Brazilian and United States Slavery Compared
Vol. VII—October, 1922—No. 4
A General View
BRAZILIAN AND UNITED STATES SLAVERY COMPARED
Whether the Teutonic races are superior to the Latin races is a mooted question, subject to prejudiced points of view. However, there is no doubt that there actually exists a great difference in the institutions of religion, law, language, customs, fashions, and moral precepts between, let us say, the Anglo-Saxon and the Portuguese. In other words, the English nation has evolved an English way of living, just as the Portuguese have adapted themselves to governing society, attacking nature in their own way.
Now assume that these two nationalities with their unlike national habits and traditions are planted in the new world. Assume the one as living in a warm temperate clime, and the other under equatorial conditions. Assume that the first nationality is self-sufficient to establish a colony, and opposed to intermarriage with other races; and then imagine the second case, where there exist a few colonists in womanless settlements with consequent marriages between the native and European common, and a large half-breed population as the result. With such diversities in national character, in the make-up of the individuals, in natural and social environment, could we expect the two peoples to react similarly to a given social institution? No wonder then, that slavery in the English colonies of North America was very much unlike the institution as it existed in Brazil.
Brazil was being tilled by slave labor long before the settlement of Jamestown, and still boasted of hordes of slaves on its plantations as late as a quarter century after the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States had been issued. As early as 1585, Pernambuco could claim 10,000 African slaves and Bahia something like three or four thousand, whereas the first shipment of slaves to the English colonies in America was introduced into Jamestown harbor by a Dutch ship as late as August, 1619.
In Brazil the slave trade received an impetus as a result of royal restrictions and Jesuits' opposition to the enslavement of Indians, thereby compelling the more law-abiding and docile settlers to turn from exploiting the native labor and to seek its labor supply from Africa. The labor demands of the great sugar plantations, cotton fields, tobacco lands, and later the mines, kept the slave poachers on the Guinea and Angola Coast busy, so that by the middle of the eighteenth century slaves were entering Brazil on a vast scale. From 1759 to 1803, according to Keller, the colonial registers give as consigned from Angola to Brazil 642,000 Negroes. Thus, by 1800 fully one half of the total Brazilian population of 3,200,000 was slave, and by 1818 there were 1,930,000 slaves besides some 526,000 free Negroes and mulattoes, in all about sixty-three per cent of the total. By the middle of the nineteenth century there was something like three millions of slaves out of a population of seven and a half millions. Lord Palmerston estimated the total number of slaves in the sixties as being 3,000,000; whereas a writer in the "Revue des deux Mondes" puts the number between 2,500,000 and 4,000,000. Dawson quotes the number of slaves in 1856 as being approximately 2,500,000 or forty per cent of the total population. Apparently there is no actual census available on the number of slaves for this period. Needless to say, the slaves easily comprised from forty to fifty per cent of the population, and if we add all those of mixed blood we have a majority of the inhabitants of Brazil.
Now let us turn to the Old South. Slavery we know progressed somewhat in the southern colonies, and to a negligible extent in the New England colonies. The "Asiento" in 1713, by which Great Britain at the close of the War of Spanish Succession secured the right to supply the colonies of Spain with 4,800 slaves annually, augmented the slave trade throughout the new world. Negroes were in demand in the rice areas, cotton fields, and tobacco plantations. In 1710 there were only 50,000 slaves in the United States, the number increased to 220,000 in 1750, to 464,000 in 1770, until the year 1790 they numbered 697,624. This number constituted one-fifth of our total population.
Slavery, however, was not a venerated institution in the Southland in the eighteenth century. In fact, it was rather supported through the force of habit and the fear of the results of emancipation. Then came Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin. The South went cotton mad. The United States now became the world's producer of raw cotton. Henceforth, slavery was held "the indispensable economic instrument of southern society."
In the first half of the nineteenth century, then, American slavery was at its height. By 1850 the slaves numbered 3,204,313, about a few thousand less than Brazil, which at the opening of the century had so far led it in the number of slaves held. Blake, writing in 1857, shows that by the last census, however, unlike Brazil, the proportion of black to white was not great, being in the neighborhood of fourteen per cent. However, taking the nation in sections, the ratio of black to white in the South was one to two, whereas in the North it was but one to sixty-eight.
As to the extent of slavery in the two nations, in the United States, slavery was largely confined to the semi-tropical country south of the Pennsylvania-Maryland line and the Ohio River. A slight form of domestic slavery had existed in New England, and to a greater degree in the Middle Atlantic Colonies, but was virtually unknown in the mines and cattle ranges of the West. In Brazil slavery existed practically everywhere the Europeans settled. There was no geographical section, whose sentiment and economic interests were antagonistic to slave holding. However, it was true that about the plantations of Pernambuco and Bahia slavery existed on a far more extensive scale than in the southern province of Rio Grande De Sul, where slavery was practised at a minimum.
In both the United States and Brazil there were diversified products of slave labor. In Brazil sugar was the great slave labor staple; in America, cotton. Besides cotton, the American slave was the cultivator of tobacco, rice, sugar, hemp, and molasses. In Brazil the other products were tobacco, cotton, and cattle, in addition to some cacao and rubber.
In the United States there were two types of slavery, one the storied domestic slavery of the towns, and the southern country seat, where the Negro was usually benevolently treated and loved as though one of the family. This type of slavery was most common along the Mason-Dixon line. The other type was determined by the large scale enterprises in the cotton and rice fields in the "southern" South, where absentee ownership was often the rule. Here frequently masters knew little about their slaves, and the driving of the mobs of laborers gave Harriet Beecher Stowe, no doubt, her concept of a Simon Legree. In Brazil slaves did every type of work. First of all, they furnished the labor for the great sugar plantations of Pernambuco and also the cotton districts of the north. In the provinces of the south of Brazil, contrary to conditions in the United States, they were employed on cattle ranches. In Minas Geraes they were utilized in the mines. In the cities they carried on all the manual and menial work.
Henderson tells us of his observations of the African in urban occupations during the first decade of the last century in Rio. He relates that owners would send out slaves to do work for other employers, and to turn over their wages to their idle masters. He relates that masters sent slaves in pairs and threes, bearing baskets on their heads, soliciting work. This type was called "Negroes de ganho." Others bore great tubs on their heads with which they drew water from fountains to supply the inhabitants. At dusk the street was crowded with slaves carrying the refuse of the city to the dumps. Slave labor removed the imported goods from the docks. Few had the help of wagons. The English had tried to introduce carts to help the toiling slaves at the wharves, but the custom house clerks would have none of them, as they were making a "haul" on the city by hiring out their slaves, and wagons would lessen the amount of work to be done.
In the United States slaves were owned by planters and private individuals exclusively. In Brazil besides the planter class, large plantations were owned by such religious orders as the Benedictine and Carmelite friars, who treated their slaves with the greatest regard for comfort and ease. Furthermore, there were slaves belonging to the government. As late as the outbreak of the American Civil War, the annual report of the Brazilian minister of finance shows more than 1,500 government slaves. One thing in favor of Brazil, however, was that the horrible shortcomings of absentee ownership on large plantations did not exist to any extent, since most of the proprietors resided on their own respective estates.
Summing up the general condition of the Negro slave in both lands, we notice that (1) Brazilian slavery antedated and postulated American slavery; (2) that there were a larger number of slaves and a greater proportion to the total population in Brazil than in America; (3) that Brazilian slavery received its impetus through the cutting off of the native labor supply and the growth of sugar cultivation; whereas American slavery was stimulated by the invention of the cotton gin; (4) that in both countries slaves were engaged in diversified occupations, except that in Brazil besides agriculture and domestic pursuits, slaves were employed in almost every variety of unskilled and semi-skilled labor; (5) that in Brazil slavery was homogeneously distributed rather than in sectional patches; and (6), finally, that both the state and religious bodies owned slaves in Brazil.
The Social Side of Slavery
The living conditions of the Negroes in both the United States and Brazil varied in relation to the type of work. Domestic slaves in the former were generally treated well in the households of their masters. In Brazil the domestic slave was usually a Creole. But our interest centers largely on the manner by which the agricultural slave lived, for after all, in him lies the crux to the whole problem. In both Brazil and America slaves were quartered on the great plantations in rude huts. Their diet was simple. Corn meal, bacon, and sweet potatoes were chief items in the diet of the American slave. In Brazil the slave was fed farina (the flour of the mandioca root), salt fish or salt meat, sometimes bacon, and in the mining districts corn flour. In both countries the slave was rudely clad. In Brazil his outfit consisted of a shirt and pants of cotton and a straw hat.
In the United States slaves on the large plantations began work at sunrise, and toiled to the crack of the whip on the great plantations until sundown. Women and children, only half grown, were compelled to do their share in the fields. In Brazil conditions generally were easier for the slave. The Portuguese planter was perhaps less anxious to "drive" the work out of his bondsmen than the more enterprising Anglo-Saxon. Accordingly, we are told that at three in the afternoon, at least at Pernambuco, the heart of the sugar belt, work ceased, and the slave had the remainder of the day to himself, time which many slaves employed in cultivating a private plot of their own, hoping some day to earn enough thereby to purchase their freedom. They, like their northern brothers, were supervised in the field by a "feitor" or taskmaster, usually white, though frequently a Creole, mulatto, freedman, or even in cases, another slave.
Slaves in America welcomed Sundays and the days around Christmas as periods of rest and recreation. In Brazil not only did the slaves have Sundays and Christmas, but something like over thirty holidays on the Catholic calendar. Incidentally, showing there was still a breath of humanity in a stifling age of oppression, it is declared in the "Correio Braziliense" for December, 1815, on page 738, that although the Portuguese had ceased to stop work on many of these holidays, the thirty-five holidays were still enforced as days of cessation of labor in Brazil in order that the slaves might still enjoy the days of rest.
The Negro slave in Africa, according to DuBois, lived generally a polygamous family life. When he came to the Southern Colonies his whole family life was made irregular and unhappy, due to the evil conditions of slavery there. The slave might marry on the plantation, but the very next day he might be sold, and separated from his wife and parents. The auction block is the foulest stain on the whole parasitic institution of slavery in the United States. In Brazil the sale of slaves from one master to another apparently was never as extensive as in our own country. Moreover, the sanctity of marriage was far more highly regarded in Brazil than in the United States. A slave, who wished to be married had first to learn the requisite number of prayers; he must understand the confession, and receive the sacraments. Then, having received the consent of the master, he was married by the vicar. A slave might marry a freeman. If the husband were free and the wife slave, the child of the union was a slave; vice versa, a slave father and free mother produced a free child.
In language, we find in both the Old South and Brazil, that the Africans soon forgot their native dialects, and adopted the tongue of their new home, and their language did not materially influence that of their masters in America.
Religion was a vital factor in slave life. In the Old South, religion was at first discouraged among the slaves. There was a reason for this, for masters knew that nowhere in Christian teachings were there provisions for enslaving Christians. Never was religion encouraged to a great degree. In fact, as late as 1831, Virginia passed a measure, declaring that neither free nor slave Negro might "preach, exhort, or teach in any Negro assemblage." Nevertheless, religious sentiment waxed ever stronger. Beginning with the taboos of the deported tribal priest, and gradually becoming influenced by Christianity, the great Negro Church grew. Sometimes the Negroes were allowed to worship under the same roof as their white superiors, but they usually had to steal away to some secret place for this purpose. In Brazil, however, Christianization of the slaves was an essential. Before the Negroes in Angola (Portuguese West Africa) embarked on the slave vessel for Brazil, they were baptized "en masse." Arriving in the new world, they were branded with the crown, which proved that they had been baptized and that the king's duty on them had been paid. Next, they had to learn the doctrines of the Church and the duties of the religion they were about to embrace. Slaves from the other parts of Africa were Christianized after a year following arrival, during which time they had to learn certain prayers. Most interesting is the existence among the Brazilian slaves of their own religious brotherhoods, to join which was the ambition of every Negro slave. These brotherhoods had their own versions of the Virgin Mary and Our Lady of the Rosary had her hands and face painted black.
Properly speaking, a true slave has no legal rights. Perhaps the words privileges and permits are happier. At any rate, the obligations and restrictions in the Old South were far more stringent than those on the plantations and urban districts of Brazil. Privileges and restrictions for slaves in the South varied according to the laws of the States; wheras in Brazil the centralized colonial government tended to unify what slavery legislation there was.
In both countries, theoretically, a master was liable for indiscriminately killing his slaves or for practising cruelty. To be sure, the penalty was slight for so great an offense, but public opinion in Brazil, especially, more than once pointed its finger at the brutal master. In practice, even the slightest defense of a maltreated slave was rarely heard before the magistrates, for no slave in the case of the South could bear witness against a white. In Brazil the ouvidor of the province was the one to punish the cruel master, but then, who would dare report? In Brazil, if a slave was unruly he was to be turned over to state authorities, and duly given a public punishment.
In the Old South it was possible under certain circumstances for the slave to buy his own freedom, that is, if the master was kindly disposed. In Brazil, it is commonly affirmed that the master was obliged to free his slave if the latter could furnish a sum equivalent to his market price. As a matter of practice, it was easy for the master to deny freedom to his slave under such conditions, and the slave for lack of strength would have to accept the outcome meekly. Furthermore, Christie, British envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary in Brazil during the period of the American Civil War, in a letter to Earl Russell in June, 1861, declares that no such law actually exists on the statute books of Brazil, as that the slave has the right to appear before a magistrate, have his price fixed and to purchase his freedom.
Moreover, the Brazilian slave exercised some right to change masters. The master set a price upon his slave. Then the slave with a note, declaring the master's intentions, might seek out some neighboring planter with a good reputation, and if the desired new master decided to pay the price set, the old master, according to Luccock, was obliged to sell the slave. In practice the plan did not work out so well, because one planter did not care to interfere in the other's affairs, and often the evaluation of the slave could not be agreed upon.
A slave could be and was manumitted in both the United States and Brazil. In Brazil manumission could be accomplished in the following ways: (1) the slave could purchase himself; (2) his master could liberate him during his life; (3) or he could manumit him at his death; (4) a Negro woman who had brought ten children into the world by virtue of her tenth became free; (5) also, the price of a new-born babe was so slight, that often the infant was purchased its freedom by friends. In fact, manumission had been so extensive, that by 1818 mulattoes and free Negroes had become a considerable part of the population. In the United States there were 488,070 freedmen in 1860.
As for holding common ordinary citizen's rights, the Negro slave in both countries was out of consideration. In the Old South, for instance, a slave could be arrested, tried, and condemned with but one witness against him, and without a jury. In Brazil he was equally as defenceless. Professional slave runaway catchers might pounce upon a slave who was about his duty, imprison him, subject him to indignities, on the ground that he was a fugitive, and return him to his master, claiming money for their trouble. In such a sad case, no one would take the slave's part, none would believe his story.
The privileges of the slave as to being secure against violent treatment, of securing his own freedom, of selecting another master, or of claiming any plain citizen's immunities whatsoever, then, were very slight in both Brazil and the United States, but even more so in our own Southland.
Docile as the African slave was, he was bound at times to attempt to free himself from the drudgery and sufferings of his lot. Naturally the most direct, impulsive, and simple method was escape. Hence, we are brought to compare the fugitive slave problem in Brazil to the same problem in the United States.
In our own country the South had to combat an effective force which did not exist in Brazil, namely, the antagonism of an Anti-slavery North, which aided the Negroes by "underground railroads" to escape to free territory, or to cross the Canadian line, where slavery was prohibited. The Dismal Swamp in Virginia, and the Everglades of Florida were favorite hiding places for fugitives. In Brazil the universal prevalence of slavery and the lack of opposition to the practice by any considerable group up to the last days of its existence gave the fleeing slave few friends. However, there was a trackless wilderness to which he might flee. Especially qualified runaway slave catchers were employed to trail such fugitives.
The other method of resisting the institution of slavery was by organized risings. Riots and local revolts occurred occasionally in the Old South, but were never serious and were easily quelled. The most noteworthy revolts of blacks in America were actually mere spouts. In the first half of the eighteenth century, for example, New York was thrown into hysteria at the rumors of a threatened Negro plot, out of which nothing materialized. Gabriel's riot planned in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800, ended very much like that in New York. Another incident was the attempt in 1822 of a certain Negro, Denmark Vesey, to start an insurrection at Charleston, which utterly failed. Nat Turner, a religious fanatic, was the cause of the most serious uprising of all. In 1831 he organized a revolt in Virginia which cost the lives of several score of whites before it was quelled. The other spontaneous turn of the worm was the Amistad incident, in which Negroes of the slave ship Amistad rose and took possession of the ship, and ordered the crew to guide her back to Africa. Instead, the crew steered the vessel into a hospitable harbor, thus baffling its captors. The rising of the slaves of the Creole in somewhat the same manner was more romantic.
All these pin pricks in the South are now to be contrasted to the serious organized risings of slaves in Brazil, eruptions which at times threatened the political control or integrity of a whole district or province. In the United States the slave placidly submitted. In Brazil he was at periods actually class conscious.
In Pernambuco, the Brazilian government was actually challenged by slave rebels. It was during the chaotic days of 1630–1654, when the Dutch were in occupation of Pernambuco, and the Brazilians were at war with them, that hundreds of slaves fled to the interior, where they established an independent state, consisting of a cluster of fortified villages. Establishing a rude form of administration and a primitive adaptation of Christianity, they actually governed themselves. After the Dutch had been fairly well beaten, the whites turned to make war upon the villages. For fifty years the villages held out, until in 1697, Palmares, the last and most important of the fortresses, capitulated.
Bahia lived in a perpetual fear of Negro uprising, and well were her fears grounded, for here the Negro was most assertive against his mistreatment. The population of Bahia in the first decade of the nineteenth century is estimated by Henderson as being in the neighborhood of 110,000, two thirds of which was slave. Once let the slave get a start and with such odds in his favor the masters had best beware. For this reason, slaves were prevented as much as possible from organizing. No bondman might go on the streets of Bahia after evening vespers, save with a pass from his master. Yet the slaves did at times organize. In 1808, when John VI, the Portuguese king, arrived in Bahia, the slaves boldly communicated with him, asking that the punishment of one hundred and fifty lashes be abolished.
A short time after this episode, matters came to a culmination. As was usual at the holiday time, slaves congregated in plazas, chose a chief for the day, to whom they did homage. This was a customary feat, tolerated by the authorities of the city. On this particular occasion, a friend of Henderson noticed that a white man was being hanged in effigy. He sniffed trouble. Only a few months later the Bahian authorities were lucky, by timely arrests, to save the whole population from being massacred by the enraged slaves in an impending insurrection, whose purpose was nothing less than the wholesale slaughter of the entire white population of the city, with the exception of the governor, D'Arcos, whom the insurrectos were to raise as their prince. Already they had murdered many whites in the outskirts of the city.
Thus, in the Old South, flight was the leading form of resistance to the institution of slavery; whereas in Brazil the more effective form of resistance by organized uprising was more frequently attempted.
The Race Problem
Before concluding the theme, it is imperative that we hurriedly skim over the saddest and most serious by-product of United States slavery, race prejudice. We are familiar enough with the limitations of the men of color in the South today. In the days of slavery, discriminations were just as severe, if not more so, against any man of black skin, whether slave, mulatto, freedman, quadroon, or octoroon. The slightest strain of black in a man's pedigree made him a "nigger." A freedman was better than a slave only in an economic way. Otherwise he had virtually no rights. He could not vote, marry a white, hold office, give testimony in case of a white man on trial, and for militia services was limited to fatigue duty. In many parts, however, the freedman could keep his own money, possess land, have slaves, a wife, and even own one gun to protect his home.
In Portuguese America it is often said that the race problem has been allowed to solve itself, which is largely true. The slave in Brazil was looked down upon as a menial laborer, rather than as an offshoot of a lower race. Marriages between the lower classes of either race were not scorned by society. Inter-racial marriages were legal, Brazilian society favoring the marriage of the higher type of the white to the lighter type of Negroid. Of course, among the highest class of the land, the wealthy planters and officials, unions with persons of non-genuine white ancestry were not relished. Here and there existed race prejudice in mild form.
Mulattoes who were free were ranked above freedmen of pure ancestry. The former were generally considered as white, for as a rule in Brazil a man passed as white if he contained a fair degree of white blood in his veins. These free mulattoes had a regiment of their own with their own officers, as was the case with the blacks. Many wealthy planters at Pernambuco were men of color. Many of the Creole blacks in this region were mechanics, who sent out their slaves to do odd mechanical jobs for the owner's profit. The best church and image painter at Pernambuco was black. One of three commanders of the Brazilian forces against the Dutch in the seventeenth century was Henrique Diaz, a Negro.
All told, race prejudice, as a vast problem, was a peculiar complement of the Anglo-Saxon new world colonies' slave problem, for in virtually no other country has slavery ever so viciously contributed to race discord. Brazil, then, may pride herself upon emerging from a slave sustained society, free from the sores of a hideous race conflict.
In brief, it seems that the Brazilian institution of slavery was softer, far less brutal than the United States system. On the other hand, the United States slave system was probably more efficient, for the inefficiency of the management of the plantations of sugar in Brazil allowed the West Indies in the eighteenth century to take the lead in the sugar, rum, and molasses exports. The United States, under the slave system, secured pre-eminence in the production of the world's greatest textile staple, cotton.
It is to be regretted, of course, that slavery has persisted so long, and still thrives in certain Mohammedan lands. It stands today outlawed in the new world, but it will always be a source of regret to progressive citizens of the United States that their country clung to the institution up to within the memory of many yet living, and that she did not relax her tight grasp upon the slave until forced to immediate action in the stress of a fratricidal war. To humane thinkers of Brazil, it will ever be a source of sorrow that their nation has only been slave ridden within the present generation, and even then, egged on to emancipation by the reproaches of an at last awakened world.
Slavery must have differed in details in one country from that in another, but after all, it was shameful in Brazil, shameful in the United States, just as it is shameful at any other spot underneath the blue sky.
Herbert B. Alexander
- Keller, Albert Galloway, Ph.D., Colonization, Boston, Copyright, 1908, p. 145.
- DuBois, William Edward Burghardt, The Negro, New York, 1915, p. 164.
- Keller, pp. 156–157.
- Christie, W. D., Notes on Brazil, London, 1821, pp. 69–76.
- Christie, pp. 69–76.
- Dawson, Thomas C., South American Republics, two volumes, first edition, vol. 1, New York, Copyright, 1903, p. 481.
- DuBois, The Negro, p. 152.
- Ibid., p. 184
- Negro Population in the United States, 1790–1915, p. 33.
- Ingram, J. K., A History of Slavery and Serfdom, London, 1895, p. 285.
- Bureau of Census (Dept. of Commerce and Labor), A Century of Population Growth, Washington, 1909, p. 80.
- Blake, William O., A History of Slavery and the Slave Trade, Columbus, 1857, p. 808.
- DuBois, The Negro, p. 190.
- Henderson, James, A History of Brazil, London, 1821, pp. 73–74.
- Koster, Henry, Travels in Brazil, second edition, in two volumes, vol. II, London, 1817, pp. 247–259.
- Christie, pp. 69–76.
- Koster, p. 123.
- Ibid., pp. 247–259.
- Koster, pp. 247–259.
- Encyclopedia Americana, 30 volumes, vol. 27, New York and Chicago, 1919, pp. 395–396.
- Koster, pp. 229–231.
- Koster, pp. 246–247.
- Southey, vol. III, pp. 781–783, states that in Pernambuco masters were opposed to selling their slaves.
- Koster, pp. 246–247.
- Brawley, Benjamin Griffith, A Short History of the American Negro, N. Y., 1917, pp. 20–21.
- DuBois, p. 197.
- Americana, pp. 395–396.
- Koster, pp. 238–239.
- Koster, pp. 236–238.
- Luccock, John, Notes on Rio de Janeiro and the Southern Part of Brazil, London, 1820, p. 591.
- Koster, pp. 229–231.
- Christie, p. 578.
- Luccock, p. 591.
- Koster, pp. 233–235.
- Keller, pp. 156–157.
- Blake, p. 808.
- Brawley, pp. 20–21.
- Henderson, pp. 72–78.
- Brawley, p. 90.
- DuBois, p. 196.
- Brawley, p. 90.
- Dawson, p. 375.
- Henderson, pp. 339–340.
- Henderson, p. 340.
- Ibid., p. 340.
- Brawley, p. 22.
- Koster, ch. XVIII.