Corresponding with the Queen: When Native Amazonians Impacted Policy, Pará, Brazil, 1780–1800

Friday, January 6, 2012: 3:10 PM
Ontario Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Barbara Sommer, Gettysburg College
In the 1780s, Indians in the captaincy of Pará, along the lower Amazon River, not only disputed colonial demands, but actively shaped crown policy.  Like other colonial subjects, they used official channels to further their interests and protest abuse.  Only their distance from high-level authorities and the slow-moving bureaucracy limited their effectiveness.  When one governor attempted to increase the size of the former mission towns by adding previously independent Indians, they employed an array of legal means to protect their status.  Indian elites wrote directly to Queen Maria I to complain when a cabal of state authorities ignored them and mismanaged the Indian Treasury.  After the new governor and captain-general’s investigations implicated regional officials, he moved to dissolve Diretório legislation that had governed the former missions since 1758.  The Indian leaders’ interests converged with those of the crown. 

Population statistics show that available labor in the former missions could not match royal demands.  The importation of African slaves, state-supported immigration, out migration from Directorate communities, and exemptions acquired by Directorate Indians, had shifted the demographic profile.  The governor came up with a scheme that would become more common throughout Latin America during the nineteenth century.  By expanding the militias and establishing a labor corps, he could still access Indian labor while shifting part of the burden to the rapidly growing mixed population.