Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Expelling Spanish and Dutch usurpers, Portugal reasserted its control of Brazil, which became the richest element of the Portuguese Empire. Brazil exported more sugar and imported more African slaves than any other country.

Summary of Event

The Dutch had occupied the northeastern part of Brazil since 1630, but from the mid-1640’s until 1654, an alliance of local Brazilian landowners and the Portuguese finally drove the Dutch from what was named New Holland. Portugal had lost its sovereignty in 1580 when the king of Spain, Philip II, became king also of Portugal. The Spanish occupation of the Portuguese throne continued until 1640, when Portugal reasserted its independence. [kw]Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil (1654) [kw]Brazil, Portugal Retakes Control of (1654) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Government and politics;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Expansion and land acquisition;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Colonization;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Trade and commerce;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Economics;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] South America;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Brazil;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Portugal;1654: Portugal Retakes Control of Brazil[1800] Brazil;Portuguese regain control of

Portugal regained sovereignty over Brazil in 1654, a country that was much changed since the previous century. Before 1580, Brazil had been a minor component of the Portuguese Empire, the center of which was the wealth of India and Southeast Asia. Incipient sugar plantations, along its northeast coast, was Brazil’s only source of wealth for Portugal. Indian slavery Slavery;Brazil failed as a labor supply, but more successful was the importation of slaves from Portugal’s advancing possessions along the western coast of Africa, especially Ghana and Angola. Angola provided the greatest number of slaves. “Sugar is Brazil and Brazil is Angola” was a common expression of the time. Sugar;Brazil

The modest but steady prosperity of Brazil’s sugar-exporting economy meant that its white immigrant population of about 25,000 people at the beginning of the seventeenth century had grown to almost 100,000 by century’s end Population growth;European immigrants in Brazil . Disease as well as defeat by European arms reduced the indigenous population from several million to several hundred thousand, but the African slave population grew most spectacularly. Several hundred thousand Africans were transported to Brazil, arriving at an annual rate of more than one thousand at the beginning of the century to nearly ten thousand by the end of the century.

African slave labor was instrumental to the success of the sugar plantations Plantation system;Brazil and mills. Brazil, the largest exporter of sugar during the century, produced more than 1,500 tons at the beginning of the period to almost 400,000 by century’s end. Ensuring this success was the more than four hundred sugar mills in Brazil by century’s end. Also ensuring success was the huge number of slaves working in the mills, who were “distributed” primarily in three provinces: Pernambuco, Bahia, and Rio de Janeiro. Pernambuco, the richest sugar-producing region, had more than half the mills and plantations. Bahia, the colonial capital of Salvador, was second in the number of mills. However, Rio de Janeiro had developed many more mills, so that by the end of the seventeenth century, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro each held one fourth of the mills. Brazil did not have a monopoly on sugar production. Islands of the Caribbean became major competitors.

The economic preeminence of Brazil within the Portuguese Empire grew steadily. At the beginning of the 1600’, the empire’s wealth from Brazil was inferior to that gained from the trade in spices and luxury products from Portuguese colonies in India and East Asia. By the middle of the century, its energy and resources depleted by wars against Spain and the Netherlands, Portugal had lost many of its eastern realms, so Brazil’s agricultural wealth became the economic backbone of the empire. Indeed, Brazil became so crucial to Portugal that after 1645, the heir to the Portuguese throne bore the title, prince of Brazil.

Brazil’s agricultural wealth was distributed within a rigid hierarchical society. A small number of white plantation owners dominated a mass of enslaved Africans. The owners of the sugar mills were those who owned the vast landholdings known as latifundia. These owners were the senhores de engenho, the lords of the mills. They dominated Brazilian government and society. Family, slaves, leaseholders of small farms, clergy, and craftspersons were their subordinates. A shortage of white women in early colonial Brazil resulted in abundant interracial coupling among whites, blacks, and indigenous peoples. Brazilian culture was dominated by the Catholic clergy, particularly the Jesuits, whose greatest spokesperson during the period was Father António Vieira, Vieira, António a preacher and scholar.

Brazil’s government administration was handled by a Portuguese governor-general, who was located in Salvador. Occasionally, he was referred to as a viceroy, depending on the individual’s aristocratic background. The northern coast of Brazil was administered as a separate state, Maranhão, with its capital at São Luis. Dual administration was necessary because the territory of Brazil straddled the equator. Consequently, navigation to and from the country depended on two different sets of ocean winds and currents. In the south, the two most important regions were Rio de Janeiro and, farther south, São Vicente and its satellite city in the coastal highlands, São Paulo. One of the governors of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador Correia de Sá e Benevides, Sá e Benevides, Salvador Correia de had been crucial in reestablishing Portuguese control in the south Atlantic after he recaptured the African colony of Angola from the Dutch.

São Paulo was to be crucial to the geographic expansion of Brazil. Its residents, called paulistas, organized bands of frontiersmen, known as bandeirantes Bandeirantes . Moving along the rivers of the interior of Brazil that coursed south, west, and north, they raided vast regions of the interior, hunting for indigenous slaves, gold, emeralds, and diamonds. One of the most famous bandeirante adventurers was António Raposo Tavares Tavares, António Raposo . Paulistas moved along a vast area that closely resembles Brazil’s modern physical contours (from the Uruguay River in the south to the mouth of the Amazon River in the north). It would be one of the bandeirantes who discovered gold Gold rush, Brazil in central Brazil in 1695. This discovery led to the largest gold rush in the world in the eighteenth century and also led to the definitive occupation of the Brazilian interior.


Brazil was the key element of the Portuguese Empire in the seventeenth century, and its recapture from the Dutch served the empire well. Although sugar production predominated, Brazil also mined gold and diamonds and exported brazilwood (a red dyewood often used for cabinetmaking), cotton, and tobacco. It also exported slaves, and its cattle industry exported meat and hides. Two monopolizing trading fleets thrived, beginning in 1649 with the Commercial Company of Brazil and the Maranhão Company, which formed in 1682. Because of their monopoly, the companies were opposed by many, and they were abolished in the early eighteenth century.

In terms of land, labor, resources, and economy, Brazil was a sociocultural phenomenon that straddled a vast space: the south Atlantic from the coast of eastern South America to the coast of western Africa.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Landers, Sharon. An Exploration of the Theory and Practice of Slavery in Seventeenth-Century Brazil in the Writings of Padre Antonio Vieira. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Texas Christian University, 1995. Examines the sermons and correspondence of the leading Brazilian Jesuit scholar regarding the theological and social concerns of the rapidly expanding Indian and African slave trade in Brazil.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marques, António Henrique de Oliveira. History of Portugal. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972. Volume one traces the historic development of Brazil, placing that development in the context of the Portuguese Empire in Africa and Asia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mello e Souza, Laura de. The Devil and the Land of the Holy Cross: Witchcraft, Slavery, and Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003. This work contrasts the dogma and rites of the official Catholic Church in colonial Brazil to the religious practices of the mixed-race or enslaved population, which amalgamated elements of African, indigenous, and heretical Christian beliefs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schwartz, Stuart B. Sovereignty and Society of Colonial Brazil: The High Court of Bahia and Its Judges, 1609-1751. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. Schwartz examines the key judicial unit for colonial administration of Brazil and the social composition of its magistrates.
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