Portuguese emigration to Brazil : the role of the Atlantic Islands, 1530-1780
Brown, Gregory (Student of history)
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From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century one of the most serious problems Portugal had to confront in her imperial planning was a lack of population. The population of Portugal itself, which varied between 1.5 million and 2.5 million during this period, was totally insufficient to meet the defensive needs of all her colonies. She could not supply enough settlers to effectively occupy them, nor could she adequately garrison the fortifications or man the fleets needed to protect them. This weakness in numbers was an important factor in the loss of the majority of the Portuguese Asian Empire to the Dutch and the English during the early seventeenth century. In the Atlantic Empire the situation soon became equally critical, especially in Brazil. The extensive tracts of land claimed there by the Portuguese were, for all intents and purposes, empty. Unlike the Spanish colonies in Western South America, Brazil was not inhabited by large, well organized tribes of high cultural development. Rather its indigenous peoples were widely scattered, few in number and primitive. As a result they were of little help to the Portuguese in the occupation or exploitation of the colony. The lack of effective Portuguese occupation made Brazil fair game for other European nations that sought to enlarge their empires. The Dutch, Spanish, French and English all tried to seize portions of Brazil during its existence as a Portuguese colony. The lack of effective Portuguese occupation made Brazil fair game for other European nations that sought to enlarge their empires. The Dutch, Spanish, French and English all tried to seize portions of Brazil during its existence as a Portuguese colony. The Atlantic islands of the Azores and Madeira presented a partial solution to the problem of Portuguese occupation of Brazil. The earliest acquisitions in the Atlantic empire, their good climate and fertile soil encouraged the rapid growth of their population. That growth was, in fact, so extensive that the islands soon became over-populated. The excess people represented an obvious solution to the under-population of the Brazilian settlements that was not ignored by the Portuguese government. Five major immigration movements took place between the islands and Brazil. They were; 1550 to Salvador, 1617 to São Luis in Maranhão, 1648 again to São Luis, 1674 to Belem do Pará and Pernambuco, and 1745 to Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Pará. The projects of 1617 and 1674 for Pernambuco were privately sponsored, the rest were Grown programs. They began as limited responses to the need for occupation and defense of specific locations threatened by foreign incursion. The settlements of island families were to serve as population bases upon which an effective military defense could be built. The unsuitability of this concept in tactical defensive planning was demonstrated by the ease with which the Dutch captured Sao Luis in 1641. In spite of this the Portuguese Crown continued to employ settlers for that purpose. The immigration projects reached their most complete development in the programs of 1745 for Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. It was unique in that it was designed to populate and secure not merely a specific weak point on the frontier, but a whole region of contested ownership. The program of 1745 reconfirmed the unsuitability of the settlers as an element in tactical defensive planning. The Spanish captured Rio Grande in 1763, only fourteen years after the introduction of the island families. Santa Catarina fell to the Spanish in 1777, thirty years after the settlers arrived. The success of the projects lay in their long term, strategic effect on the population of Brazil. They constituted the nuclei of Portuguese settlers that slowly grew and spread to provide the effective occupation sought by the Grown. In this respect they played a significant role in the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the Portuguese colony in Brazil.