The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822-1888

The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822-1888

The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822-1888

The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822-1888

Synopsis

Despite the inherent brutality of slavery, some slaves could find small but important opportunities to act decisively. The Hierarchies of Slavery in Santos, Brazil, 1822- 1888 explores such moments of opportunity and resistance in Santos, a Southeastern township in Imperial Brazil. It argues that slavery in Brazil was hierarchical: slaves' fleeting chances to form families, work jobs that would not kill or maim, avoid debilitating diseases, or find a (legal or illegal) pathway out of slavery were highly influenced by their demographic background and their owners' social position. By tracing the lives of slaves and owners through multiple records, the author is able to show that the cruelties that slaves faced were not equally shared. One important implication is that internal stratification likely helped perpetuate slavery because there was the belief, however illusionary, that escaping captivity was not necessary for social mobility.

Excerpt

This book looks at slaves and masters in Santos, São Paulo, a slivershaped coastal township in southeastern Brazil. The period of study begins with Brazil’s independence (1822), and ends when slavery was abolished (1888). I present evidence of differing slaves’ conditions of life and work, their treatment, and most important, the causes for this variation. Some slaves may have been privileged relative to other slaves (and even relative to some free poor), but slaves belonged to the “most disadvantaged element in society” because they lacked basic citizenry and property-holding rights and were socially degraded by their categorization as chattel. Nevertheless, the brutality that was endemic to slavery was not shared equally among slaves; this book seeks to explain why. Fundamentally, I argue that owners’ status impacted on the options available to their slaves. Slaves owned by masters with greater social and economic prestige stood a better chance of living healthier lives, working in relatively safer jobs, surrounding themselves with family and community, and even finding pathways out of slavery. For most other slaves, these paths remained unjustly blocked.

Many other historians have presented slaves as living in a hierarchical world, but few have collected information on how and to what degree changes in owner status affected the lives of slaves. For example, historians studying slave families in Brazil and the economics and demography of slavery have found that slaves lived and worked in a great range of environments. As enslaved farmers twisted tobacco on small Bahian farms, trammers pushed wagons through the subterranean tunnels of Mineiro (Minas Gerais) gold mines, and palanquin-bearers hefted gilded carriages over the cobblestone streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian slaves navigated their restrictive worlds in numerous ways. Furthermore, contemporary observers and the first historians of slavery never doubted that conditions varied, even widely so, but this was generally attributed to the different treatment slaves received and the places they lived. . .

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