On April 24, 1500, Easter day, the Portuguese commander Pedro Alvarez Cabral was sailing in the Atlantic waters with the intention of reaching the Indies, from where he would bring wealth to his country. But he hadn’t noticed that he was heading the wrong way, so when he saw land he thought he had reached his destination and disembarked. As a sign of consecration and conquest he had a cross implanted immediately and, believing he had landed on an island, he called it the Island of the True Cross, that is Vera Cruz. After a few days the journey to the Indies resumed.
The following year, still serving Portugal, three other Portuguese ships, commanded by the Italian Amerigo Vespucci, sailed to go to deepen their knowledge of that new land. Vespucci soon realized that he was not dealing with an island but with an immense territory, very rich, above all of a special red wood which, precisely because of its color, like that of the bragia, was called “BRAXIL”, or “BRASIL “. From this wood then that land was called the “Country of Brasil” and then even more simply “Brasil”.
Brasil became a Portuguese possession by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 which established a precise distribution of the territories between Spain and Portugal.
Brasil immediately became known for its wealth and was the destination of raids by French ships and pirates. Castilian ships were also found nearby and this urged John III, king of Portugal, to send in 1526 a well-equipped fleet commanded by Admiral Cristoforo Jaques. He founded and fortified farms in Itamaraca and Pernambuco (in the current region of Recife which means “cliff”); fought and defeated some Breton crews in what was called the “Bay of All Saints” (present day Bahia).
Jaques returned to Lisbon, brought to knowledge of the king the enormous wealth and potential of Brasil and proposed his person as the first colonizer.
Nothing was decided until 1530 when John III, enticed by the recurring voices that placed immense silver mines in Brasil, organized a new expedition, commanded by Martino Alfonso de Souza, followed by his brother Pero Lopez de Souza, thanks to whom there is a detailed report on the company has been received. Extraordinary civil, military, legislative and territorial powers were entrusted to Martino Alfonso, even to the practice of the death penalty, except for gentlemen. He established the borders, assigned the lands (sesmarias), for a single generation, as Spain had already done; he founded the city of Sao Vincentes and began colonization by also starting the cultivation of sugar cane.
In 1534 Brasil was divided into “Capitanerie”, or provinces, which were assigned to some Portuguese noble families.
The first areas subject to colonization were the coastal ones. The captains had very important concessions; provided that they relieved the burden of the population and civilization costs of the new possessions to the Treasury of the Crown, they could directly capture natives for service on ships and for work; to give lands under concession to Catholic colonists by drawing a tithe; own an area of ten leagues along the coast; to charge the passage on rivers; found new cities by granting privileges; appoint public officials, collecting an annual pension of 500 reis; they could also have mills; to obtain half a tithe as a tax on fishing and on the sale of “brasil” wood sent to Portugal; they judged civil cases; issued capital punishments for the laborers, the slaves, who imported copiously from Africa, and for the free natives. Finally, also the veto power in the elections of the judges and other officers of the city councils. And the captains’ vassals also had many privileges and concessions and, of course, the Crown of Portugal was losing many of its rights. See Countryaah for population and country facts about Brazil.
Despite these facilitations, not all captains and vassals were able to fruitfully carry out their work, which at the beginning was certainly hard and not easy to implement. First because it was necessary a long time before the work brought the first real earnings, then because not all the men in charge showed strong and precise character tendencies to live in uncultivated and uncivilized territories, at the dawn of their colonization. Many of these elect never reached their destination because they had to succumb to shipwrecks; others sent in their place some profiteering administrators who exploited the natives to the point of provoking rebellions among themselves;
The whole possession in 1549 was transformed into a General Governorate, with the capital Bahia, and the first Governor was Tomaso de Souza.
After him came a major “Auditor”, Pietro Borges who managed the judiciary; a “Procurator”, Antonio Cardoso de Barros who dealt with the collections on behalf of the Crown, and a “Major Captain of the Coast”, Pietro Goes da Silveira, who oversaw the surveillance and military defense of the coasts. Under the governorship of Tomaso de Souza and his collaborators, the captaincy strengthened and prospered.
In 1551 Pope Julius III issued a bull with which he recognized perpetual ownership over Brasil to the Portuguese kings and in that year the Bishopric of Bahia was born and Pietro Fernandes Sardinha was appointed Bishop.
In 1553 he assumed the Duarte da Costa Governorate. Soon there were unrest because he proved powerless to eradicate the Indians and the French who raged, and he was also in a position of friction with Bishop Fernandes due to a conflict generated by his son Alvaro da Costa.
The colonists split into two partisans. The Bishop, recalled by the king, embarked on the journey but was shipwrecked and fell victim to the cannibalism of some Cahetes Indians. This episode temporarily dampened the settler rebellion; but it wasn’t long before. The pause ended even if in the meantime Alvaro da Costa had managed to defeat the Indians (1555).
During the third governorate governed by the distinguished jurisconsult Mem de Sà, relative of the king, (1557-1572), various conflicts occurred against the French who also made use of the fierce Indians. Mem de Sà expelled the French and started a great work in favor of the Indians, according to the dictates of the Jesuits who then multiplied their missions there.
In 1573 Brasil was divided into two governments: the Northern one, with the capital Bahia and Governor Luigi Brito d’Almeida; and that of the South with the capital Rio de Janeiro and governor Antonio Salema.
This division did not have the expected effects (“divide et impera” as the ancient Romans said) therefore in 1577 the government returned, governor Lorenzo da Veiga, to whom Emanuele Telles Barreto succeeded in 1583.
Under his rule most of the powers were managed by the increasingly numerous Jesuits. Barreto wanted to carry out checks on the budget of the Bahia Treasury which showed that out of an income of 30,000 “cruzados”, 6,500 of them were donated precisely to the maintenance of the Jesuit missions. At the end of the century many other religious disciplines spread in Brasil by the Benedictines, Carmelites and Capuchins, the latter by far greater.
By 1580 Portugal had formed a single state with Spain. Despite this, however, only Portuguese officials had been invited to Brasil. Although they enjoyed all the privileges due to their offices, Spain in 1609 ordered that the powers acquired by all the convents present in the territory be limited and strictly prohibited the emergence of new ones.
When in 1587 Barreto died he was succeeded by a council composed of three people: the third Bishop Antonio Barrerios, a Finance Provider and a general “Auditor”. This junta ruled until 1591 when Francesco de Souza arrived who dealt almost exclusively with the search for new mines.
The next Governor, Diogo Botelho (1602) entered into open competition with the Jesuits regarding the accommodation of the Indians. In this regard, a “Council for Indians” was established in Lisbon. A “Mining Code” also entered into force which allowed the exploitation of the mines by private individuals who, however, had to pay a tribute to the Crown.
In 1608, governor Diogo de Meneses and Sequeria, the capitaneries of the south separated from the central government: Espirito Santo, Rio de Janeiro and S. Vicente. A Superintendence for Mines was also created headed by the ex governor Francesco de Souza. In the economic field, the greatest advantages came from sugar cane and red wood (brasil); gold in the mines was rather scarce due to the burdens involved in its extraction. In the following years Brasil was the object of wars of conquest between the Dutch and the Spanish, with alternating events, and in 1640 there was the restoration of Portugal, which therefore decreed the end of all wars. The new king, John IV, granted the chief of the Dutch, Maurice of Nassau, to continue to deal with the administration of the territory.
He did it very well by supplying the Pernambuco area with remarkable architectural and hydraulic works; he brought distinguished European scientists to study the flora, fauna and minerals of Brasil, and extended his powers to the south to the Sergipe river and to the north to the Maranhao river (as the Amazon River was then called).
Since 1644 the policy of John IV, however, was aimed at fomenting the rebellions of the natives against the Dutch and when the Dutch officials, successors of Maurice of Nassau proved too fiscal, the revolt broke out: it was June 13, 1645.
Nine years of hard struggle followed and in 1654 the Dutch left Brasil, which returned under the domination of Portugal, which in turn was freed from Spain.
In 1714 Brasil became a Viceroyalty, with the capital Bahia. In 1763 the capital was moved to Rio de Janeiro.
In 1808, when Portugal was invaded by Napoleon, the Portuguese kings from Lisbon moved to Rio de Janeiro. In 1815 Brasil became a Kingdom and the first king was John VI of the Braganza dynasty (started by John IV).
In 1820 John VI had to reach Portugal to quell a revolt and left the realm in the hands of his 22-year-old son Peter, prone to liberalism.
Conservative and nationalistic intentions also arose in Brasil, to which the Archduchess of Austria Carolina Giuseppa Leopoldina, who had married Pietro in 1817, and who had fomented her husband’s sympathy for a just cause of independence from the native.
At the end of September 1821 with an official decree, all provincial governments of Brasil were declared independent from Portugal; all the courts and other bodies created by John VI were abolished; Peter was sent back to Lisbon to “complete his education”, so it was said. But this last act did not follow because some Portuguese realists who remained in Brasil, fearing the establishment of a Jacobin government by the separatists, obtained that the regent remained at the head of the kingdom with the name of Peter I: it was in 1822 and between the most important men of the temporary council of S.Paolo who had worked for this purpose, remember Vice-President Giuseppe Bonifacio de Andrada e Silva, who later manifested himself as one of the strongest political figures in his country.
In 1831, Peter I abdicated in favor of his five-year-old son, Peter II, who, however, became effective sovereign only in 1840.
Under his rule, despite having had to endure two wars, however victorious, one with Argentina in 1850/52, and one with Paraguay in 1865/70, Brasil developed a lot both economically and civilly.
Later, however, a revolution broke out; Peter II was forced to leave the throne and the Republic was proclaimed: it was 1889.