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The Broken Paths of Freedom

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Counting the Free Africans of Brazil

Historical and modern estimates range between eight and fourteen thousand Africans liberated in Brazil between 1821 and 1856.

The most important historical counts, conducted near the end of the Free African regime are:

  • A nominal count conducted by Reginaldo Muniz Freire and Leocadio José Sousa da Costa in March 1864. Based upon the registries [now lost] maintained by the Curador dos Africanos Livres, the Freire-Costa list enumerated by name and last known fate a total of 7,366 liberated Africans. The Freire-Costa did not include Africans liberated in the provinces of north.
  • “Return of the Emancipados who have received Certificates of Freedom, of those who have died, and of the number still held in Slavery,” a report submitted by the British consul Lemmon Hunt to Foreign Secretary Lord Russell in correspondence dated March 10, 1865. The return correlated each African to his or her concessionaire. The total headcount cites in the return [8,673] was likely based on the Freire-Costa count, upwardly revised following the extension of full freedom to all surviving Free Africans, under the decree of 24 September 1864.
  • The tabular summary count [matricula geral], "Estado em que se acham a escripturação da matricula geral dos diversos carregamentos de Africanos livres na Corte, e Provincias do Imperio," compiled by Lt . Pedro Paulino da Fonseca, Veador da Casa de Correção, in May 1868. Apparently based upon nominal registries [again, lost] housed at the Casa de Correção, Fonseca counted 10,719 emancipados liberated in the capital and the various provinces. The figure was revised upward, to slightly more than 11,000, in the annual report of the Ministry of Justice presented to the Parliament in March 1869.
  • Identifying Africans

    About 9,000 individual Africans have been identified in the archival evidence related to the Free Africans of Brazil. Discrepancies, inconsistencies, silences, and misunderstandings are common features of this source material. Nevertheless, the rich and varied documentary evidence allows for the identification of individual Africans and the tracking of their lives, in some cases for more than thirty years.

    The chief sources for the identity of these 9,000 Africans are nominal lists and certificates of freedom generated by Brazilian authorities at the moment a liberated Africans acquired a unique cohort-specific number, commonly referred to as a matricula, a Christian or Classical name, and a registry of nação, age, gender, and body marks. The term often used to describe the assignment of name, number, and nação was “marking” [Portuguese: tirar as marcas] in reference to registries of the type and location of body markings [marcas]. The archival vestiges of these markings are invaluable tools in the identification of Liberated Africans as individuals and as cohorts.  [The sole known case for registries of African names involved the Brilhante, intercepted in July 1838. Yet like the other liberated Africans, the emancipados of the Brilhante also received Christian or Classical names.]

    The Curador dos Africans Livres maintained registries of most of the Free Africans liberated in Rio de Janeiro. Each registry was organized by the original condemned vessel [carregamento] and then by matricula. The registries [called livros, suggesting that they were bound books] maintained by the Curador were used to document the incidents of the Africans' life, notably the transfer of concessionaire and Last Known Fate.

    In the course of their lives as emancipados, some Free Africans used a given name or nação other than those recorded in the marking. However, Brazilian authorities typically insisted that the original name, nação, and matricula be used to confirm identities in petitions submitted by Africans. In cases of death, police or medical authorities sometimes looked to body markings for positive identification.

    In addition to the nominal lists taken at marking, several nominal lists were generated at the end of the Free African regime in Brazil . Some of the most useful registries were taken by various Brazilian authorities  between 1860 and 1868. At least one of these registries was sold (likely in secret) to British officials. These registries, which typically contain the Africans name, nation, and ship (and sometimes a matricula) have been used to confirm the identity of each known African, via cross-referencing of name and nation.

    In cases in which the Slave Trade Database does not register the voyage that brought the African to Brazil [for example, in the Africans whose “carregamento” was the Casa de Correção], a four-digit ID has been assigned to each African, followed by the matricula. For example, Thomaz Congo, Casa de Correção 128 has been assigned the unique ID XXXX-0128.

    Identifying Concessionaires

    The chief sources for the identity of concessionaires are three nominal lists of concessionaires assembled in 1845, 1860, and 1865. Supplemental materials include the petitions submitted by Africans and the concessionaires, found mainly in the archives of the Brazilian ministry of justice.

    In December 2012, all known concessionaire names associated with all known Africans and carregamentos were compiled into a single list. After duplicates were eliminated and spelling variants assigned an alias, about 2000 individual concessionaires have been identified. 

    Spatial History