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A Peak into Minas Gerais Slavery

Essay by   •  November 27, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,181 Words (9 Pages)  •  760 Views

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Because of its very nature, slavery is bound have an immense effect on the culture of a society. Keeping this in mind, it is interesting to explore how slavery is handled, and how it affects the cultures of different communities. In a letter addressed to King João V, Count Pedro de Almeida, captain general of the Minas Gerais community, describes how slavery is treated in the gold mines he controls. Almeida believes that the slavery system is run quite poorly, and that this will eventually lead to a doomed ending for the masters of Minas Gerais. Specifically, he focuses on the immense number of slaves, the "foolhardy" thinking of masters, a foiled slave rebellion, and the need for measures to be taken by the King in order to prevent an uprising from actually taking place. There is a great deal of value in this document, but it must also be remembered that it is an expository letter written by Almeida himself. Because of this, there is sure to be some biases within the document. In this case, bias shows itself in the form of probable exaggeration and personal motives stemming from a fear of slave rebellions and a desire to draw the attention of the King. Count Almeida's letter to King João gives a broad picture of how slavery in Minas Gerais functioned, and some potential dangers consequently, but is also sensationalized in many ways as a result of Almeida's personal bias.

One item that the document makes very clear is the vast amount of slaves in proportion to their masters. According to Almeida this made the blacks more daring and bold as they know that they had numbers on their side. He writes that blacks were less afraid of their masters, "because their multitudes, in comparison with the number of whites, give[s] them courage ." Though, proportions like this were not totally uncommon in Brazil and the rest of Latin Americana because of the great number of slaves needed to mine the gold mines, and perform other specialized tasks of the like. But, the fact remains that the whites were greatly outnumbered by the slaves, and this was a frightening fact to many. It was frightening because of the man power that was behind the slaves' numbers should their ever be a revolt. Yes, the whites were considerably better equipped should a battle ever come to be, but one person can only fend off so many regardless of the differences in weaponry. Furthermore, masters, "cannot deprive [slaves] of their natural desire for freedom ." The slaves also had a more inspiring motivation if a battle were to occur. Slave's white masters where concerned with the great number of slaves and their own low numbers, because if rebellion would ever occur, the slaves would make for a tough group to subdue.

Another concern that Almeida voices in his letter is the attitudes of the slave masters. He was concerned with the amount of liberties and freedoms that were granted to the slaves. He wrote, "Not only do the [masters] trust them with all kinds of weapons; they also conceal their acts of insolence and their crimes (even those perpetrated against themselves) to avoid the risk of losing them if they should be seized by the agents of Justice ." Such a case should be considered incredibly unusual when considering the typical, cruel nature of slave masters. Even the introduction to the letter admits that, "The region's peculiar conditions seem to have brought some temporary alterations in the traditional master-slave relationship ." Things like this almost never happened because it is unrealistic to force a person into labor unless they are dealt with in a very strict and demanding way. Almeida knew this, and saw the way in which masters handled their slaves as an issue. He feared that "the foolhardy attitudes of their masters " would eventually result in some sort of rebellion that had the potential to kill all the whites in the community.

Although it has already been touched upon, it cannot be overstated how fearful the slave masters were of rebellion. It was their biggest fear, and the primary reason Almeida wrote the letter. He states, "No longer satisfied merely to harass us from the mocambos which they control in various places, and have always held despite the great efforts I have made to destroy them, the blacks now aspire to an even greater enterprise ." That enterprise was full-scale rebellion. Rebellion was something that no white wanted to encounter, but something they always thought was potentially on the horizon. This is not without reason though. As Almeida writes, "we cannot prevent the remaining blacks from thinking, and cannot deprive them of their natural desire for freedom; and since we cannot, merely because of this desire; eliminate all of them, they being necessary for our existence here, it must be concluded that this country will always be subjected to this problem ." It is only natural for a person being held against their will to do anything they can to obtain their freedom - one of human life's most cherished characteristics. With this taken away, it gives the slaves a 'nothing to lose' type of mentality. This makes the slaves very dangerous, and most masters typically realize this.

However, in the document, Almeida expresses his grave concern that the masters of Minas Gerais do not comprehend this. The slaves greatly outnumber the whites, and, according to Almeida, have access to weapons. This almost makes for the perfect storm for a rebellion in which all the masters would almost surely die. Almeida tries to get this message across to the King, and spends a majority of the letter describing how he had just uncovered and thwarted a major rebellion. Almeida also mentions, "This is not, in fact, the first rebellion that the blacks have planned; already in times gone by they have had such intentions ." The way Almeida describes the situation, it seemed as if a slave rebellion was not a matter of if, but when. Furthermore, when this time would come, it would result in catastrophic consequences for the whites of the community, and this was what people feared the most.

Up to when the letter was written though, no actual slave rebellion had taken place,

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