Rio de Janeiro in the colonial period was a hotbed of slavery. A large number of Africans were likely brought over specifically to work on the plantations of Rio de Janeiro in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Indeed, slaves were so prevalent in the society of Rio de Janeiro that even visitors to the city could not help but take note of their numbers. For example, a drawing crafted during Sir Charles Stuart’s diplomatic mission to Brazil from 1825-1826 depicts slaves conversing with one another (Slaves at Rio de Janeiro, 1825-26). Art is historically a method of depicting what life is like through the different time periods. Because of this, the viewer may conclude that the vast numbers of slaves in the city lead Stuart to commission this drawing – if this had not been so, he would not have taken the time and money to have the drawing made.
The expansion of plantations led to an increase in the number of Africans purchased for slavery as well as how frequently they were purchased. Africans from Cabina, Congo, and Mozambique constituted about 80 percent of the number of Africans in Rio de Janeiro. An average of 35.98 slaves could be found working on each plantation in the city, although this is not an accurate representation of the number of slaves working on each. As it turns out, slaves were concentrated on a few plantations while others had only a small number of slaves by comparison.
Regarding slave marriages, information about them requires a lot of interpretation because for a long while slave marriages were not recognized – they were considered nonexistent. In reality, a significant portion of the slave population in Rio de Janeiro was able to establish families. A solid amount of information regarding slave marriages is available thanks to marriage records in several Rio de Janeiro parishes. This information is available there because – despite the limited information available regarding baptisms for Africans – we may conclude that people who purchased slaves either baptized them themselves in a parish in Rio de Janeiro or the slaves had been christened at trading posts in Africa before crossing the Atlantic. Additionally, a print copy of a wood engraving published in 1824 depicts the prevalence of slaves in Rio de Janeiro at this point in history. It is a good example of the way in which slaves were treated by their masters since it shows three slaves who are being actively reprimanded by their master. Overall, we can conclude that slavery was an integral part of the socioeconomic life in Rio de Janeiro.
Gomes, Flávio Dos Santos. “Africans and Slave Marriages in Eighteenth-century Rio De Janeiro.” The Americas, 2010, 153-84.
For further reading:
Frank, Zephyr, and Whitney Berry. “The Slave Market in Rio De Janeiro circa 1869: Context, Movement and Social Experience.” Journal of Latin American Geography 9, no. 3 (2010): 85-110.
Schultz, Kirsten. “Royal Authority, Empire and the Critique of Colonialism: Political Discourse in Rio De Janeiro (1808-1821).” Luso-Brazilian Review37, no. 2 (2000): 7-31.
Andrade, Rômulo. “African and Creole Slaves: From the Diversified Agriculture of Southern Rio De Janeiro to the Coffee Cultivation of Minas Gerais, 1802—1885.” Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 34, no. 1/2 (201