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Journal of

History &
A Reconstruction from S%oPaulo

Alida C. Metcalf

ABSTRACT: TItis article reconstructs slave family Ige in a rural town in which a large
ntiniber of slaves married, slave wonren had high fertility, and slaves lived primarily in
nuclear families. The marriage and fertility rates of slaves lag behind those of the free
population, but do not dirfer radicallyfrom them. Thisportrait ofslavefamily Ige contrasts
with the conrnion portrayal of slavefamilies in Brazil in which historians report that few
slaves married and slave fertility was low. Despife the demographic similarities between
slave andfreefamilies. the key dgerences between the slave and thefree populations rested
on the niasterk legal right to own slaves as property. Because slaves were property, the
Portuguese laws of inheritance mandated the division of slaves among the heirs of the
deceased master. Probatejudges and heirs often broke up slavefamilies; thus the nrortality
of masters severely affected the ability of slavefaniilies to survive over time.

Through the analysis of censuses, parish slaves to marry, what kinds of families
registers, property inventories, and planta- slaves lived in, whether planters con-
tion lists, most Brazilian historians now sciously encouraged or discouraged slaves
agree that many more slaves lived in fami- from forming families, or whether slave
lies than previously thought. Yet no con- families survived over time. In part,
sensus exists on whether it was common for disagreement stems from the fact that
slavery appeared in virtually all regions in
Journal of Family History
Volume 16, Number 3, pages 283-297.
Copyright 0 1991 by JAI Press Inc. Alida C. hfetcay i s Associate Professor of Ilistory,
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. Her research
ISSN: 0363-1990. deals nith ruralfamily life in eighteenth-centuryBrazil.
284 JOURNAL OF FAMILY HISTORY Vol. 16/No. 311991

Brazil, each unique, for over 300 years. In between the heirs (i.e., all children) of the ,
such diverse areas, the demography of deceased. At inheritance, slave families
slavery varied due to factors such as the rate were broken up; thus the mortality of
of the slave trade, whether the economy masters dramatically affected the ability of
was expanding or contracting, the size of slave families to survive over time. This
slaveholdings, and the character of the aspect of slavery affected slaves and their
region-i.e., mining district, ranching families everywhere in Brazil, regardless of
frontier, established plantation zone, or the region, the century, or the demography
coastal city. Demographic analysis of slave of the slave population.
populations thus has yielded remarkably The town studied, Santana de Parnaiba,
different pictures of slave marriage, family contained three parishes throughout the
life, and fertility. As this article illustrates, colonial period, each of which today is a
unique patterns of slave family life did separate town. The colonial town lays near
typify the disparate regions of Brazil, but the city of SZo Paulo on the Tiete River.
these dissimilarities should not obscure the In 1820, it had a population of 7,090, 27
common traits of slavery. percent of whom were slaves. The slave-
This article reconstructs slave family life owners of the town owned on average 6.8
in Santana de Parnaiba, a rural town slaves who were used primarily as agricul-
roughly comparable to a modern county, tural laborers on small and medium-sized
in the captaincy of S5o Paulo. In this town farms. Seventy-three percent of the slaves
a large number of slaves married, bore in the town were creole slaves, while 27
children, and lived in nuclear families. This percent had been born in Africa, the
portrait of slave family life contrasts with majority in Angola and the Congo. Of the
the common portrayal of slave families in free population, peasant farmers who did
the northeastern sugar plantation region not own slaves made up the majority of the
(Schwartz 1985) or in the urban cities town. Descended from Indians, mestizos,
(Karasch 1987). When marriage and Portuguese, and free blacks, peasant
fertility rates of slaves in this town are farmers accounted for 54 percent of the
compared to those of the free population, total population and 74 percent of the free
the rates of slaves lag behind those of the population in 1820. Slave famiiies
free, but do not differ radically from them. resembled the families of the free peasantry
This suggests that slavery placed con- in structure, fertility, and marriage rates.'
straints on the ability of slaves to form In Santana de Parnaiba, unlike British
families that, if they had been formed America, slaves married without restric-
freely, probably would have resembled tions in the parish church.* While histori-
those of the free population. ans suggest that few slaves married in Brazil
The major constraint placed on slaves (Schwartz 1985, pp. 385-394; Karasch
that differentiated them from the free 1987, pp. 287-294), this was not the case for
population rested on the master's legal the town of Santana de Parnaiba. All of the
right to own slaves as property. Quite apart sources used reflect to some degree the civil
from the physical control that masters status of slaves. The manuscript censuses
wielded over their slaves, because slaves of the town listed the slaves by name and
were property, the Portuguese laws of marital status. Property inventories usually
inheritance immediately went into effect declared which slaves were married and to
when slaveowners died. These laws of whom. The marriage registers which
inheritance mandated the division of slaves survive from one parish, Santana, for the
Searching for the Slave Family in Colonial Brazil 285

eighteenth century, clearly record the Table I

marriages that the priests celebrated Crude Marriage Rates, Santana Parish
between slaves. 1775 1798 1820
Many slaves married during the eight-
Slaves 6.6 7.0 7.4
eenth century, at least in the parish of Free 6.7 9.4 9.2
Santana. In that parish, 38 percent of all
(Marriages per 1000 Individuals)
marriages involved slaves. But from 1720 Source: Average number of marriages 1770-1779, 1790-1799,
to 1820, the proportion of slave marriages 1811-1820 and 1775,1798, and 1820 censuses.
gradually declined from 44 percent of all
marriages in the 1730s to 29 percent by the slaves actually had a marriage rate
1810s. While it might appear initially that comparable to that of free persons. In the
the declining percentage of slave marriages 1790s and 181Os, however, the marriage
can be explained by changes in the rate for free persons outpaced slave
population of the parish, i.e., that slaves marriages in the parish church (see Table
declined as a proportion of the population, I). The visible decline in slave marriages in
more factors apparently were at work. For the early nineteenth century thus cannot
the decades of the 1770s, 1 7 9 0 ~and~ 1810s solely be explained by a declining propor-
it is possible to calculate the crude marriage tion of slaves in the parish. Since the slave
rates for slaves and free persons in the marriage rate itself declined, other factors,
parish of Santana by linking the marriage perhaps masters or the church, discouraged
registers with the censuses. In the 1770s slaves from marrying.

80 --

-- -.+------------
---- ----i--------- _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ________ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ - - -

20 --
% Never Married
0 I I II

-Slave Women --+-- Free Women

Source: 1820 Census of Parnaiba

(N= 555 slave women; 1737 free women)
Figure 1. Ever Married and Never Married Slave and Free Women, Parnaiba, 1820


% Ever Married

20 --
% Never Married
0 -- 1

1- Slave Men --+-- Free Men I

Source: 1820 Census of Parnaiba
(N= 651 slave men; 1206 free men)

figure 2. Ever Married and Never Married Slave and Free Men, Parnaiba, 1820

These crude marriage rates correspond free women. As is evident from the
to what the census tells us about the population pyramid (Figure 3), this
number of married slaves in the town disparity emerged from the different age
compared to the number of married free and sex structure of the slave and free
individuals. The censuses reveal that while populations. Among slaves, men outnum-
many slaves were married, not as many bered women in virtually all age cohorts;
slaves married as did free persons. In the among the free, women outnumbered men.
town in 1820, for example, 448 slaves over Thus, slave men and free women had the
the age of fifteen were married, or 37 hardest time finding marriage partners?
percent of all slaves, compared to 1,622 free Historians do agree that few slaves in
persons over the age of fifteen, or 55 Brazil married slaves who belonged to
percent of all free person^.^ When the different masters, at least in the rural areas
proportions of men and women among the (SIenes 1987, p. 220; Schwartz 1985, p.
slave and free populations are examined, 383). Here Parnaiba appears to be typical,
an important difference comes to light. A for almost all slave marriages in Santana
much lower proportion of slave men parish, 94 percent, occurred between slaves
married than free men. As is illustrated in of the same master.’ Masters with few
Figures 1 and 2, fewer slaves married than slaves may well have discouraged their
free persons but slave men lagged farther slaves from marrying, a factor which may
behind free men than slave women behind account for the paucity of slave marriages
Searching for the Slave family in Colonial Brazil 287




288 JOURNAL OF FAMILY HISTORY Vol. 16/No. 3/1991

Table 2
Slave and Free Marriages, Santana Parish, 1730-1820

Free Free Free

Slave Indian Black White
Grooms N % N % N % N %

Slave 225 a9 14 45 42 49 0 0
Free Indian 11 4 11 36 2 2 1 0
Free Black 17 7 6 19 34 40 6 1
Free White 0 0 0 0 8 9 498 99
Total 253 100 31 100 86 100 505 100

Source: Slave and Free Marriage Registers, Parish of Santana, Decades 1730, 1750, 1770, 1790, and 1810.

between slaves of different masters. This is Perhaps the abundance of free women in
a major difference between slavery in Brazil Parnaiba or the greater ease with which
and the United States. In the latter “broad slave women obtained their freedom made
marriages” were not uncommon. These it possible for slave men to marry free
were marriages of slaves who lived on women. Such a marriage held major
different estates and who were allowed to advantages for slaves. Most of the free
visit their spouses (Gutman 1976, pp. 131- blacks whom slaves married lived with the
142; Kulikoff 1986, pp. 352-380). Those few same master, usually as a servant or a
slaves in Brazil who married off the estate retainer.7 Families thus remained together.
tended to wed slaves who belonged to the But more importantly, even if a man
kin of their masters. Ties between the remained a slave, his children, born of a
families of the masters then facilitated the free wife, would join the growing free black
maintenance of slave families.6 population.
Slaves, like the free, overwhelmingly The data from Parnaibashow that slaves
married within their class. Eighty-nine married according to canon law (se; Silva
percent of slave brides wedded slave men, 1980) and with the blessing of their masters.
leaving only eleven percent who married Whether this was unique to Parnaiba,
free Indian or free black men (Table 2). For which seems unlikely, or due to the
free white women, the marriage pattern is excessively zealous priests who lived there,
even more striking. For the brides for o r a characteristic of the eighteenth
whom the parish priest listed no social century, or to the kind of economy found
status (meaning that he presumed them in Parnaiba, awaits confirmation by
white) none married slaves and only one further comparative analysis of other
percent wedded free black or free Indian Brazilian communities.
men. Still, a significant portion of slaves A second unusual feature of slave life in
did marry free persons, especially slave men Parnaiba centers on the fertility of slave
who were more likely than slave women to women which does not appear to differ
wed spouses from the free population. significantly from that of free women. The
Twenty percent of the slave grooms linking of parish baptismal records with the
wedded free Indian or free black women. census data allows us to calculate the crude
Searching for the Slave Family in Colonial Brazil 289

birth rate8 and the general fertility rate' for families occasionally formed in Parnaiba,
slave and free women in Santana parish in but as will be shown, could not endure over
1820. The crude birth rate reached 53.1 for time. Nuclear families constituted the most
slaves and 56.1 for the free. This high birth common slave family type, followed by
rate is likewise reflected in the general matrifocal families. Analysis of manuscript
fertility rate in which slave women had a censuses in other communities in S5o
rate of 197 births per 1,000 women at risk; Paulo, such as Lorena and Bananal, sug-
free women had a rate of 214. Fertility may gest that these three family types are char-
have even been higher for both slave and acteristic of the region as a whole (Costa,
free women because the data reflect Slenes, and Schwartz 1987; Motta, n.d.).
baptisms, not actual births. Priests bap- Slaves married in their twenties, women
tized babies from one to three weeks old, on the average at 22 years; men at 29 years.
thus those infants who died in the first days Once married, slaves formed nuclear
or weeks of life, before baptism, are not families. The most important factor
recorded in the baptismal registers. affecting the character of these new families
The similarity between the fertility rates was the wealth of the master. Slaves who
of slave and free women in Santana parish belonged to masters who owned many
may be explained by the fact that the parish slaves found it easier to form nuclear
had a slave population that was 85 percent families (Costa, Slenes, and Schwartz 1987;
creole. In predominantly creole slave Graham 1976, pp. 382402; Gutman 1976,
populations, the effects of the African slave pp. 45-61; Schwartz 1985, pp. 395-399).
trade on the sex and age structure of the The predominance of nuclear families is
slave population are muted. For example, easily seen on the large estates of Parnaiba,
the ratio of creole male slaves to creole such as those of Manoel Correa Penteado,
female slaves in Parnaiba was 103 men per Rodrigo Bicudo Chassim, and Domingos
100 women. But among African slaves, the Rodrigues de Fonseca Leme, the largest
sex ratio was 164 men per 100 women. slaveowners in eighteenth-century Parna-
Because Brazilian-born slaves predomi- iba." By combining the lists of slaves from
nated in the town, a more equal ratio of the inventories of these estates, all settled
male to female slaves prevailed than has within a ten year period (1738-1749), a
been found in other Brazilian regions. This picture of slave family life on large estates
fact largely accounts for the similarity emerges. As illustrated in Table 3,88 percent
between the fertility of slave and free
women. Elsewhere in Brazil, slave fertility Table 3
was much lower." Slave Families on Three Large Estates
The slaves of Santana de Parnaiba lived ~~~

# of # of
predominantly in three types of families: Households Slaves
nuclear families, matrifocal families, and Families N % N %
solitary families. Polygamous families,
Nuclear 46 a8 172 74
common in Africa especially among 5 10 21 9
Single Parent
wealthier men, are impossible to discern (if Complex 1 2 3 1
they existed at all) in Parnaiba. The Solitary _ - 30 16
possibility that polygyny existed in slave Total 52 100 234 100
populations cannot be rejected, for Hig- Source: Estates of DomingosRdrigues de Fonseca Leme, 1 738,
man (1976, pp. 165-171) finds polygamous Rodrigo k u d o Chassim, 1743, and Manoel Correa
families in the Caribbean. Complex slave Penteado, 1745.
290 JOURNAL OF FAMILY HISTORY Vol. 16”. 3/1991

of the slave families conformed to nuclear knew of the existence of their slave
families; 74 percent of the slaves on the children. Some fathers, on learning of their
three estates lived in such families. paternit ,did free their children, but others
The first census of Parnaiba which did not. ?Such
children grew up as mulatto
recorded information on slaves, that of slaves. Thus, slave women created matri-
1775, suggests that the majority of the focal families composed of themselves and
slaves in the town did not live on large their children, while the father or fathers of
estates. Slave plantations where more than their children remained nebulous figures at
50 slaves lived and worked was the the fringes of the family.
experience of only 135 slaves, or 11 percent Undoubtedly, the sexual exploitation of
of the slave population in 1775. On the slave women was one of the primary
other hand, those slaveowners with more reasons why matrifocal slave families
than ten slaves, 36 in all in 1775, owned 700 formed. As women who were considered
slaves or 59 percent of all slaves in the town. property by their owners and racially
The average size of the slave labor force of inferior by whites, slave women were
this elite reached only 19.4 slaves. Given the extremely vulnerable to sexual advances by
ownership patterns of eighteenth-century their masters, their masters’ kin, and free
Parnaiba, then, most slaves did not live on men in general. Some slave women were
large plantations. Therefore, the slave able to become mistresses of free men and
family patterns visible in Table 3 cannot be received favors from them. While such
accepted as representative for all slaves. women sought o r bought their own
Matrifocal families were a second freedom as well as the freedom of their
common family structure for slaves in children, most slave women could not.
Parnaiba, particularly for those who lived Not all of the babies of slave women and
on smaller farms with fewer slaves. Among “unknown fathers” could have been the
Agostinha Rodrigues’s 22 slaves, only two children of free men. Undoubtedly, many
slave families appeared in her inventory of were the children of slave men. In other
1757, both matrifocal families: Luzia, a slave populations, historians have found
creole woman of 40 and her two children, that slave women often had their first
and Elena, a creole woman of 20, with her children before they married (Gptman
daughter Ursula.” In Barbara Pais’ 1976, pp. 60-67; Slenes 1987, p. 220). Later,
inventory, only three slave families are they married and formed nuclear families
visible among her eighteen slaves, all with their mates and their children.” This
matrifocal families: Roza with her ten- may have been the case in Parnaiba. Such
year-old daughter, Maria with her two matrifocal families would have been of
children, and Angela with her four short duration and later would have
~hi1dren.I~ evolved into nuclear families. Possibly,
According to the baptismal register for some of these matrifocal families may have
the parish of Santana in 1820, 51 percent been polygamous families where slaves
of the slave babies baptized had unknown recreated a common African family form.
fathers. Apparently haIf of slave children Among the free population, matrifocal
began their lives as the children of single families also appeared. In 1820, women
mothers, living in matrifocal families. headed 28 percent of all households in the
Some, but not all, of these children were free population; of these female heads of
the offspring of white men who wished to households, nineteen percent were single
keep their paternity secret or who never mothers. Similarly, a high number of poor
Searching for the Slave Family in Colonial Brazil 291

free women baptized their children giving outside of the formal sacraments of
the father as “unknown.” Still, as Figure 1 Catholic marriage and baptism. Perhaps
shows, the proportion of single slave they moved in and out of temporary unions
women remained greater than that of free with various slave women. Some probably
women. The phenomenon of matrifocal had no family ties at all.
families thus was more prevalent in the slave While it may be impossible to accurately
population than in the free population. compute how many slaves lived in nuclear
Matrifocal and nuclear families are both families, matrifocal families, or solitary
parts of what Peter Laslett and Richard families, some rough estimates may be
Wall (1972) call a “simple family,” that is a derived from the evidence contained in the
family composed of parent($ and children. censuses and property inventories from
But given the pervasiveness of female- Parnaiba. According to the 1820 census, 57
headed households in Brazil (Kuznesof percent of slave women and 56 percent of
1980, 1991; Ramos 1991), it is important to slave men over the age of 24 were classified
distinguish between those that had both as married or widowed. These slaves and
parents present (nuclear families) and those their children lived in or had lived in
headed by women (matrifocal families). nuclear families, some of which may have
Here slaves were not unique from the free become extended families as time passed.
population; what differed was the larger But since half of the children born in the
number of matrifocal families among slaves. parish of Santana were born to single
The third kind of family life for slaves mothers, these slave children probably
in Parnaiba was solitary family life. These lived in matrifocal families, at least initially.
were the slaves who lived with other slaves Some matrifocal families may have become
with whom they had no blood or kinship nuclear families when single mothers
ties. Probably most slaves lived in solitary married. The very high number of male
families at some point in their lives- slaves over the age of 24 who remained
Africans when they arrived in the town, single (44 percent) suggests that the solitary
and Creoles when they had been sold. On male was a pervasive feature of slavery. The
the larger plantations, these solitary slaves property inventories of the three largest
lived in barracks segregated by sex (Costa slaveowners in eighteenth-century,
1989). On smaller farms, they may have Parnaiba underscore that a significant
lived together in a communal sort of number of slaves did not appear to have
relationship, perhaps sharing a shed. Slaves family ties. While these slaves did not
belonging to masters with only one or two necessarily live outside of families, as they
slaves probably lived with the masters’ might be part of an extended family or a
family, much as servants. kin network, they do not appear to have
The family bonds of solitary slaves are lived in a domestic household.
the most difficult for historians to recon- For the slave couples who formed
struct. Solitary slaves, both men and families and bore children and for the single
women, appear in property inventories and mothers with children, the extra-familial
in the census registers with their names, ties they established at baptism were an
ages, place of birth, color, and gender important part of family life. Slaves
recorded, but not their family relation- followed two patterns when selecting
ships. As Figure 2 shows, a large propor- godparents for their infants. Slaves either
tion of slave men never married. Possibly linked their children horizontally to other
they had wives and fathered children slaves or vertically to members of the free

population. Each strategy made sense: by Table 4

giving their children free godparents, and Godparents of Slave Babies
possibly slaveowners, they hoped t o
provide their children access to more
Legitimate Illegitimate
powerful individuals in the community. By
choosing slave godparents for their child- Godparents N % N %
ren, on the other hand, they linked their Free 32 58 44 79
children into the slave community. Such Slave 23 42 12 21
bonds served to reinforce the ties that slaves Total 55 100 56 100
had to each other. Source: Baptisms of Slaves, 1770,1798,1820, parish of Santana.
As Stephen Gudeman and Stuart
Schwartz have shown, masters did not
serve as the godparents of their slaves than slave godparents to sponsor the
(1984, p. 407).16 In Parnaiba, no master children of single mothers (see Table 4).
appeared as the godparent of his or her Slave godparents were twice as likely to
slave except one. In that instance, a slave sponsor legitimate children. Free godpar-
baby about to die was baptized by his own ents sponsored more children of unknown
master, who performed the role of god- fathers. Why? One possible explanation
father as well as that of priest.I7 While suggests that the slave nuclear family was
masters did not serve as godparents in far more integrated into the slave commun-
Parnaiba, occasionally their children did ity than the matrifocal family. Slave
sponsor the slave children who belonged to couples chose other slaves as godparents
their parents. Six times in 115 baptisms of for their children. Single mothers, whose
slave children the unmarried children of children were often mulattoes, chose free
masters served as godparents for slaves.'* godparents. Such a difference suggests that
Who were the godparents if not the the nuclear family served as the foundation
master or the members of the master's for slave community life, while single
family? Analysis of the baptism records mothers sought to build connections to free
from the parish of Santana reveals that 32 men, perhaps as a way to achieve freedom
percent of the godfathers and 34 percent of for themselves and their ~hi1dren.I~
the godmothers of slave babies were The major difference between the fimily
themselves slaves. These slave godparents lives of slaves and the family lives of the free
came from the same parish as the baby, population in Santana de Parnaiba lies in
most of them were unmarried, and most, their family cycles. Like the families of the
therefore, were young. Slaves tended to free, slave families developed in response to
sponsor the children of married slaves, events in their own lives, such as marriages,
rather than the children of single mothers. the births of children, and the deaths of the
They sponsored more boys than girls. aged. Yet unlike the free, events in the lives
Free persons living in the parish of of masters, such as marriages, births, and
Santana served as the majority of the deaths, affected the family lives of slaves.20
godparents of slave babies. Most of the free Thus, slaves lived within two family
godparents, like the slaves, were single. Of cycles-one of their own making and
the free godparents, 36 godfathers and 19 another of their masters'. One slave family
godmothers were slaveowners, usually cycle began when nuclear families formed
small slaveholders who owned less than ten as slaves reached their late twenties and
slaves. Free godparents were more likely grew with the birth of children. Nuclear
Searching for the Slave Family in Colonial Brazil 293

families endured until families became heir, Fern50 Pais de Barros, managed to
extended with the addition of kin or consolidate almost half of the slaves into
fragmented due to the death of a spouse. his hands. In addition to the slaves he
An alternate slave family cycle based on the inherited in his own right, Fern50 Pais de
matrifocal family also developed. These Barros bid on and purchased slaves from
families formed and grew as single women the estate when they were auctioned.
bore children. What happened to the slave families
Since Portuguese laws of inheritance after the death of their master? The first
called for an equal division of family observation that can be made is that the
property among all children of the probate court judge and the heirs refrained
deceased, slaves, by law, had to be divided from separating married slaves. All but one
equally among all heirs at inheritance. Thus of the slave couples remained together after
slaves who had been living in established Manoel died.22But the probate judge and
families would be powerless to stop the the heirs did not take the same pains to
dissolution of estates mandated by inher- maintain the family tie between parents
itance law. Moreover, Portuguese mar- and children. The slave couple Antonio
riage laws established the principle of and Luiza’s two children ended up with
community property. Husbands and wives Fernlo’s brother Manoel. Two of Silvestre
each owned one half of the property and Felicia’s three children went to a
acquired during their marriage. Thus purchaser at the auction, as did their one-
inheritance took place twice: after the death year-old baby. Fern50 inherited three
of each spouse. At each time, slaves were children of the widow Eugenia, while his
evaluated and divided or sold to settle the brother Manoel inherited the widow
estate. Eugenia herself. Fern50 inherited the two-
Slaves were the major part of the assets year-old son of Maria do Rozario, whose
of the planter class-accounting for 53%of matrifocal family was completely divided
the value of their property (Metcalf 1986, among six heirs and purchasers at the
p. 463). Moreover, slaves, unlike land, auction.
could be easily transported to the frontier In 1749, only four years after Fernlo
where younger generations of planters Pais de Barros consolidated his estate b y ,
opened new estates. Thus, inheritance and purchasing or inheriting 48 slaves from his
the presence of the frontier worked in father, his wife (Angela Ribeira Leite) died.
tandem to break up slave families. As required by law, their community
The division of Manoel Correa Penteado’s property underwent the process of inherit-
estate in 1745 provides many clues to what ance. From Angela’s inventory, it is
happened to slaves when their masters possible to trace the slave families that
died.21 As one of the largest estates in Fernso inherited or purchased in 1745
eighteenth century Parnaiba, Manoel’s through the most vulnerable time in the
estate offered the space for many slave family cycle, that which followed the death
families to form. At Manoel’s death in of their master.”
1745,25 slave families existed on the estate. When the slave lists in Angela’s and
The majority of these (thirteen) were Manoel’s inventories are compared, many
nuclear families, followed by married of the same slave families are visible.
childless couples (eight), and four house- Silvestre and Felicia, whom Fernlo Pais de
holds headed by a single parent. When the Barros had purchased from the auction,
estate was inventoried and divided, one appear in Angela’s inventory with three
294 JOURNAL OF FAMILY HISTORY Vol. 16/No. 3/1991

children. Claudio and Roza also appear in the mortality of the masters, slave families
Angela’s inventory with four children. rarely became large, complex, or extended.
Eugenia, a widow with five children in Despite the prevailing belief that slave
1745, is in Angela’s inventory as well. women had low fertility in Brazil, the slave
Antonio and Luiza likewise show up in women on these estates certainly bore
Angela’s inventory with a daughter. The children. But slave families were not any
evaluators described Vitoria, married to a larger because inheritance separated
freedman in Ferniio’s household, and her children from their parents. Nearly all of
two children. Gracis and Irya, whom the children described in Angela’s inven-
Ferniio purchased in 1745, surface in tory had been born since Manoel’s death.
Angela’s inventory of 1749. The couples Slaves had less stable family lives than
Ignacio and Catharina, childless in 1745, other social groups because they had no
and Antonio and Mariana, also childless in control over the mortality of their masters
1745, similarly emerge in the inventory of or over the process of inheritance. On large
1749. Moreover, some slave families slated estates where adult slaves could marry,
to be sold or separated in Manoel’s families formed. When masters or mis-
inventory emerge partially intact on tresses died, however, inheritance began.
FernZo’s farm in 1749. Then the bonds which slaves had ‘formed
The presence of the same slave families so carefully with each other were rent apart.
in both inventories might lead one to Significantly, on the religious estates which
conclude that slave families weathered the were not affected by inheritance, the largest
storm of death and inheritance. But on and most complex slave families formed
closer inspection, major changes did take (Graham 1976).
place in the family lives of these slaves. The This comparison between the slaves and
widow Eugenia, who had five children in the free population reveals that slave
1745, had only two young children with her families resembled free families in many
in 1749. Only one of her children appears respects. Marriage rates and the general
in both inventories. Similarly, the three fertility rate are lower for slaves than for
children who appear with Silvestre and the free while the proportion of adults who
Felicia are not the same children listed with remained single is higher for slaves. Ip part
their parents in 1745. The story is the same these demographic measures differ because
for virtually all of the slave families who the slave population had a larger number
appear in both inventories. Nearly all had of males relative to females, a fact caused
lost some children who had been inherited by the preference for men by African slave
by heirs or sold at auction after Manoel’s traders. In the free population, the
death. The families remained “nuclear” in migration of men to the frontier created the
structure, but only because children had opposite sex imbalance: women outnum-
been born since Ferniio’s father’s death. bered men (Figure 3). But the major
Apparently the older children of these slave difference between free and slave families
families had been sold or inherited by other rests with the impact of Portuguese laws of
heirs. Some of these children may have inheritance. Because property had to be
continued to live in Parnaiba, but doubt- divided equally among all children at
lessly others had been taken by their new inheritance, slave families broke apart
masters to the frontier to the west. when their owners died. Factors beyond
Because their families were tied to events the control of slaves, such as the mortality
in the families of their masters, particularly of masters or inheritance laws, thus
Searching for the Slave Family in Colonial Brazil 295

prevented slave nuclear families from 2. According to Kulikoff, “No slaves

becoming large, extended, or complex. enjoyed the security of legal marriage’’ in the
How typical are these patterns of slave tobacco-growing region of the Chesapeake in the
family life for colonial Brazil? The unusual eighteenth century (1986, p. 353). Higman states
that Anglican and Catholic priests performed
features of slave family life in Santana de “relatively few marriages” in the British
Parnaiba are the high proportion of Caribbean, but that Moravian and Wesleyan
married slaves and the higher birth rate of missionaries did emphasize the importance of
slave women. Yet the basic contours of marriage (1984, pp. 369-370). In Latin America,
slave family life found in Parnaiba are however, the church supported in principal the
characteristic of other agricultural com- right of slaves to marry (Silva 1984).
munities. Nuclear families predominated, 3. Costa and Gutitrrez (1984) do a similar
especially on large estates. Matrifocal analysis of the manuscript censuses for SBo
families formed on smaller estates. Solitary Paulo and Parani and find a much larger gap
between the slave and the free population in
individuals with no discernable family ties 1830.
lived on virtually every estate. As has been 4. The larger numbers of slave men was
confirmed by recent research in Bahia, due to the effects of the slave trade which
masters did not serve as godparents to their favored men over women. Among the free
slaves. Inheritance, and the subsequent population, the migration of men to the frontier
division of property, affected slaves left behind a society in which women outnum-
everywhere with the concomitant rupture bered men.
in slave family life. 5. Elsewhere, I have reported that mar-
As historians reconstruct the demo- riages between slaves of different masters
reached 13percent. This figure was based on the
graphy of slavery in the different regions of inclusion of marriages between slaves and
Brazil, it is likely that they will find Indian wards (udministrudos), who also might
significant variation among regions and belong to different masters. I have eliminated
over time. The relatively stable agricultural these marriages in this analysis of slave
economy of eighteenth-century Parnaiba, marriages (Metcalf 1983, p. 181; 1987, p. 238).
plus the established presence of the local 6. The slave couple Antonio and Elena
parish priest, probably are responsible for belonged to cousins; the slave couple Manoel
the high marriage and fertility rates of and Maria belonged to an uncle and a nephew. ’
slaves in Parnaiba. Other regions which The slave couples Victorino and Roza, Manoel
and Maria, Francisco and Maria also appear to
lacked these characteristics may have have belonged to kin, judging from the names
created a very different context for slave of their masters (Slave marriage register,
family life. Nevertheless, the slave families Arquivo d a Curia Diocesana de Jundiai,
in this town shared basic similarities with hereafter ACDJ).
slave families elsewhere in Brazil. Most 7. For example Rafael, a slave, and Anna,
important of these is the effect of inheri- a free woman, both lived on the estate of
tance, a process which prevented slave Rafael’s master as did Bento, a free man who
families in Brazil from enduring over time. lived as a retainer on the estate of his wife’s
mistress (1820 census of Parnaiba, Arquivo do
Estado de Siio Paulo, hereafter AESP).
NOTES 8. Crude birth rate = number of births in
a yearlsize of population in same year * 1000.
1. But slave families did not resemble the 9. General fertility rate = number of births
families of slaveowners who had very different in a yearlwomen aged 15-44 years in same year
household structures (Metcalf 1986). * 1000.

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