Documents on Households in the Minas Gerais Mining Region of Brazil


African Home Owners (18th to 20th Century)

Documents on Households in the Minas Gerais Mining Region of Brazil

Moacir Rodrigo de Castro Maia, Ph.D. in Social History



When she died in 1742, the freed African, Rosa da Silva Torres, reported in her will the troubles she had to escape from slavery and to become mistress of her house in Vila do Carmo (currently named Mariana) in Minas Gerais (MG), in the countryside of Brazil. A network of relationships and trust allowed her to do business, protected her son's heritage in court and overcame the many difficulties she faced throughout her life. Working in a small emporium, she was able to buy the freedom of her husband, and together they acquired houses, a farm where they grew crops and a license for mining to extract gold and to buy slaves. She was the head of a house with more than 13 black people, a small African community in the heart of Minas Gerais. Another African, who was named Inácio Fagundes, lived in the same locality, and had emancipated himself from slavery after buying his freedom with a large sum of money. In his will, written in 1732, he reported that in addition to being head of his household, he was co-owner of a gold mine in the nearby town, Vila Rica de Ouro Preto. In his house, there were 11 people, including his wife and more five Africans with their children.

The project "African owners of their homes: household heads in a mining region of Brazil (XVIII century to XX)" is under the direction of the Núcleo de Pesquisa em História Econômica e Demográfica do Cedeplar of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) in partnership with The Harriet Tubman Institute, York University. The project aims to provide documentary sources that allow the construction of biographies of Africans who lived in the gold and diamond mining region of Minas Gerais from the eighteenth to twentieth century. The discovery of gold in the late seventeenth century had a major impact on Portuguese colonial society and because of the need for labor on large parts of Africa. Most of the residents of the areas of ​​gold mining and diamond extraction came from Africa. This new society in the mining region was characterized by ethnic diversity and the enslavement of thousands of African workers. Minas Gerais had one of the largest black populations in Brazil during the eighteenth and nineteenth century, which consisted not only of slaves but also freed and free blacks.

The project focus on the analysis of the wills of freed Africans that recorded in the first office of notation in Mariana. Testament books are part of the valuable collection of the Arquivo Histórico da Casa Setecentista de Mariana/Iphan, Mariana (MG). This collection, whose digitization is the object of this research project, constitutes one of the richest documentary sources about the black experience in colonial and imperial Brazil for the mining region. The documentation shows the habits, material culture, kinship structures, and the social inclusion of an important segment of the population as revealed in their wills. There are 84 registries being digitized.

The focus of the research is on the creation of a database with a profile of Africans who had their wills recorded in the registry books. The project aims to show how enslaved Africans attained free condition and become heads of households in this mining region. Such themes as the number of children, marital status, ethnic identity, bequeathed goods, participation in associations, administrative positions in Catholic brotherhoods, and honors will be included in the database. Both the original digitized documentation and the database will be available on line. In addition, it will be possible to reconstruct biographies of many of the Africans in Mineas Gerais. The project falls within the broader context of the promotion and realization of the Brazilian Law 10.639/2003, which seeks to promote the teaching of African History and the reconstruction of Afro-Brazilian culture.

DSC_0001.pdf6.97 MB
DSC_0185-1.pdf4.95 MB
DSC_0185-3.pdf4.95 MB
Banco Testadores Negros.pdf237.08 KB
Codificação do Banco de dados Testadores Negros.pdf38.21 KB