Slavery and the Church(1)
footnotes have been removed. do not click on them.
Manumission was the reward for the assimilation of certain values which defined an individual as a member, however peripheral, of the larger society. Among these values was the centrality of Portuguese language, an acceptance of/or the demonstrated ability to accommodate to the predominant social values of the eighteenth century such as paternalism and slave-holding, and an acceptance of some of the precepts of Catholicism. In a general fashion, these plus personal bonds might be seen as the elements which led to the granting of manumission to specific individuals. Obedient and long service were prerequisites.
In this process of using values rather than force alone to control the slave population, the Catholic Church played a crucial and unmatched role. As a cultural presence, the Catholic Church was able to transmit cultural values in the Portuguese language without disturbing the perception of the institution of slavery. In fact, the very day in and day out activities of the church demonstrated the validity of slavery as a social category within colonial society. The fact that slaves were able to participate in all of the church's activities ensured that that perception would predominate. Thus not only were the values of Catholicism important but perhaps even more crucial were the mechanisms used by the church to transmit those values.
As with the free population, Catholicism became a necessary definition of membership in the community. Johann Mauricio Rugendas, writing in the 1840s, noted, in rather overstated fashion, this important role of religion
In Brazil, however, the owner sees it as his primordial duty to introduce the slave into the Christian community, and neglecting this obligation he can not escape condemnation, not only on the part of the clergy but by public opinion.(2)
As shall be demonstrated, many masters were unconcerned with public opinion. While some, no doubt, suffered for this attitude, many others were unaffected. Rugendas' comment thus defines the expectation if not the reality.
This description applied to the eighteenth century as well as the nineteenth. Many members of the community were perfectly willing to withstand the loss of reputation in the community's eyes. This can be seen in the case of João Carvalho de Barros who was convicted by the Inquisition of homosexuality. Barros had been known by his neighbors to be engaging for years in sexual imposition on his male (and female) slaves. Yet the neighbors did nothing to intervene or to report the "sinful" abuse even after they had personally witnessed such activity.(3) There were, therefore, limits to the persuasive power of neighbors - it depended on what the neighbors viewed as acceptable.
But for many people maintaining a good reputation was indeed important. Reputation played a very important role in colonial society. "Popular voice" or common knowledge was admissible evidence in trials and crucial in many aspects of the life of the community. A marriage process could be stopped at the time of the reading of the marriage banns because of popular opinion about the status of either of the parties. The Inquisition specifically inquired into popular opinion about individuals under investigation. Petitions for membership in the Order of Christ or to be a familiar of the Holy Inquisition took public opinion into account. Ecclesiastical inspections did as well. Maintaining one's reputation was, therefore, not something to be trifled with. This ensured that people acted within the limits defined by the community. Community standards were important. Violating them came with some cost, even if only trivial in nature.
In a very profound fashion, religion became an important vehicle for transforming the conflicts inherent in a slave society and channeling that violence into more peaceful avenues. Institutional conflict within the church rather than organized conflict in the streets was the result.(4) From the perspective of the slave, it is probable that while ensuring the continuation of slavery, it also provided the slave with an invaluable space for cultural survival. The success of this transformation, from the perspective of the slave owning class, can paradoxically be seen in the emphatic statement of the Brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário of Itaverava: "This Brotherhood never will be Subject to a white Brotherhood and therefore it will always retain under its dominion all the [religious] paraments that exist at present."(5) The black members were insisting on their control of a religion which had been imposed on them by whites.
There is general recognition of the important role played by lay brotherhoods in this process.(6) Brotherhoods were especially important in the gold district. The pervasive jealousy of the secular Portuguese state led it to prohibit the establishment of a significant institutional presence of regular clergy. Therefore the brotherhoods assumed a very substantial importance in the mining district. They became the primary vehicle for popular participation in the activities of the church and a major support of the institutionalized church.
The general history and nature of brotherhoods in Vila Rica has already been discussed. But their indispensable role in the life of the slave community deserves further exploration. For the Portuguese, the brotherhoods offered an ideal opportunity to acculturate the slave into Luso-Brazilian society and to channel the inherent personal violence of a slaveholding society into institutional forms and disputes. As early as 1721 this process was described by Fray Agostinho de Santa Maria. Portraying the festivals of the black brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, Santa Maria noted that "the Blacks conduct their festival with much sumptuousness because they do not wish in any way to appear inferior to the others, even the whites." They showed the same competitive spirit when building their side altar as they tried "to equal or surpass if possible [the altars] of the brotherhoods of the parish church."(7) This competition over regalia and the appearance of churches would continue through the century.
The tensions of the society were manifested in conflicts between brotherhoods but these conflicts were channeled into areas for which resolutions could be found within the structures of existing control mechanisms. The absence of all but snatches of black brotherhood records prevents a complete and detailed discussion of these conflicts. But enough exists to suggest their general nature. The best known of these was the dispute between the white and black members of the already mentioned Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Antonio Dias which culminated in the 1733 expulsion of the whites from the brotherhood. The whites, in turn, went to the church of Padre Faria where they founded their own brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário.(8)
But these conflicts were not solely between the racial extremes. In other cases, black brotherhoods divided between African and native born blacks. In the early l740s the recently founded brotherhood of Nossa Senhora das Mercês split into two groups.(9) One went to the parish church of Antonio Dias and then to its own church of Nossa Senhora das Perdões; the other built its own church in the parish of Ouro Preto. It is significant that the original petition of the Antonio Dias brotherhood referred to Nossa Senhora das Mercês dos Homens Pretos [e] Crioulos (African Blacks and Creole Blacks), but the by-laws firmly prohibited the entrance of "people native to the kingdoms of Guiné and Luanda."(10) Of the 936 individuals who joined the brotherhood between 1759 and 1790 whose race is known, exactly two-thirds were creole blacks and less than 1% were Africans.(See Table 19.1)
Source: Cod. 77, passim, ANSM.
It appears very likely that the shift was due to an internal power struggle, probably having ethnic overtones. But that was not the only racial conflict which divided the brotherhood. Mulattoes as a group were accused of misspending funds, being divisive, and ruining the brotherhood.(11) The residents of Vila Rica and the mining district saw their world in terms of race and ethnicity.
These conflicts were not limited to the town of Vila Rica itself. There are numerous examples from the entire mining region which could be cited. The mulattoes of the rural brotherhood of Santo Antonio, for example, after allowing whites to become members found that their control was being threatened. To maintain their power the mulattoes had to amend their by-laws to limit the number of whites who could hold leadership posts. Interestantly, whites who were married to mulattoes or had mulatto siblings were allowed to hold office.(12) If the mulattoes of the Santo Antonio brotherhood were jealous of their powers, much more so were the members of black brotherhoods. This was one area where legally blacks had the power to keep whites at a distance and to define their own social space. Some black brotherhoods allowed whites to join but not to hold administrative posts.(13) Others accepted whites and allowed them to serve in the posts of treasurer and secretary since these positions called for "abundance of property, good conduct, and zeal...."(14) The Brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Itaverava, for example, accepted whites in the leadership posts of secretary and treasurer, but reserved the key posts of judges, procurator, board of directors and king/queen for blacks.(15) The tendency to permit whites to serve in the posts of secretary and treasury was a pragmatic one. The secretary had to be literate and the treasurer had to have enough money to be able to cover small expenses out of pocket until the dues had been collected. The by-laws of Nossa Senhora do Rosário of Carmo noted that the treasurer could be either black or white but had to be a "good bookkeeper and of means."(16) In some cases, whites were permitted to join but prohibited from occupying leadership roles. This was true, for example, of the Brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário of Congonhas.(17)
Other brotherhoods were emphatic in their determination to govern themselves without white involvement. The black leaders of Nossa Senhora do Rosário of Itaverava, for example, wrote into their by-laws a provision that "their brotherhood never can be subject to a white brotherhood."(18) Those of Antonio Dias stipulated that "anyone who is a Roman Catholic can join this brotherhood... [but] in no way are they to interfere in the decisions and governance of the said brotherhood except the Treasurer, Secretary, and Reverend Chaplain who are elected by the board and these can vote, agreeing with the black members in everything that is just and reasonable."(19) In this brotherhood, the few whites permitted to exercise leadership roles could vote so long as they voted with the majority. In reality, their vote was not a vote at all. This brotherhood went so far as to maintain the names and dues of the white membership in a separate book.(20)
While these brotherhoods provided a mechanism for redirecting aggression away from direct confrontation and into institutional conflicts and for the acculturation of their membership, they also benefitted the slaves in additional and more concrete ways. The brotherhoods were of both practical and psychic help to the slaves.
In practical terms, they provided a physical location for slaves to legitimately congregate and provided the mechanisms for the configuration of slave leadership. A good example of this process can be seen in an examination of the leaders of the black brotherhood of Nossa Senhora do Rosário of Antonio Dias parish. During a five year period, 1761-1766, the five sections of the brotherhood elected 555 individuals to the posts of king, queen, male and female judges, and male and female members of the governing board.(21) (See Table 19.2) Male slaves, in particular, were able to rise to important positions within the brotherhood and to run a brotherhood whose membership included elite whites of the status of two of the participants in the 1789 Inconfidencia Mineira; Claudio Manuel da Costa, an important political figure and poet, and Tomás Antonio Gonzaga, a writer and royal judge.(22) It is very significant that 80.9% of the male leaders and 65.4% if the female leaders were or had been slaves.
|S l a v e||Freedman||Freeborn||Total|
Source: Registry of Elections, APAD.
Serving in a leadership role whether as king or queen or as judge was an important component of a person's status. It was important enough to be listed in a person's last will(23)as Joana Carvalho de Araújo did when she noted that "I have already twice been Judge of Santa Efigénia which brotherhood I ask accompany my body for the love of God" or Teresa Barbosa de Araújo who noted with obvious pride that she had "served as Queen" of Nossa Senhora do Rosário.(24)
Rather than fear the creation of a non-white leadership structure, slave owners generally encouraged their slaves to join the brotherhoods. This despite the general concern with preventing the development of black leadership and the fear about permitting slaves to congregate and, presumably, plot rebellion. In one situation, five slave men belonging to the same master joined Nossa Senhora do Rosário on the same day in 1755.(25) That could only have happened with the concurrence of the master. The benefits to the slave owners had to outweigh the perceived disadvantages. And the benefits for the master as well as slave were many. Beyond the temporary escape from the rigors of slavery for his slave, the master could expect that his slave would receive the traditional social benefits which brotherhoods provided such as medical care, masses, burial for the slave and his or her minor children, and, occasionally, legal assistance. This could explain why there was so little opposition to slave membership in the brotherhoods and apparently to their serving in leadership positions.(26) For the slave, these were all benefits but also important was the opportunity to gain a social outlet for the frustrations inherent in their situations.
These brotherhoods, on occasion, also assisted in helping their members become free. This practice seldom appears as a formal part of brotherhood by-laws in Vila Rica and its environs and there are too few financial records to determine whether the practice occurred informally. But brotherhoods in other parts of the mining district were less reticent. Nossa Senhora do Rosário of Susuaí in its 1753 by-laws noted "that for those Brothers who are slaves and zealous Brothers who serve the Brotherhood well and are of good behavior and whose Masters want to sell them in false faith out of this land, the latter shall be obligated to immediately inform the Brotherhood and wishing to consider his Liberty, the Brotherhood shall be his agent in this matter."(27)
But perhaps the most important role of the black brotherhood was to provide its members with a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. While this is a very imprecise concept there is evidence that church authorities understood and bemoaned this process. In the early 1790s, the parish priests of Minas Gerais sent a petition to Lisbon which in the strongest terms condemned brotherhoods and third orders for having weakened the power of the parish or central churches. In the midst of their harangue, the priests noted that destitute slaves "consider themselves as great figures when they attend their Brotherhood and even more entering in its Government as offices of the board and by this means seeing themselves able to make decisions, deliberate, assume exemptions and contest the jurisdictions of the parish priests...." In the process, "those spirits naturally given to false pride, immodesty, and pushiness lost Respect for all the Hierarchy and erupt in the greatest excesses as has happened repeatedly and as the two Brotherhoods of African blacks and creoles in Vila Rica have done...."(28) The priests then provided examples of mass actions by the brothers as they marched upon the governor's palace. This provides one of the few surviving references to mass action by the brotherhoods which had a racial basis.
The brotherhoods played an important role in providing to slaves an alternative to alienation, escape or rebellion. In tangible terms the slave was allowed to compete with whites and other freemen in ways which were not likely to disrupt the social relationships of the community.(29) But the Catholic Church in Brazil did far more to integrate the slave into the community than making the lay brotherhoods available. At least in the mining district, of which Vila Rica is quite typical, the church strove to bring the slave into the church and thus was required to deal with the slave as a parishioner. Time and again, church leaders - bishops, ecclesiastical inspectors, and parish priests - insisted on the slaves' right to equal access to the church, its sacraments, and its code of morality. It is this insistence on Christian equality which is vastly more crucial to the debate on the nature of Brazilian slavery than the lay brotherhood.
The key to the role of the church is to be found in two complementary positions: the need to provide religious instruction and the need to ensure equal access to the sacraments. The efforts to implement these positions served to some degree to ameliorate the condition of the slaves. That was not their goal, but it was their effect. The church did not intend to deal with the condition of the person who was a slave but its actions had the important effect of aiding that person in the fight to be recognized as a human being with rights.
The church sought to ensure that slaves were educated about matters of religion. The fact that some of the earliest complaints about the failure to educate slaves were raised by Governor Assumar suggest that the matter was not simply one of saving souls but of fulfilling some secular function as well. In fact, in a long letter to the king concerning the problem, Assumar offered both a need to "clear his conscience" and "the grave disorder which is felt throughout this jurisdiction" as reasons for his suggestions.(30)
What emerges from Assumar's statement is a perception of religious education as cultural socialization - inducting the slave into the culture of the Portuguese through being indoctrinated with Catholicism. Noting the large numbers of African-born slaves, Assumar in 1719 proposed that the seminaries teach African languages. Assumar urged the king to act to ensure that slaves received religious instruction because the king's sovereignty was based upon his promise to evangelize the faith. Thus, because the Portuguese brought the slaves to Brazil, they were responsible for educating them about religion.(31)
Another aspect of this educational process was political acculturation. Not only were the slaves to be inculcated with the values of Catholicism but also obedience to the state. In their petition sent to the king in the early 1790s, the parish priests of Minas Gerais complained that the prevalence of brotherhoods had so weakened the parish churches that it weakened "the obligation which by Divine Law the parish priests have to teach and explain to the people along with Christian Doctrine the obedience that they owe to their King and natural master, obedience to his laws and respect for his Magistrates...."(32) At least the priests were clear as to their message.
The second principle was especially profound in its implications for the nature of Brazilian slavery: the insistence that everyone should have equal access to the sacraments. Among the sacraments, that of baptism occupied a central place since it implied entrance into the church. For the slave, there were two forms of baptism -- adult and infant. In fact, church involvement with slavery began as soon as the slave reached the shipping ports of Africa. There they were baptized into the church. Seen as a service to the slaves who were about to continue their perilous journey to Brazil, this action no doubt served primarily to salve the slavers' consciences. But the action was seen as crucial despite the fact that it occurred without the education that should have preceded it. Slaves baptized in Africa could not be re-baptized again in Brazil even after receiving religious instruction.(33) If there was uncertainty concerning whether baptism in Africa had occurred, the slave typically would be rebaptized in Brazil.(34)
Adult baptisms in Vila Rica municipality were common throughout the eighteenth century, although especially during the first two economic phases when the slave system was especially dependent on African imports. In the urban parish of Antonio Dias in 1712, for example, nineteen adult slaves were baptized as opposed to eighteen infants.(35) In the rural parish of Itatiaia during the years 1720-1730, 203 adult slaves were baptized in comparison to 140 infant slaves.(36)
The common occurrence of adult slave baptism has several implications. Most importantly it implies that catechism of slaves did occur since for an adult to be baptized it was required "for some time before he must be instructed in the mysteries of the faith and repent the sins of his past life and propose to live a new Christian life."(37) No doubt many slaves were not geiven this education. But it is also clear that efforts were made to enforce this prerequisite. For example, an ecclesiastical inspector sent to the parish of Antonio Dias in 1715 noted that the registration of adult baptisms should contain reference to "their being instructed in the articles of Our Holy Faith and that because of their readiness, baptism is granted...."(38) This position was supported by secular authorities. The Conde do Assumar, in 1719, for example, ordered the parish priests to ensure that slaves were catechized and baptized and insisted that they notify the ouvidors of the identities of those masters who refused.(39) But it also serves as a reminder that the mass baptism of slaves boarding ships in Africa was incomplete and that church officials in the colonies were bothered about the viability of such baptisms.
Some priests in the mining district did seek to ensure that baptism was preceded by an educational process. This is suggested by the registry of the baptisms which normally do not included large groups belonging to one owner which would imply mass baptism without the necessary catechism process. Normally adult slaves were baptized individually. For example, on February 9, 1766 twelve slaves, belonging to different owners, were baptized and on March 1, 1767 another eight, owned by seven owners, were baptized.(40)
While many adult slaves were baptized, it is impossible to determine the proportion of those who were eligible but who were not baptized. Certainly both church and state sought to have all baptized. As early as 1719 Governor Assumar noted that many slaves died without baptism and instructed each parish priest "to examine the slaves who each resident in his parish had to baptize and catechize [and] prepare and dispatch to the district royal judge a list [of delinquent masters] so that the judge can proceed with all rigor against those slave owners who are negligent...."(41) Assumar's actions reflect the close relationship between church and state and reinforce the notion that matters of cathecism were important to secular authorities, because of the acculturation which was inherent in this religious training as well as for strictly salvationist reasons.
It may be assumed that Assumar's orders were not obeyed completely since only six years later an ecclesiastical visitor to Mato Dentro was forced to decree punitive action for the failure to baptize slaves within three months of purchase. The penalty he imposed was excommunication.(42) It is interesting to note that the priests were to report the failure to educate their slaves to a secular authority, the royal judge, thereby providing another example of the overlap of church/state interests. It also demonstrated the basic agreement that existed between these institutions on the matter of extending church baptism to the slave population.
A related question is the teaching of Catholic doctrine in general. While adult baptism is an indirect indicator that this was going on to a significant degree, there are direct indicators as well. The governing rules of the church in Minas Gerais required that slaves be tested to determine their understanding of Christian doctrine, minimally the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Creed, the commandments, and the obligations of marriage.(43) Slaves born in Africa were not held to the same standards. They were given religious instructions and then asked the following questions:
Do you want to wash your soul with holy water?
Do you wish to eat God's salt?
Do you reject from your soul all your sins?
Will you not commit more sins?
Do you wish to be the son of God?
Do you reject the devil from your soul?(44)
In this instance as in so many others, this rule was not an ideal languishing without enforcement. Ecclesiastical visitors insisted that doctrinal training be provided.(45) In 1746, the ecclesiastical inspector to Rio Verde complained that "some slaves live like brutes and perhaps die as brutes."(46) In 1748, an inspector to Mato Dentro ordered an examination of all parishioners but especially children and slaves to be sure that they understood the basics of the faith. Unlike the Constituições primeiras da Bahia, the governing rules of the Church enacted early in the 18th century, this inspector was satisfied with an understanding of "simpler" doctrinal matters - "the Trinity, Incarnation, and one God as rewarder of good and punisher of evil."(47) In 1749 the inspector of a chapel in Vila Rica admonished priests, heads of families, and owners of slaves to ensure that doctrine was learned.(48) This admonition was repeated in 1754 but more specific instructions were given to the priests. Doctrine was to be taught on Sunday mornings, Holy Days, and Sunday afternoons.
All parishioners are to send their children and slaves to learn doctrine and besides this know you heads of families and owners of slaves that you have the obligation to teach doctrine to all members of the family....(49)
The reference is to the broadest conceivable definition of family - one that includes slaves.
It is important to note that the precepts and instructions of the Constituiçõens primeyras da Bahia were institutionalized in a document, Regimento do auditorio ecclesiastico do arcepisbapdo da Bahia, published in 1720, the same year as the second edition of the Constituiçõens primeyras. In that document, the visitors were issued their guidelines. These guidelines are almost exactly the same as those used by visitors in Minas Gerais. But in two points, local officials modified the document almost casually but significantly. In item 13, where parisheners are called to report "any father or mother who consents that their children abuse themselves [facao mal de si] or a husband his wife and are known to do so" the mineiro visitors added "masters their slaves." And in item 14, where the Bahia Church wished to know "if any person pimps women for men and are known to do so," was added "and female slaves."(50) Local officials had transformed the document in an important fashion by insisting on raising the issue of the exploitation of slaves.
The church's insistence on confession also seemingly had an impact although, once again, the evidence on compliance is sketchy. There is evidence, however, suggesting some degree of compliance. In June of 1780 the parish priest of Catas Altas listed those individuals who had not confessed or received communion for Easter. Unlike, his colleagues in Portugal, Father Manuel Madeira Figureido listed those who had not fulfilled their obligations rather than listing those who had.(51) While many of the entries are for individuals, there are also entire living units: "João Gonçalves Valadares and his slaves and retainers," "Francisco José Barros, his wife and slaves," and "Quitéria Araújo and her children and slaves." In another case, an individual slave, Antonio slave of Eusebio Alvares, is identified.(52) This suggests that other slaves had been confessed and had taken communion. In fact, it is significant that slaves were reported at all. It was a recognition that the rules applied to all - free and slave. This sense that access to these sacraments may have been more general than expected is reinforced by other snatches of evidence. For example, when Captain Major Manuel de Seixas da Fonseca died, he listed among his debts monies owed the parish priest for confessing his slaves.(53)
The church was preoccupied with getting people, including slaves, to church. Stores were ordered closed until masses were concluded to avoid distractions from church services. Moreover, the working of slaves on Sunday when they should have been learning doctrine and attending mass, "as we have seen with our own eyes in many parts of Minas," was criticized as a "sinful scandal."(54)
The records of investigations opened by the visitors suggests that there was some enforcement of these edicts. Individuals indeed were accused of working slaves on Sundays and thereby preventing them from attending mass.(55) On the other hand, it is also clear that these efforts were not always successful. The first bishop to visit Minas Gerais, Frey Antonio de Guadalupe, for example, noted that some slave masters sought to baptize their African-born slaves in parishes other than where they lived in order to avoid religious education.(56) But yet they felt compelled to baptize them.
Also related to the sacrament of baptism was the selection of godparents from within the slave community. Similar to the role of lay brotherhoods, godparentage was a mechanism whereby some positive social relationships were created which allowed for the evolution of black leadership but kept it within the limits of acceptable Luso-Brazilian institutions. This occurred despite the disapproval of royal officials who were frightened lest the bonds of godparentage create new channels of authority which would lead to the questioning of public authority. Governor Assumar in his far-reaching response to a foiled slave uprising in 1719 had ordered that only freemen be named as godparents in order to prevent the formation of hierarchical relationships within the slave community. Apparently the parish priests failed to see the imminent danger posed by this situation since they failed to enforce royal policy to limit these serving as godparents to freemen. The parish priest of Sabará, for example, contended that it would be more convenient if the godparents of Africans were of the same ethnic or tribal groups as the natural parents.(57)
This refusal to enforce royal policy is also evident in the fact that 57.9% of all godparents of slave children baptized in Antonio Dias before 1719 were freeborn and from 1719 to 1726 this figure rose only slightly to 64.5%. As late as 1771, only 44.5% of the godparents were freeborn and another 30.7% were freedmen. Slave godparents still represented a significant proportion in 1771 - 23.8%.(58) Thus this issue constituted an area of disagreement concerning the function of godparentage with the state viewing it as a form of social control and the church as a sacrament.(59) Priests could, after all, have refused to permit slaves to serve as godparents but they did not.
Critical to the relationship between church and slave was the effort of the former to foster and maintain the sacrament of marriage. Contrary to what is commonly assumed the church did take an early and positive stand on marriage at both the local and hierarchial levels.(60) It sought to ensure the sanctity of slave marriage, but only within the context of the institution of slavery. The reigning church rules, the Constituições primeiras da Bahia, reiterated the right of slaves to marry without the interference of their masters. Masters were enjoined not only from interfering but from selling the married slave to remote areas.(61)
The church also sought to encourage marriage among slaves by removing some of the more onerous formal requirements and fees connected with obtaining permission to marry. Slaves born in the parish were allowed to marry after the banns were read on the authority of the parish priest with the only charges being those accruing from the banns and "the offerings customarily given at marriages."(62) In addition, the determination of the single status of the bride and groom through the reading of the banns was limited to Brazil; the slave was not required to prove that he or she had left Africa unmarried.(63) Marriages occurring in Africa were not seen as legitimate and thus did not constitute a barrier to a marriage the New World.
The church also sought to bring to bear enormous moral and juridical power to encourage marriage. In this regard, the ecclesiastical visitors had some impact. The ecclesiastical inspector to Lavras do Funil in 1773, for example, repeated a commonly held view of the "great scandal" caused by consensual unions, amancebaria. Not only did he view this practice as a sin contrary to divine law but also as contrary to the interests of the slave owners since "perhaps [the infrequency of slave marriage] was the reason for this captaincy being considered so desolate both in the lack of gold as in the increase of said slaves, since if they married they would be able to procreate and multiply in such a way that the owners would have an increased number of them...."(64) The inspector ordered all parish priests to determine whether those slaves who were "concubinados" wished to marry. Barring impediments they were to be married "even against the wishes of their masters who were to be punished if they interfered with the consummation."(65) Again the inspector made it clear that this actions were not intended to prejudice the institution of slavery. But in fact they did, in as much as they interfered directly in the property rights of the owners by insisting that the slaves had rights that superseded the owner's property rights.
The reality of life in Vila Rica suggests that this rule was difficult to enforce. Time and again the evidence points to a very low rate of church marriage among slaves in the mining zone - one even lower than the low rate found among the free population. It is not clear if this resulted from impediments placed by the masters, by the church with its detailed procedure for marriage, or from the demographic structure of slave holdings. An example of these impediments was the requirement that the marriage banns be read in communities where the contracting parties had lived for any significant period of their lives. Thus when João Batista, Cape Verde, and Maria, Obu, petitioned to be married, the marriage banns had to read in both Rio de Janeiro and Salvador as well as in the community where they resided in Minas Gerais.(66) Not only was the process time consuming but the fees involved could be expensive.(67) This requirement coupled with the status reinforcing nature of marriage meant that only with difficulty could church efforts succeed. It is also probable that the small size of slave holdings was a factor. Slaves tended to marry slaves living on the same property. The small average size of holdings would have made that difficult. This issue will be explored in greater detail below.
While the reasons may be complex, what is clear is that few slaves in the mining zone married. This is evident from the many visitations that were made. As late as 1773, an ecclesiastical visitor, Dr. José dos Santos, complained that slave masters allowed slaves "notoriously and with great scandal" to live in concubinage creating a sin for themselves and their slaves.(68) It is also evident from the census material which is available. In 1823, 4.5% of the mulatto slaves in Vila Rica municipality were married, 4.3% of creole slaves and 6.2% of African slaves(69) There is evidence from other municipalities that African-born blacks married at a higher rate than creole-blacks or mulattoes.(70) This could be an indication of efforts to acculturate and "tie-down" the foreign-born slave through formal family ties. Furthermore, slaves in urban areas did not marry as frequently as rural slaves - a situation pertaining as well to the free population.(71) For slaves, this may have been the result of larger slave units in rural areas facilitating the prospects for marriage.
Some of the ecclesiastical visitations sought to encourage slave marriage. For example, the inspector to Carrancos enjoined the parish priests to act against those who impeded marriages.(72) And time and again the ecclesiastical inspectors railed against the exploitation of slave women by the owners. A 1733 visitation to Itatiaia revealed the case of Francisco Teixeira who was amancebada with a slave woman he owned. Under pressure from the parish priest, Teixeira married his slave to another slave. Teixeira openly wept in desperation after the marriage service and then refused to permit the slave couple to have sexual relations.(73)
But even when cases of slave concubinage were brought to the attention of ecclesiastical leaders little could be done against the society's strongly entrenched values. The charge that slaves of different masters had lived consensually for long periods brought no response from ecclesiastical authorities.(74) Despite the efforts that were made at the local level to enforce the provisions of the Constituições primeiras, the church went no further in making marriage more attainable. The result was a general failure on the part of the church to substantially foster marriages involving slaves or, for that matter, members of the free lower classes.(75)
If the church's efforts to encourage marriage among slaves were unsuccessful, there is some indication that efforts to protect the married couple were more successful. While the evidence is again scanty, there is some indication of the social acceptance of the church's position. This can be seen in an incident concerning a slave belonging to Carlos José da Silva. Silva wrote to a friend asking that the friend obtain the release of the slave from jail and dispatch him to Silva's farm:
. . . as he is married, I cannot separate him from his wife thus you should also order that she and her two small sons Felipe and Feliciano be brought together from my town house...[to the farm].(76)
Thus while it is impossible to determine the extent of compliance, so is it impossible to deny its existence in some cases.
Another sacrament with which the church was preoccupied was the last rites. The firmness with which the church insisted on the performance of the last rites and church burial is underscored in the ecclesiastical visitations. Masters were accused of negligence in "allowing [their slaves] to die without receiving the Holy Sacrament in order to avoid the work of putting in order the house and bed...."(77) This form of chastisement was common, but the visitors often went beyond it to take direct action. For example, in May 1731 the visitor to Congonhas do Campo found Manuel Luís guilty of burying his slave "in the woods denying him ecclesiastical burial". Despite the fact that Luís' action was precipitated by his poverty, he was fined fifty cruzados and excommunicated.(78)
Failing to call a priest was occasionally charitably attributed to the masters simply waiting too long.(79) But more typically it was seen as a way to save expenses. In the parish of Antonio Dias, the costs of a formal funeral ceremony were five oitavas until 1737 when it was reduced to four. To ensure that the priest fulfilled his responsibilities regarding slaves, in 1743, the parish priest was ordered to list those sacraments administered to the dying and to explain omissions.(80)
Ecclesiastical efforts to extend church institutions and doctrine to encompass slaves is clear. The use of brotherhoods, godparentage, baptism, marriage, and last rites had important ramifications among the slave population by allowing the development of slave leaders and the provision of social welfare, and also in less definable but crucial ways such as encouraging the growth of the identity of the slave. If the latter is imprecise, it is because indices of this process are not available. While the efforts made by the church are measurable, its success or effectiveness is not as easily measured.
But the church was not only concerned with the extension of the sacraments to slaves, it also became involved in the nebulous areas of defending the community's standards of morality. Again, the church was concerned with both free and slave as equally entitled to the church's protection. This effort can be seen as forming part of the general socialization process. Thus the church's concern with preserving the family unit against internal and external pressure often led to its interference in domestic affairs and to the infringement of the assumed rights of slave owners. In one case, for example, domestic violence due to the presence of a female slave led a parish priest to force the master to sell the slave.(81) In another case a slave owner was forced by the parish priest of Itatiaia to marry the slave with whom he was having sexual relations.(82)
These were not isolated incidents. Instead, they formed part of a pattern in which the church sought to deal with the problem of the sexual exploitation of female slaves. This concern is evident in all the visitations utilized in this study. The 1733 visitation of Cachoeira do Campo led to charges being make against 26 men of whom 22 were accused of illicit sexual activities, often with slave women.(83) The 1731 visitation of Itatiaia and Vila Rica resulted in accusations involving 124 men of whom 119 were charged with "concubinage". Of these cases, 82 or 68.9% involved women who were almost certainly slaves.(84) A typical charge is that against
João Gomes Alves, resident in the hamlet of Preguiça [who] is accused of illicit relations with his slave Maria Bonita, a black from Mina, whom he treats with respect, [giving her] shoes and a fringed skirt....(85)
While most accusations were made against people of non-elite status, occasionally even members of the privileged classes were investigated and charged with having had illicit sexual relations with slaves. Thus, for example, Captain-Major Domingos da Rocha Ferreira, one of Vila Rica's leading citizens for many years, was so accused and Captain Manuel Dias da Silva of Borda do Campo was found guilty of such activities.(86) But these examples were certainly atypical. Seldom could the church act successfully against the elite of the community and it was left to enforce its position against those whose status made them more susceptible to pressure.
While church authorities were vitally concerned with concubinage and "illicit sexual relations", "trato illicito," the records of visitations do not reveal the same interest in slave prostitution. While incidents are found(87) these are quite scattered as opposed to cases of prostitution involving free or freed women, which seem to have attracted the attention of church authorities. While this could be due to a lower incidence of slave prostitution than has been previously believed, it more probably points to its tacit acceptance.
The penalties levied for these crimes against the public morality varied enormously. First offenses for concubinage with slaves could result in a fine as low as 3$000 reis while a second offense would merely double the fine.(88) On the other hand, the sentences could be far more severe, involving loss of property or even exile. Alberto Dias of Borda do Campo, for example, was found guilty a second time of concubinage with his slave, who was commonly believed to be the daughter of his brother. Dias was forced to agree to return to his wife and to free and marry off his slave mistress.(89) In another case, a women was exiled out of the district for two years for consenting either that a slave and a daughter became prostitutes or to their engaging in illicit sexual activities.(90)
While the ecclesiastical trial records for cases involving slaves have not been located, the following case is enlightening. In 1747, Rita de Oliveira, a freedwoman, was found guilty by an ecclesiastical visitor of concubinage with one João Barroso. Shortly afterward she was denounced before a district judge and in 1750 confessed to being "a scandalous and public prostitute." Despite her promise to mend her ways, she soon became the mistress of another man "whose house she entered and left at all hours, repeating the same lascivious dances and diabolical batuques...."(91)
In other cases, the charges brought against individuals for "misusing" their slaves were found not to be true. In one such case, a husband and wife were found innocent of using their slaves dishonestly, that is, of prostituting them. The couple, in turn, accused a doctor and a priest of being their tormentors and of falsely accusing them of the crime out of jealousy and envy.(92) Because common knowledge was admissible as evidence, great care had to be taken to be sure that easily made charges could be substantiated.
The efforts of the church to protect the sanctity of the sabbath also brought church authorities into the matter of slave treatment. This was a matter of concern to both state and church. The first reference to the problem of masters working their slaves on Holy Days was made by Governor Assumar in 1719.(93) But it was the church which sought to enforce this policy, as is reflected by bishopric orders and ecclesiastical visitations. Thus the newly appointed bishop of Minas Gerais, Frei Manuel da Cruz, along with ordering the closing of stores, prohibiting farmers from shipping goods on Sundays(94), and even ordering washerwomen not to wash, ordered that slaves caught mining should lose both gold and mining instruments.(95) This was a reaffirmation of a traditional position of the church. The sabbath was a day of prayer and reflection and that responsibility was extended to cover slaves as well as freemen.
These edicts were enforced by visitations although it is impossible to determine the extent of the enforcement. Thus the many ecclesiastical visitations, so common from the 1720s to the 1770s, often heard charges against residents who worked their slaves on Sundays and holidays.(96) Often, ecclesiastical visitors reiterated that slaves should not work on holy days.(97) Masters were ordered, on pain of not receiving absolution, not to use their slaves on those days for activities which had been postponed during the week. An example of this process is the 1733-1734 visitation of the municipality of Vila Rica which resulted in four individuals being accused of working their slaves on Sundays to the obvious detriment of church attendance.(98) While it is probable that these were merely the most flagrant violations and represent only the tip of the iceberg - it is significant that the church did act to prevent some abuses.
And it did not act alone. In implementing these edicts the church enlisted the support of secular officials including the bush captain, capitão do mato.(99) The Sabbath was to be a day dedicated to rest and devotion. Moreover, slave masters were enjoined either to provide "everything for the clothing and feeding" of the slaves or an additional day a week during which the slave could attend to his needs to make up for the personal day which was not to be devoted to work even for oneself.(100) This concern with ensuring the slave had either a free day to work or was provided adequate food and clothing occasionally surfaces.(101) But it does not appear to be a sustained effort on the part of the church.
As the primary institution for the acculturation of the slave in the mining district, the church also was involved in the suppression of folk values introduced by African slaves. The seeming omnipresence of batuques, calundezes, healers and diviners, all of which represented a form of cultural resistance, were combated by the church through the Inquisition and the ecclesiastical inspections as described above. The church's effort to eradicate "superstitions," as African customs were labeled by most Luso-Brazilians, was another way in which that institution served as a mechanism of acculturation and as a means of integrating the African slave into the larger Luso-Christian community.
Certainly among the most frequently cited were the dances and songs which served as a constant reminder of the ties to Africa. This must have been a special problem in the mining district due to the mass importation of slaves. The very first bishop to personally visit the region noted in 1726 that "some slaves, especially from Mina, retain some remnants of their past." The bishop identified these traits as meeting at night "to pay homage to their dead with voices and instruments" and placing food on the graves.(102) While Bishop Antonio de Guadalupe's comment implies a continuation of African folk religion, it could also refer to the batuques, or dances which Portuguese officials, secular or ecclesiastical, viewed as particularly corrosive of public morality. Another bishop, on visiting a chapel in Vila Rica in 1754, described the batuques as "extraordinarily dishonorable and sensually provocative". Individuals of "whatever status" were ordered to avoid participating in batuques "under pain of excommunication and a fine of twenty oitavas" -- an unusually harsh penalty in view of the fines noted above.(103)
There was also concern with the continuation of African folk traditions of divination and sorcery which must have found a comfortable position alongside traditional Portuguese folk Christianity. Nuno Marques Pereyra noted that there were some blacks in Brazil who practiced certain acts brought from Africa which were used to determine the cause of illnesses, to divine the future, and to guarantee good fortune.(104) It was the church which bore the responsibility of exorcising these "superstitions" which in reality constituted a viable folk tradition. Again it is the ecclesiastical visitation and the Inquisition which provide evidence both of the continued existence of the sorcerer and of the efforts to eradicate him. An ecclesiastical visitor to Antonio Dias parish in 1753 was told of a black who was called to put a spell on a man for interfering in an amorous affair between his brother and a prostitute.(105) In another instance, a slave was found guilty of being a sorcerer and suspected of being a folk healer.(106) Sentences, on occasion could be very harsh as in the case of an Angolan-born freedwoman who was exiled for four years for "sorcery and suspicion of having made a pact with the devil."(107)
The Catholic church thus played several important roles in the slave community of eighteenth century Vila Rica. Perhaps its most important role was to function as the vehicle for the acculturation of slaves. It is this coupled with a concern for the salvation of parishioners that explains its insistence that masters attend to the spiritual needs of their slaves.(108) The slave system survived because of a complex of factors. Some slaves who served obediently and loyally, who were sufficiently acculturated, and who were 'fortunate' enough to have a master with an appropriately greedy or humanitarian spirit, were manumitted. The church and Catholicism in general provided a part of the criteria used to determine suitability for manumission. The church also acted to protect the slave by insisting on equal access to the sacraments without, however, questioning the slave system. Through its institutions the church provided avenues for the development of leaders and gave slaves a status within the whole community.
At the same time, the church was careful not to threaten the institution of slavery. In the Constituiçoens primeyras da Bahia, the church reserved for the archbishop the right to absolve certain acts. Among these were murder, witches, false witnesses and those who committed abortions. Among these cases were those people who received fugitive slaves.(109)
Those who aided or housed runaways were viewed as no better than those who profoundly violated the sacraments.
Thus the church's impact can best be described as contradictory. While ameliorating the condition of individual slaves, the church aided the system of slavery to survive. By providing the slave a space to be and to meet other slaves, it coopted, to some degree, the slave into the world largely created by the slaveowners.