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Ramps, paths, and narrow alleys connected these two sectors but made wheeled transport between them largely impossible. For this reason, city planners installed a great reel to hoist heavy merchandise up the hills. A century and a half later, the electric-powered Lacerda Elevator replaced this
fragile system of mechanical tension and remains one of the postcard icons of the Bahian capital. Slaves and pack animals also transported merchandise, ascending and descending the ramps in long, slow-moving queues. The same slaves also carried visitors and distinguished residents up and down the hill in sedans and chairs suspended from hitching-posts.

The churches, almost all constructed between 1650 and 1750, before the transfer of the colonial capital to Rio de Janeiro, decorated the landscape and enchanted visitors from abroad. Mansions in the upper city commonly had two stories, with primary residences, including rooms with verandas, parlors, and dining rooms, on the second floor. Ground floor spaces housed slaves and stored heavy merchandise.
By and large, Salvador represented a “typical Portuguese city, medieval in its lack of planning and in its haphazard growth, forming a strong contrast to the methodically laid out Spanish-American towns,” according to English historian Charles Boxer.

The dazzling landscape, however, gave way to disappointment when visitors entered the city. Maria Graham found everything dirty and falling apart. “The street into which we proceeded through the arsenal gate, forms, at this place, the breadth of the whole lower town of Bahia, and is, without any exception, the filthiest place I ever was in,” she observed.


It is extremely narrow, yet all the working artificers bring their benches, and tools into the street: in the interstices between them, along the walls, are fruit-sellers, venders of sausages, black-puddings, fried fish, oil and sugar cakes, negroes plaiting hats or mats, caderas, (a kind of sedan chair) with their bearers, dogs, pigs, and poultry, without partition or distinction; and as the gutter runs in the middle of the street, every thing is thrown there from the different stalls, as well as from the windows and there the animals live and feed!

Her negative impression continued inside the city's homes.


For the most part, they are disgustingly dirty. The lower story usually consists of cells for the slaves, stabling, etc.; the staircases are narrow and
dark and, at more than one house, we waited in a passage while the servants ran to open the doors and windows of the sitting-rooms, and to call their mistresses, who were enjoying their undress in their own apartments. When they appeared, I could scarcely believe that one half were gentlewomen. As they wear neither stay nor bodice, the figure becomes almost indecently slovenly.

Already in those days, the city had a reputation for processions and religious festivals that mixed rituals both sacred and profane. A traveler in 1718 observed the viceroy dancing around in front of the high altar, in honor of Saint Gonçalo do Amarante. “He rattled around in a wild manner that suited neither his age nor his standing,” wrote the Frenchman, who signed his name Le Gentil de la Barinais.
Charles Boxer detailed that fathers and husbands in Salvador often kept their women and children confined at home to avoid their exposure to the loose morality of the city.


The frequency of slave prostitution and of other obstacles in the way of a sound family life, such as the double standard of chastity as between husbands and wives, all made for a great deal of casual miscegenation between white men and coloured women. This in turn produced many unwanted children, who, if they lived to grow up, became criminals and vagrants living on their wits in the margins of the city.

He also refers to the shameful “practice of lady owners living on the immoral earnings of their female slaves, who were not merely encouraged but forced into a life of prostitution.”

Prince João spent a month in Bahia, day after day passing in countless parties, celebrations, and strolls, while he was making important decisions that changed Brazil's destiny. He and his mother, Queen Maria I, stayed in the palace of the governor. Princess Carlota Joaquina did not. After landing, she remained aboard the
Afonso de Albuquerque
for five days. Thereafter, she took up residence in the Palace of Justice in the center of the city.
On January 28, just one week after docking in Salvador and after one more
Te Deum,
the prince regent went to the Municipal Council to sign his most famous
legislation issued on Brazilian territory: the royal decree opening Brazilian ports to commercial trade with all friendly nations. From this date onward, imports were allowed “of all and any kind of materials and merchandise transported on foreign ships of those powers that keep peace and harmony with the Royal Crown.”

Two myths about the opening of Brazilian ports still persist. The first attributes the decision to the Bahian public servant José da Silva Lisboa, future viscount of Cairu. A disciple of Adam Smith—author of
The Wealth of Nations
and father of modern capitalism—da Silva Lisboa supposedly presented a study to the prince regent on the advantages of opening up commerce in Brazil
as a way of stimulating economic development in the colony. The second myth holds that Prince João intended it as a symbolic gesture to liberate the beleaguered Brazilians from the Portuguese monopoly and commercial isolation at last.

The opening of the ports without a doubt benefited Brazil and did coincide with the liberal opinions of da Silva Lisboa. But in practice it was an inevitable measure. With all of Portugal occupied by the French, commerce among the territories of the empire was grinding to a halt. Opening the Brazilian ports, therefore, made sound economic sense for the entire empire—not just Brazil—and the prince owed a debt of gratitude on that count to Britain. It was the price that he paid for protection against Napoleon; the move had been negotiated in London in October 1807 by the Portuguese ambassador, Domingos de Sousa Coutinho. The agreement provided not only for the opening of the ports but also for the authorization of a British naval base on Madeira.
“The opening of the ports of Brazil to the commerce of the world meant, in reality, that, as far as Europe was concerned, they were opened only to the commerce of England as long as the war lasted on the continent,” writes Alan Manchester, as England ruled the seas and itself helmed a vast international trading empire.

Historian Melo Moraes records that, on the eve of the departure from Lisbon, Lord Strangford met with minister Antonio de Araújo and warned that Admiral Smith would lift the naval blockade and permit the Portuguese fleet to leave only under the following conditions: “The opening of Brazilian ports, with free market competition reserved for England, which would
immediately be based on a tariff of insignificant commercial rights. Moreover, one of the ports in Brazil (that of Santa Catarina) should be handed over to England.” De Araújo may have bristled, but, with the exception of the exclusive port in Santa Catarina, the crown met all of these demands after landing in Brazil.

In Salvador, the prince regent also approved the creation of the first school of medicine in Brazil and the bylaws of the first underwriting company, christened as Maritime Commerce. He authorized the construction of a glass factory and a gunpowder factory, devolved power to the governor to establish the production and milling of wheat, ordered the opening of roads, and drew up a plan for the defense and fortification of Bahia, which included twenty-five new cannon boats, two cavalry squads, and an artillery.

The Bahian interlude featured many indulgences, pleasure trips, and popular celebrations. On February 11, the prince regent visited the Itaparica island, bringing with him the prince of Beira, Pedro, the future emperor of Brazil. On their return, a storm caught them by surprise, and they had to spend the night in the home of an island resident.
On another occasion, João went out into the streets and threw gold coins to a clamoring mob. The Bahians tried not surprisingly, but in vain, to convince him to stay. Representatives of the provincial council promised to raise funds to build a luxurious palace and to underwrite the expenses of the court. The prince regent diplomatically refused the offer, however. Salvador lay more vulnerable to potential attack by the French than the well-protected, more distant Rio de Janeiro.
It was to Rio that he set sail on February 26, completing the last step of the memorable journey to Brazil.


The Colony

wo hundred years ago, Brazil didn't exist—at least not the Brazil that exists today: an integrated country with well-defined borders and residents who define their identity as Brazilian, root for the same national football team, carry the same documents, travel to nearby cities and states for pleasure or work, attend schools with unified curricula, and buy and sell products and services from each other.

On the eve of Prince João's arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil consisted of a jumble of more or less autonomous regions without commerce or any other form of relations between them, having in common only the Portuguese language and the crown in Lisbon on the other side of the Atlantic. “Each captaincy had its own government, small militia and small treasury; communication between them was precarious, as each generally ignored the existence of the other,” recorded French naturalist August Saint-Hilaire, who traversed the country from north to south between 1816 and 1822. “There was no Brazil with a common center. It was an immense circle, whose rays converged very far from its circumference.”

Not even the word
(Brazilian) adequately referred to people born in Brazil. Pamphlets and articles published at the beginning of the nineteenth century discussed whether the right term was
brasileiro, brasiliense
, or
. Journalist Hipólito da Costa, owner of the
Correio Braziliense
newspaper, published in London, believed that Europeans born in Brazil should be called
In his opinion, a
was a Portuguese or foreigner who moved to the country, while a
was an indigenous person.
“Brazil was nothing more than a geographic unit formed by provinces deeply estranged from one other,” according to historian Manuel de Oliveira Lima. All of this changed, though, with the arrival of the prince regent. “These provinces would incorporate into a real political unit, finding their natural axis in the capital, Rio de Janeiro, where the King, court, and cabinet would come to reside,” added de Oliveira Lima.

The map of Brazil in 1808 looked very much as it does in the present day with the exception of the state of Acre, bought from Bolivia in 1903. During João VI's reign a small change in the southern borders also took place. The Cisplatina Province was annexed to Brazil in 1817 but then declared its independence eleven years later, becoming modern-day Uruguay. The Treaty of Madrid in 1750 had cancelled the older Treaty of Tordesillas and refashioned the Portuguese and Spanish colonial borders on the basis of
uti possidetis
, the concept of effective possession of territory.
Occupying territory guaranteed its integrity. “Without Brazil, Portugal is an insignificant power; Brazil without force is a precious territory left to whoever wants to occupy it,” wrote Martinho de Mello e Castro, secretary of the Navy and overseas territories, in 1779 in a letter to the viceroy of Brazil, Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa.

De Mello e Castro meant that the future of Portugal depended on the occupation and defense of Brazil. For this reason, the forces of the Portuguese administration concentrated on this task. Explorers and cartographers had charted almost all the major Amazonian rivers by 1808. Forts marked and protected the most strategic points. In Tabatinga, on the border with Peru and Colombia, the marquis of Pombal had ordered the construction of a commercial warehouse and a fort, the cannons of which controlled access to the Solimões River.
It stood as the most advanced post within Portuguese territory and the Spanish colonies to the west. Expeditions had reached all the way to the Oiapoque River, near present-day French Guiana, and had mapped the source of the Trombetas River, near present day Guyana.

Vila Velha
(interior of Bahia), engraving from
Travels in Brazil
by Johann Baptist von Spix and C. Philipp von Martius, London, 1824, Lucia M. Loeb/Biblioteca Guita e José Mindlin

In its immense virgin territory, Brazil had slightly more than 3 million inhabitants—less than 2 percent of its present-day population.
One in
three inhabitants was a slave. The indigenous population was estimated at 800,000. The splotch of settlements was concentrated on the shore, with some cities in the interior of the regions of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso, and along the Amazon River. The village of Itu, sixty miles from São Paulo, the last urban agglomeration offering comfort and regular communication with other regions, represented “the gateway to the backlands,” an early point of departure for Paulista trailblazers heading toward the deserted interior of the country. From there inward, the country offered little more than a green desert inhabited by natives, diamond prospectors, and scant cattle ranches, a territory of contraband activity, its goods typically sold in Buenos Aires. Minas Gerais was the most populous province with more than 600,000 inhabitants. Next came Rio de Janeiro with a population of half a million, then Bahia and Pernambuco in third and fourth place respectively.

When the court arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the colony had just experienced a population boom. In little more than a century, the number of inhabitants had increased tenfold. Prospectors had discovered gold and diamond
deposits at the end of the seventeenth century. The rush for new mining areas, including Vila Rica (modern-day Ouro Preto), Tijuco in Minas Gerais, and Cuiabá in Mato Grosso led to the first great wave of migration from Europe to the interior. From Portugal alone, between 500,000 and 800,000 people moved to Brazil between 1700 and 1800. At the same time, slave traffic accelerated heavily. Nearly two million captive blacks were forced to work the mines and plantations in Brazil during the seventeenth century in one of the largest forced migrations in all of human history. As a result, the population of the colony, estimated at around 300,000 people in the last decade of the seventeenth century, shot up to more than 3 million by 1800.

This population was largely illiterate, poor, and needy, though. In the city of São Paulo in 1818, during King João VI's reign, only 2.5 percent of school-aged free males knew how to read and write.
Health conditions were precarious at best. “Even in the most important centers along the coast it was impossible to find a doctor who had completed regular training,” recounts de Oliveira Lima, based on the reports of English merchant John Luccock, who lived for ten years in Rio de Janeiro, beginning in 1808. “The simplest procedures were practiced by bloodletting barbers, and for the more difficult procedures one resorted to boastful individuals who were nonetheless generally equally ignorant of anatomy and pathology.”
Authorization to perform surgery and clinical work was granted only in audience of a judge, himself ignorant of medicine. Candidates could do so only if they could prove a minimum of four years experience in a pharmacy or hospital. Put simply, first you practiced medicine, then you obtained authorization to perform it.

Due to the fragility of communication with the interior of the colony, news of the death of King José I in 1777 took three and a half months to reach São Paulo.
Two and a half decades later, the province of São Pedro do Rio Grande (the present-day state of Rio Grande do Sul) waited three months and thirteen days to learn that Portugal and Spain were at war. When the news arrived on June 15, 1801, it had already been nine days since the conflict ended with the defeat of Portugal. Without knowing of the truce, the captain at arms of Rio Grande, Sebastião da Veiga Cabral da Camara, immediately declared war on his Spanish neighbors and, commanding Portuguese
troops, conquered a vast area from the territory of Missões in the west of the captaincy to Rio Jaguarão in the south. This failure of communication ended up winning the Portuguese crown a dispute in Brazil that it had lost in Europe, as told by Jorge Caldeira in
Mauá: Entrepreneur of the Empire
, which recounts the story of the Viscount of Mauá in the Second Empire.

This mutual isolation and ignorance resulted from a deliberate policy of the Portuguese government, which maintained Brazil as the jewel in the crown of an extractive economy, without its own will, out of sight, and far from the avarice of foreigners. It was a policy as old as the colony itself. In 1548, on assuming the post of governor general, the first in that position, Tomé de Sousa received twelve orders from the Portuguese crown on how to conduct business in Brazil. One of them, the ninth, determined that the governor should “Impede communication from one captaincy to another through the backlands, unless it is duly authorized.”
A law in 1733 prohibited the opening of roads in order to block the contraband trade of gold and diamonds and enable surveillance by Portuguese employees charged with collecting the tax called the royal fifth on production of precious metals and minerals from the colony. The few roads that did exist ran over paths already cut by natives before the European discovery of Brazil, which the first colonists reused.

Portugal's intention to keep Brazil closed to the world became manifest in its July 1808 order to imprison German baron, naturalist, and geographer Alexander von Humboldt, who had traversed the Amazon region in search of new flora and fauna. Ignoring the scientific merit of the expedition, the Portuguese government considered his presence detrimental to the interests of the crown because of the dangerous ideas that he could disseminate in the colony.
A letter from the minister Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho to his brother Francisco, then governor of Grão-Pará province, alerted him that Humboldt's voyage was “suspect” because he could, “under specious pretexts . . . tempt the souls of the populace with new ideas based on false and wily principles.” Similar orders went out to the governors of Maranhão and Paraíba.
Kept isolated in backwardness and ignorance for three centuries, the colony consisted of administrative islands, sparsely inhabited and cultivated, distant and unfamiliar each to one another.

A cassava flour plantation, part of Brazil's rudimentary economy later transformed by the opening of the ports.

Mandioca, the farm of Mr. Langsdorff
(at the foot of the Serra de Estrela, an extension of the Órgãos Mountains, Rio de Janeiro, on the way to Villa Rica), engraving from
Travels in Brazil
by Johann Baptist von Spix and C. Philipp von Martius, London, 1824, Lucia M. Loeb/Biblioteca Guita e José Mindlin


Rio Grande do Sul produced wheat and cattle, the latter used also in the production of leather, jerky, tallow, and horns. Its farms were enormous. One of the greatest cattlemen of the region, José dos Anjos, slaughtered 50,000 cattle per year. In 1808, the port of Rio Grande—which contained some 500 homes of 2,000 inhabitants—received 150 ships per year, triple that of neighboring Montevideo.
They exported goods to the rest of the country as well as Portugal, Africa, and the Portuguese dominions in the Indies. In turn, they imported cassava, cotton, rice, rum, sugar, sweets, and tobacco from other regions in the colony, while from Portugal they imported glass, ink, machetes, munitions, oil, olives, rifles, rope, wine, and English goods such as iron, textiles, and hats.
Porto Alegre, promoted to capital of the province in 1773, had been until then a tranquil village of 6,035 inhabitants.

With nearly 3,000 inhabitants, the island of Santa Catarina—where the modern-day city of Florianopolis lies—dazzled visitors at the time with
its beauty and organization.
“These houses are well built, have two or three stories, with boarded floors, and are provided with neat gardens, well stocked with excellent vegetables and flowers,” noted John Mawe in 1807 during a trip through the south of Brazil. “It affords an agreeable retirement to merchants who have discontinued business, masters of ships who have left off going to sea, and other persons who, having secured an independence, seek only leisure to enjoy it.”
Florianopolis maintains this role even today as a favored destination for executives and retired professionals. Mawe also passed through Curitiba, at that time a pastoral region with few residents, dedicated to raising oxen and mules to supply the markets of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. “More to the Westward it is dangerous to travel, since in that direction live the Anthropophagi [cannibals], who were driven from these boundaries a few years ago,” he advises. “The country to the North is very full of wood.”

BOOK: 1808: The Flight of the Emperor
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