware told the natives to "kill him and eat eat him, the good-for-nothing, for he is indeed a Portuguese, your enemy and mine." Things looked even bleaker for Staden when the tribal chief, named Konyan Bebe, announced he had already helped to "kill and eat five Portuguese who said they were Frenchmen, but had all lied."

Staden somehow managed to survive for months among the cannibalistic Tupinamba before finally escaping.

During his captivity, he observed many aspects of this now extinct culture which he soon recorded in a book entitled Hans Staden: The True History of his Captivity. This two-part narrative on his confinement and Tupinamba captors was published in 1557 after his return to Europe. It became an immediate best-seller and was reprinted several times with translations in Dutch, Latin, and French. Indeed, his memoirs were one of the first bestsellers in European history. The first section narrates his two voyages and the story of his capture. Part two contains Staden's important ethnographic descriptions of the Tupinamba villages, including subsistence and manioc preparation, pottery manufacture and other crafts, religion, marriage customs, political practices, and cannibalism. He sent back the most vivid account of the life of the Indians. He tells how they tied his legs together ". . . and I was forced to hop through the huts, at which they made merry, saying ‘Here comes our food hopping toward us.'"

Staden's written and illustrated account remains a primary source on the Tupinamba culture, which dominated large portions of southeastern Brazil, and whose language was used for trading as far away as the Andes at the time of initial European contact. (


Sao Paulo was founded as a Jesuit missionary outpost in 1554.


French driven out of Rio by Portuguese and Indian troops. This was the year of Rio's official founding by the Portuguese.


After a two year siege, the Portuguese governor-general ousts the French who had established themselves above Santo. Establish the settlement of Rio de Janeiro.



End of the house of Avis, 1385-1578. King Sebastian of Portugal led his army against the Moslems in Morocco; suffers disastrous defeat in 1578 and himself perishes on the field of battle. The triangular trade was interrupted when Sebastian died. Leaving no clearly defined successor, King Philip II of Spain seized the opportunity to claim to the throne in Lisbon for himself, and thus, from 1580 to 1640, the two kingdoms were linked together under the Spanish crown.

Ironically, the sixty year union between Portugal and Spain would result in the substantial expansion of Brazilian territory. With the absence of boundaries, both the Portuguese and the Brazilians began penetrating westward into the "interior" of Brazil and inadvertently expanding the boundaries of the future independent Brazil. The principal starting point for this exploration was the captaincy of São Vicente in São Paulo. These expeditionaries, who were known as the Bandeirantes, were primarily motivated by the "hunt" for Indians captured from Jesuit missions.


Portuguese finally drive the French out of Sao Luiz, located on the Atlantic coast.


In order to secure their interests in Africa and in America, the Dutch government and private commercial companies formed the East India Company. Its primary objective was to secure the supply of sugar for the member companies, and, wherever possible to colonize regions favorable for the plantation of sugar.

One of Spain's enemies was the Dutch. The Dutch had fought a bitter war of Independence with Spain and they were still menaced by the Spanish presence in Flanders.


Before the period of domination of Portugal by Spain (1580 to 1640), the Portuguese and the Dutch already had substantial commercial ties. The Dutch had been engaged in constructing sugar mills in Brazil and participated in the shipping and distribution of the finished product in Europe, as well as, the importation of African slaves to Brazil to work on the plantations.

In 1624, the Dutch attempted, for the first time, to settle in Salvador, Bahia, but were repelled a year later.


Dutch expelled from Salvador


Dutch force repulsed from Salvador


Dutch capture Pernambuco. Soon they control most of the Northeast.

In 1630, they succeeded in conquering and holding for a period of 24 years the cities of Recife and Olinda in Pernambuco, which was then the major colonial sugar producing area.

They established a new capital in Pernambuco: Mauritzstaadt, now Recife.

Runaway slaves assembled in small groups known as quilombos that became modest-sized settlements. One became famous: the so-called Republic of Palmares (1630-1695) in Alagoas.

The leader was Zumbi of Palmares. He was born free. The Republic of Palmares (Quilombo dos Palmares) was the most famous of the slave communities and was hidden in the Belly Hills of the Alagoas State (Serra da Barriga) in the north of Brazil. Despite the strong opposition from the authorities , Palmares survived for almost a century and reached a peak population of around twenty thousand. The strengths of this legendary quilombo has been often attributed to the black warrior Zumbi, who was said to have been the nephew of an African princess. Using the rituals of Capoeira as inspiration, King Zumbi motivated his people to find unity and fight for freedom.

Today his name is considered a symbol of freedom for Afro-Brazilians. November 20, the anniversary of the death of Zumbi of Palmares, is the National Day of Black Awareness in Brazil.


During the government of Dutchman Johann Mauritius van Nassau from 1637 to 1644, Pernambuco was prosperous. The Prince of Nassau, who administered the colony by the invitation of the East India Company, was the patron to painters, scientists, natural historians, astronomers, meteorologists, and doctors. During his administration, sugar production grew substantially, cattle ranching was introduced, hospitals and orphanages constructed, and the right to free worship extended to Catholics, Jews, and Protestants.


In 1640, the Duke of Bragança, with the assistance of the English and the Dutch, was able to re-capture the Portuguese Crown. Following João IV's struggle to recover the Portuguese Crown, between 1640 and 1648, the lands which had been occupied west of the original Tordesillas line since 1580, remained in Portuguese hands under the principle of uti possidetis, the right derived from "useful possession".


The Dutch West Indian Company stupidly insisted on Calvinism and heavy taxes in Brazil. Maurice resigned in disgust and returned to Holland in 1644.


In 1648 and 1649, the Battles of Guararapes (just outside Recife) were decisive in weakening the Dutch presence in Brazil. The Dutch would surrender in 1654, and would formally recognize the Portuguese sovereignty over Recife in 1661 by the treaty known as the Peace of the Hague.


The most remarkable Jesuit defender of the Indians was Antonio Vieira, He abandoned his position as chief adviser to the king in Lisbon to become a missionary in Brazil in 1653. Basing himself in Sao Luis, he struggled to implement the more enlightened Indian laws that his influence over King Joao IV had secured. He condemned the enslavement of the Indians.

The Jesuit system of segregation no matter how benevolent did not really facilitate the social and cultural integration of the Indian and served to create a state within a state by the Jesuits in Brazil.

Another reason that the Jesuits were despised was that they had highly efficient agricultural enterprises that often competed against civilian enterprises in terms of production and labor. The whole issue of a war fought in the early 1700's between the Jesuits and the mamalucos was over the production of yerba mate, which the Jesuits produced on their estates and were putting out of business many of the mamaluco enterprises near the parana region.

The Portuguese crown had been generally sympathetic to the Indian and had pursued a policy of compromise for two centuries which satisfied neither the planters or the Jesuits. (


Antonio Vieira thundered in 1654 to the fury of settlers in the congregation.


In exchange for their support and protection, the Duke of Braganca, now known as King João IV, conceded in 1654 that the English trade, with certain restrictions, in the Portuguese colonies.

Brazilians throw out the Dutch. Black ex-slave Henrique Dias helped expel the Dutch.


Settlers forced the Jesuit Vieira onto a ship bound for Portugal, standing on the surf and shouting "Out! Out!"


The fortress of Sao Jose da Barra built here by Portuguese colonisers; named the place Manaus (Amazonas state) after a tribe of Indians who inhabited the region.


Adventurers known as Bandeirantes (rather slavers) from Sao Paulo probed into the interior of Brazil. They were after Indian slaves. They decimated settlements the Jesuits had established for the Guarani Indians in what is now Paraguay. They even reached the Amazon River.

Many towns on the Planalto Central or Mato Grosso have their origins in the remnants of a bandeira.


Gold rush into Minas Gerais (General Mines). Later diamonds found in northern Minas Gerais.

Gold also discovered in Mato Grosso and Goias. The new captaincies of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, and Goias were created.

An important consequence of the expeditions of the Bandeirantes into the interior of Brazil was the discovery of gold. The exploration of gold brought thousands of migrants from the coastal plantations, attracted new immigration from Portugal, and stimulated the growth of cattle farming. The influx of people brought about the creation of new cities in what is now the State of Minas Gerais.

Altogether, nearly 1,000 tons of gold and 3 million carats of diamonds were extracted from the region between 1700 and 1800.

But the boom in gold and diamond mining, like that of sugar, was followed by the rise of another important source of wealth - coffee. Mining had caused a migration of people from Pernambuco and Bahia southwards to Minas Gerais, and coffee cultivation provided the impetus for settlements further to the south.

Coffee was first imported to Brazil via French Guiana in the 18th century. The early plantations were in regions with readily-available slave labor in Rio de Janeiro; the abolition of slavery and European immigration into the State of São Paulo in the late 19th century caused coffee growing to move southward to the region where soil conditions, climate, and altitude provided a suitable environment.


More importantly, they discovered gold in the highlands several hundred miles to the north of Rio de Janeiro. First discovered in 1695.

Runaway slaves assembled in small groups known as quilombos that became modest-sized settlements. One became famous: the so-called Republic of Palmares (1630-1695) in Alagoas. Its legendary head was Zumbi. A military expedition led by the infamous bandeirante Domingos Jorge Velho finally left it in ashes in 1695.

Zumbi was believed to have hurled himself from a cliff to avoid capture by government forces determined to put an end to the black outpost.


In 1703, through the Treaty of Methuen Portugal obliged itself to import from England, "in perpetuity", textiles only from England.

The gold mining in Brazil influenced the course of events in Europe. Under the Methuen Treaty of 1703, England supplied textile products to Portugal, and these were paid for with gold from the Brazilian mines. The influx of Brazilian gold into England, in turn, helped stimulate the Industrial Revolution. In Brazil, however, the extraction of gold had the opposite effect; the domination of English industrial goods in the colonial markets, discouraged industrial development.


Black troops help defend Rio against invading French.


Frezier in 1714 estimated the proportion of blacks to whites in Bahia to be at that time twenty to one; probably only somewhat of an overstatement. (Pierson 1967:29)


Gold discovered around Cuiaba, in Mato Grosso, adding fresh impetus to the opening of the interior. The opening of this city took six months. Along the way the Bandeirantes had to fight off the Paiagua Indians. These Indians would attack from canoes. Then the bandeirantes had to fight the Guaicuru Indians, who had taken to the horse like the Plains Indians of North America did later.


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