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The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822-1888 by Ian Read (review)

From: The Americas
Volume 70, Number 1, July 2013
pp. 102-103 | 10.1353/tam.2013.0075

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Focusing on Santos, São Paulo, for the study of imperial Brazil (1822-1888), Ian Read's new monograph joins the large body of historical studies on Brazilian slavery. Read exhausted all the archival sources in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and analyzed a wide variety of primary sources, both manuscript and print, for what he describes as his "cross-referencing methodology." Read examines the hierarchies of slavery in Brazil, as have many other historians in their regional studies of slavery, but differentiates himself by maintaining that his research uniquely enables him to argue that "owners' status impacted on the options available to their slaves" (p. 1; italics are the reviewer's).

Read's book is divided into two parts: "Masters and Their Slaves" and "Slaves and Their Masters." Even though the chapters appear to be organized by topic rather than chronology, the first part (chapters 1 to 3) provides the setting and historical context that support the author's major arguments in the second part. Read traces social networks among the residents of Santos, both free and enslaved, in chapter 1. Chapter 2 examines the changing demography and economy of nineteenth-century Santos. After the mid nineteenth century, a new merchant class emerged and became wealthy slave owners. Chapter 3 depicts the township's slave markets and their participants during the 1860s. Not surprisingly, the interprovincial slave trade, which started on a large scale in the 1840s, did not extend to Santos, where most trading of slaves took place between its own municipalities (p. 67). The second part concerns slaves' living conditions and owners' treatment of slaves and delves into family, work, crime, and the punishment of slaves (chapter 4); public and medical care of slaves (chapter 5); manumission and flight as slaves' paths to freedom (chapter 6); and local abolitionism, which ended the institution of slavery two years earlier than Brazil's proclamation of the Golden Law in 1888 (chapter 7). Read concludes that after 1850 slaves came to be concentrated in the hands of wealthy owners, who had more resources to treat them better.

Santos was Brazil's biggest port city by the beginning of the twentieth century but it had remained a small farming community on the fringe of the national economy throughout the colonial and early imperial periods. Due to São Paulo's booming coffee-export economy, Santos went through a drastic transformation only after the transatlantic slave trade was terminated in 1850 and a railway was constructed and expanded with British capital in the late nineteenth century. Because of the keen shortage of plantation labor, many European immigrants sought to disembark in Santos as contract coffee plantation workers (colonos), whose passages, as of 1872, were subsidized by the São Paulo government. Therefore, it is important not to translate colonos simply as "colonists," as Read presents them on page 3. The new elite slave-owning merchant class in Santos emerged in this specific historical context. Its members had more resources but perhaps more importantly, as new capitalists connected to Brazil's new coffee economy, they possessed a different ideological take and attitude on slavery itself. This is one aspect of the argument that Read fails to attend to. Furthermore, he does not consider the possibly important impact that European immigrants arriving in the port of Santos might have had on the self-perceptions of slaves working in the city.

Despite the few reservations mentioned above, Ian Read is to be congratulated on this fine work of microhistory. This monograph, as an addition to the historical studies on Brazilian slavery and emancipation, could be used for undergraduate and graduate seminars in Brazilian or larger Latin American slave systems, as well as in comparative labor history in nineteenth-century Brazil. The book is also informative for historical studies on immigration and labor in São Paulo. It may also be read by environmental historians who are interested in the history of epidemics in major port cities of the Americas.

Copyright © 2013 Academy of American Franciscan History
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Mieko Nishida. "The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822-1888 by Ian Read (review)." The Americas 70.1...

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