Essay: The Freed Black and Mulatto People in the Brazilian Diamond Society during the 18th Century

Written by Júnia Ferreira Furtado 1.Black Village At the foot of Santo Antônio Mountain, in the northeast of Minas Gerais, where the Grande and Piruruca rivers meet, a haphazard cluster of houses began to creep up the hillside, creating the first street, then known as Burgalhau, in what would become the village of Tejuco. The little hamlet gradually grew as more and more diamond reserves were discovered in the nearby rivers and new streets began to etch their way across the slopes. The center of the village consolidated around the Santo Antônio church, built in a square. Unlike most urban centers in Minas Gerais, which are usually sprawling and disorganized, Tejuco assumed a more orderly format, both concentrated and quadrangular. From a distance, the village looked like a little manger, given the simplicity and rusticity of the houses and chapels, all built in loam and stone. These whitewashed buildings were stacked one above the other along the sloping, winding streets, interspersed with gardens and orchards, flower beds and vegetable gardens, lending the place the aspect of an oasis in an inhospitable, stony landscape. With limewashed walls and tiled roofs, the residences here were a two-tone contrast, and the townhouses differed to those in other mining towns for their use of muxarabi, or trellised verandas, a Moorish invention designed to maintain the privacy of the interior and most likely imported from the east by diamond traders and polishers. Though densely populated, the local authorities opted to retain the title of arraial until 1835, when the village of Tejuco was upgraded to the town of Diamantina. Tejuco came under the jurisdiction of the Diamond District, demarcated in 1734, a quadrangle that also encompassed the villages and settlements of Gouveia, Milho Verde, São Gonçalo, Chapada, Rio Manso, Picada and Pé do Morro. The Diamantine Demarcation was not set fixed, but could be expanded to include other locations as new diamond reserves were discovered. The district was placed under the special administration

many of them Black or Mulatto. profession. . The document is most interesting as a tool for piecing together the local society from the information fragments it contains. tensions among neighbors. In 1732. the latter often through concubinage to some white master.of a Diamond Intendancy. the villagers found their own forms of social organization and resisted all attempts to curb them. affording an indiscreet peek behind the village’s doors and windows. on one hand. the governor Dom Lourenço de Almeida recognized that the population there had already far outstripped that of Vila do Princípe. which monopolized the administrative posts. Tejuco was no small village. The diamantine social pyramid was cast in the same molds as the rest of the Captaincy. or through commercial activities and the provision of services. inverting this logic. Sundry documents in Brazilian and Portuguese archives allow us to glean something of the daily life of this society and the habits of its people. mostly Portuguese ruling elite at the top. and the transgressions and sins of the residents. revealing the family arrangements. By the standards of the day. which was sparsely populated and distant from the waterways. military ranks and titles in general. The census lists all of the household heads per street. For the governor. In fact. It was not a rigid society. civil status. with a large base of slaves. While. freed Black and Mulatto men and women could climb the social ladder. encumbered with organizing mining activities and enforcing the authority of the Portuguese Crown. a smaller layer of freedmen and women. Tejuco was the base of choice for businessmen and miners because it was closer to the rivers and more populous than Vila do Princípe. Our point of departure in this endeavor will be a household census conducted in 1774 by the Diamond administrator. despite its criteria of birth and pedigree. forms of religiosity. along with descriptions of color. the authorities tried to keep the population within the strict limits of Royal law and order. and a small. bonds of godparentage. though the latter was still the seat of the shire.

no less significant. Mulattoes (of mixture blood). there were 886 residents. The exclusion of slaves from the census is highly revealing and worthy of analysis. Yet various former slave women also lived there. Five hundred and eleven of these residents (282 male and 229 female) were the heads of 510 households. the Caribbean or the southern United States. and saw a growing layer of freed Blacks and Mulattoes emerge into village society. were the ones of mixture blood of White and Black that presented lighter skin) and Cabras (mix of Black and Mulatto). the majority of the population was Black. In 1774. summing 286 individuals. slaves were not considered residents. in which a portion of the freed Blacks and Mulattoes found their space among the local elites. and a Sergeant Major who was the treasurer of the Royal Diamond Administration. but also unprecedented levels of miscegenation. the street’s residents included the Diamond Administrator. Another parcel. In Portuguese America. with whom they both identified and mixed. Though they obviously lived in Tejuco. At the time. which consisted of 15 streets and 7 alleys. The care taken by the authorities bequeathed a valuable and meticulous record of the village inhabitants. Creoles or Crioulos (descendants of two black slaves born in Brazil). dependents. the main one in Tejuco.the number of residents living in the household and their family relationships. and specially in the exporting farmlands most of these were slaves. the society of Minas Gerais presented far greater diversity and miscegenation than the slave societies of the Brazilian coast. However. all free or freed men and women. In this sense. and so did not qualify for inclusion in the list. Direita street. such as the Black freedwoman Maria Carvalha. The number of non-white household heads in Tejuco was staggering. lived on the fringes of the system. among Blacks (of African origin). was home to many of the most important figures in town. friends and tenants. or 56% of the total. not only was there a high incidence of manumission. there were 510 residences in the town proper. in the specific case of Minas Gerais. both Pardas (light-skinned Mulatto . Counting home-owners. giving rise to the demographic mentioned above. in the pall of social disqualification. and Inês Maria de Azevedo and Mariana Pereira. Pardos (or pales.

Cavalhada Nova and Amparo street. the famous Chica da Silva. their distribution was not homogeneous. and the carpenter Antônio Pinto Guimarães. Cadeia. there were various distortions that ended up presenting a fixed society where constant mobility was actually one of the greatest hallmarks. Macau de Baixo. blurring the hierarchical frontiers by which the society sought to arrange itself. the Creole Vicente Ferreira. The diamantine society left open a window of opportunity whereby men and women of color could achieve manumission. . But however striking their presence must have been. But it was not only the slave population that was ignored by the authorities in compiling the village census. a notary. Ana Maria’s neighbors on Ópera street were the book-keeper and notary of the Royal Diamond Administration. where most of the merchants and store-owners lived. here the free and freed. Whites were the majority on Direita street. both in the town center. and on the laneways Gomes de Aquino. white and black. it was largely forgotten. the Parda Francisca da Silva de Oliveira. Though households led by freedmen and women could be found all around the village. and once in the world of the free. As on the other streets of the village. Padre José Guedes and Mandioca. The Black freedwoman Josefa Maria de Freitas lived in a house not far from that of Colonel Luís de Mendonça Cabral. ignoring the fact that her nine daughters were cloistered at Macaúbas Convent and that her three grown sons had embarked for Lisbon. Intendência. Living on the same street was the Black freedwoman Anna Maria de Jesus. listed as dwelling on Ópera street in the company of a single young son. a tailor. Campo and Burgalhau streets. to the point of accounting for over half of the household heads in the 1770s. many of these accumulated properties and patrimony of their own and blended into the white. A prime example of this would be the census entry for one former slave.women). free society of the village. José. Quitanda street. freed slaves were the majority on Macau. lived side-by-side. in fact. further away.

About Júnia Ferreira Furtado Júnia Ferreira Furtado is a full Professor of Modern History at the History Department of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. . She holds a Master’s degree and PhD in Social History from the Universidade de São Paulo.