Great landlords and slave owners formed a guard in Don Pedro I’s defense. Their objective was achieved: to perpetuate themselves in power.
To go from Kingdom to Colony
that could never suffer
a Brazilian at heart
In the people’s mouth the stanza reflected the fear experienced in Brazil after Don João VI’s return to Portugal on April 24th of 1821. Although having left his son Pedro as regent, the sovereign, back to his homeland, would be able to adopt new centralizing policies, and even put Brazil back in the condition of colony.
The antagonism between “Brazilians” and “Portuguese” grew to the point that in December of that year, an order coming from Lisbon made the situation even more delicate: the Courts determined Don Pedro’s return. Should he obey, anything could happen. The provinces would each follow their own way, or worse, as Empress Leopoldina used to say, “would be a Confederation of Peoples in a democratic system, as the Free States of North America”, referring to the independence of the United States occurred in 1776.
The Independence of Brazil, under Don Pedro’s command, seemed to be the only way to prevent a republican regime from being installed here. But it was necessary to act quickly, for Portuguese troops threatened to take the prince away by force. Who could face them? The answer was to come from the main landlords in Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. By mobilizing militia troops they were willing to take up arms to defend Don Pedro; and this is what they did.
Paulo Barbosa da Silva, from Sabará, Minas Gerais, and Pedro Dias Pais Leme, a farmer in São João Marcos – an important county in Rio de Janeiro –, travelled through Minas Gerais and São Paulo to gather supporters of the prince’s permanence. They resorted to their network of acquaintances, which was not small: farmers, drovers, ranchers and traders who had gotten rich in the mercantile subsistence-oriented economy since the 18th century. This group dominated rural counties, occupying key elective positions and the militia leadership (local armed forces whose officers were the leaders of each region). They had turned the power in the Central-South into great kinfolk.
The articulation obtained an important political achievement when, on January 9th of 1822, Don Pedro declared in Rio de Janeiro that “for the people’s general happiness” he would stay, disobeying the order from the Courts. It was the first rupture. A problematic year was starting.
In March, the Minas Gerais city of Vila Rica decides not to obey the Prince anymore. Two months later, Don Pedro leaves to Minas determined to end the revolt. On the way he receives powerful accessions: in São João D’El Rey the regiments of the Militia Cavalry from the Counties of Rio das Mortes and Rio das Velhas are waiting, ready to follow him. The commander of the 1st Regiment of Rio das Velhas, Pedro Gomes Nogueira, was Paulo Barbosa da Silva’s brother-in-law. Facing the power represented by the Cavalry regiments, Vila Rica retreats.
But in May, it is São Paulo’s turn to rebel. The “bernarda” (revolt) takes place, by the hands of Francisco Inácio de Sousa Queirós, a man of great political power in the West of the province. He belonged to Sorocaba’s ruling families who strongly opposed the Andradas and were in favor of the prince, as long as he was supervised by the Courts. Once again Don Pedro travels to confront the revolt. Once again great landlords await him. In São João Marcos, in Paraíba Valley, a Guard of Honor is formed to support the prince. “Loyal Paulistas” and “Loyal Mineiros”, as these militiamen called themselves, also march to Rio de Janeiro in order to join Don Pedro’s defense. More than two thousand men stand guard in Santa Cruz, in Rio, ready to confront the Portuguese Division. Others go to São Sebastião and Mangaratiba, waiting for a possible Portuguese disembark.
In São João Marcos, the Prince is expected by Colonel Pedro Gomes Nogueira’s brothers: lieutenants Cassiano and Luís. Their father, Hilário Gomes Nogueira, a Minas man from Baependi, (a cousin of Manuel Jacinto Nogueira da Gama, “The Baependi”, one of the great articulators of the Independence) hosts Don Pedro and the loyal Paulistas and Mineiros in his farms. The family’s involvement does not stop there: among Hilário’s sons-in-law, Sergeant-Major Brás de Oliveira Arruda, one of the most powerful farmers in the Valley and owner of more than 300 slaves, deserves special mention. In his assets inventory, a debt-free fortune of 360 thousand contos de réis was declared, representing three and a half times the capital base to open Banco do Brasil in 1808. His farms in Bananal also serve as the militiamen headquarters.
One of the first to enlist in the Guard of Honor was Joaquim José de Sousa Breves. By then an eighteen-year-old young man, he represented the Moraes Breves, the main ruling family in the Central-South during the entire 19th century. In the Second Empire he would become one of the greatest landlords and slave masters in Brazil. He would be known as “The King of Coffee” and his farms as “The Kingdom of Marambaia”.
After staying in Bananal, São Paulo, Don Pedro travels to Areias, where João Ferreira de Sousa, owner of the Pau D’ Alho farm, and his son Francisco join the Guard. In Lorena, the prince is received by Captain-Major Ventura José de Abreu, and in Guaratinguetá by Manoel José de Melo, owner of the Conceição plantation, with its more than 33 thousand hectares (or 33 thousand soccer fields). Ventura, Manoel and Brás were partners in the business of mules, horses and cattle. Between the years of 1816 and 1817, the three of them accounted for 70% of the animals sold to Rio Janeiro.
The arrival in São Paulo happened silently on the night of August 25th, because there were threats of an attack to the prince. His presence was essential to end Francisco Inácio’s bernarda. Afterwards he went to Santos to induct the new commander of Arms. He then received urgent correspondence from messenger Paulo Bregaro, who had used 12 horses to come galloping from Rio: they were letters from Portugal (reinforcing the order for the prince to embark), from José Bonifácio and Princess Leopoldina (both advising him not to obey). The moment for the Independence had come.
It was the famous September 7th. Decades later, called to portray the moment, painter Pedro Américo saw himself before a difficulty: the Guard of Honor was formed by militiamen without specific outfits. To compose the historical scene, he decided to paint them in uniforms. This “militarization” has eternized it as an official guard, something very far from what it really was: the Guard was the result of landlords’ support to the Independence, maintaining the Braganças in the Brazilian throne. Those men did not want change - which explains the accession of so many powerful men to Don Pedro’s personal defense.
From that date on, Southeast farmers have taken the reins of the nation.
Eduardo Schnoor is the author of the thesis “Na Penumbra – O Entrelace de Família e Negócios. Vale do Paraíba 1770/1840” (USP, 2005). And organizer, along with Hebe Mattos de Castro, of Resgate: uma janela para o oitocentos. Rio de Janeiro: Topbooks, 1995.
(RHBN. No. 48. September 2009. PP. 36-38)