José C. Curto :

Movers of Slaves: The Brazilian Community in Benguela, c. 1730-1830

José C. Curto

Although founded by the Portuguese in 1617, the town of Benguela did not emerge as a significant exporter of slaves until the 1720s. Over the following one hundred years, nearly half a million captives were shipped therefrom, turning this urban centre into a major supplier of captives for the Atlantic world. By 1730, this port town had come under the domination of Rio de Janeiro merchants, who provided much of the capital required for slaving in and received the overwhelming majority of the slaves shipped from Benguela. Such control was underpinned by an appreciable number of Brazilian trade agents and their dependents, often originating from Guanabara Bay itself, who resided in Benguela on a semi-permanent basis. Drawing upon a variety of primary sources from archives in Angola, Brazil, and Portugal, including census materials, the objective of this contribution is to reconstruct the demography of this Brazilian diasporic community. These primary documents make clear that the Brazilian presence in Benguela was a permanent fixture, and this until well after legal slaving in the south Atlantic was banned in 1830. The economic and, hence, also political power exercised locally by this diasporic community was considerable, nearly succeeding in turning Benguela into a Brazilian overseas dominion after 1822. In short, highlighting the circuitous (as opposed to uni-directional) nature of the this port's relationship with Brazil, focusing on an important group of diasporic social agents that moved hundreds of thousands of slaves to Rio de Janeiro, and reconstructing their demographic presence in Benguela addresses some of the key issues to be deliberated at "Angola on the Move".