Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Voyagers to the East, Part XVI

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

As I've noted in the previous two posts in this series, during the first half of the 16th century Portuguese and Spanish sailors transported at least 500, and perhaps more than 1,000 Brazilian Indians to southwestern Europe for sale as slaves. These were not the only native Brazilians to cross the Atlantic, however. In 1549, for example, the city fathers of Rouen employed fifty Tupi-Guarani people in their pageant for King Henry II (see "Voyagers to the East," Part VIII). Moreover, there were a few Indians who voluntarily traveled from Brazil to Europe in the 1500s. In 1501, Amerigo Vespucci brought three Indian volunteers to Lisbon, presumably to display them as curiosities, while in 1505 the French explorer Binot Paulmier de Gonnevile took the son of a Carijo chief to France, where de Gonneville renamed the boy for himself, educated him, and (in 1521) married him to his daughter, Suzanne. Meanwhile, in 1513 three Tupinikin men from the region of Porto Seguro visited King Manoel I of Portugal, who received the Indians while they were attired in feathers and carrying bows. (John Hemming, Red Gold, 11-12.)

During the second half of the 16th century, Jesuit missionaries in Brazil selected a few Indian boys to send to Portugal, where they were baptized and educated. I am uncertain of their numbers - 10-20 is a guess - and their eventual fate, though I think it unlikely that all of them survived to return home. Metropolitan Portuguese interest in evangelizing native Brazilians appears to have declined in the seventeenth century, but the French elite remained fascinated with the region and its inhabitants. In 1613 French missionaries brought six Tupinambas to Paris for baptism, with King Louis XIII and Marie de Medici serving as godparents. Later in that same century, incidentally, Jean Paulmier de Courtonne, a descendant of the Carijo boy Binot de Gonneville and his wife Suzanne, became an abbot in Lisieux, in Normandy. (Hemming, op. cit., 103, 532; Luca Codignola, "The Holy See and the Conversion of the Indians in French and Spanish North America," in Karen Kupperman, ed., America in European Consciousness [Chapel Hill, NC, 1992], p. 217.)

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Steam-Engine Time

Another anniversary: two hundred years ago today, on August 17, 1807, the first commercial steamboat in American history began its maiden voyage. Developed by Robert Fulton and named the North River Steamboat, the 130-foot-long vessel (also known as the Clermont) ascended the Hudson River to Albany in record time, covering 160 miles in just 32 hours. The North River's average speed – five miles per hour – may seem slow to modern readers, but it achieved that velocity against both the current and a strong headwind, proving the feasibility and reliability of steam transportation.

While first tested on the Hudson River, steamboats had a more revolutionary impact when brought to the shallow interior rivers of the United States – the Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, and others. Shallow-draft steamboats could navigate rivers as low as 10 feet in depth, could attain speeds as high as 25 m.p.h., and could carry up to 70 tons of cargo. The first steamboat on the western waters traveled from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 1811; by 1820 there were over 400 of them in the greater Mississippi Valley; and by the 1830s they had lowered interior transport costs by 75%, dramatically easing trade and travel between the East and the Midwest and accelerating the economic integration of the United States.

Steam navigation also enlivened the existence of villagers in the Midwest, one of the duller parts of the United States. In Old Times on the Mississippi, Mark Twain recalled the excitement that attended the arrival of a steamboat in his home town:

"The town drunkard stirs, the clerks wake up, a furious clatter of drays follows, every house and store pours out a human contribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and moving. Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many quarters to...the wharf. Assembled there, the people fasten their eyes upon the coming boat as upon a wonder they are seeing for the first time. And the boat is rather a handsome sight, too. She is long and sharp and trim and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped chimneys…a fanciful pilot-house, all glass and "gingerbread," perched on top of the 'texas' deck behind them; the paddle-boxes are gorgeous with a picture or with gilded rays above the boat's name; the boiler deck, the hurricane deck, and the texas deck are fenced and ornamented with clean white railings; there is a flag gallantly flying from the jack-staff; the furnace doors are open and the fires flaring bravely; the upper decks are black with passengers; the captain stands by the big bell, calm, imposing, the envy of all; great volumes of the blackest smoke are rolling and tumbling out of the chimneys - a husbanded grandeur created with a bit of pitch pine just before arriving at a town; the crew are grouped on the forecastle; the broad stage is run far out over the port bow, and an envied deck-hand stands picturesquely on the end of it with a coil of rope in his hand; the pent steam is screaming through the gauge-cocks; the captain lifts his hand, a bell rings, the wheels stop; then they turn back, churning the water to foam, and the steamer is at rest. Then such a scramble as there is to get aboard, and to get ashore, and to take in freight and to discharge freight, all at one and the same time; and such a yelling and cursing as the mates facilitate it all with! Ten minutes later the steamer is under way again…After ten more minutes the town is dead again, and the town drunkard asleep by the skids."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Voyagers to the East, Part XV

For the previous entry in this series, click here.

Hoping to secure his kingdom's contested claim to Brazil, in 1532 King Joao III of Portugal divided the Brazilian coast into colonial districts, or donatories, which he then granted to fourteen Portuguese magistrates and noblemen. The donatory grants placed the grantees, also known as captains, under a number of legal restrictions. One of these pertained to Indian slaves: the captains could employ Native American slaves on their plantations in Brazil, but could only export 24 to Portugal each year.

I don't know the reason for this restriction – I suspect that Joao was trying to protect the interests of merchants involved in the African slave trade – but whatever the cause, it seems likely that the Brazilian captains followed the Indian slave-export rule. I base this guess upon a simple economic fact: the demand for Indian slave labor on the Brazilian side of the Atlantic far outweighed the European demand. By 1526, Portuguese settlers had learned that coastal Brazil had an ideal climate for sugar cultivation, and sugar cane was as labor-intensive as it was profitable. By 1540 Joao's donatory captains had lined the Brazilian coast with plantations, each manned by hundreds of Native American slaves who (under threat of torture and death) spent their days planting, weeding, cutting, and pressing sugar cane. The cane fields were graveyards for Indian laborers, who died from hunger, exposure, overwork, and imported Old World diseases, like malaria and amoebic dysentery. (John Hemming, Red Gold, 36-39; Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange [Westport, CT, 1972], 39-40, 69).

The combination of intense local demand for slave labor and high indigenous mortality naturally limited the supply of Brazilian Indian slaves for the European market. John Hemming, an expert on Indian-white relations in colonial Brazil, gives no estimate of the number of slaves taken to Portugal during the first period of Brazilian colonization (1534-49), but he does note that one of the most successful donatory captains, Alfonso de Sousa, only sent 48 Indian slaves across the Atlantic during his entire career. (Hemming, op. cit., 538.) If we assume that this was an average per capita figure, then the fourteen captains would have shipped about 670 Indian slaves to Europe by 1550. This is probably a high estimate, because some of the donatory captains never actually claimed their grants.

After 1549, when Brazil became a royal colony, several new developments further curtailed (and probably stopped) the shipment of Brazilian Indian slaves across the Atlantic. First, the demand for slave laborers in Portugal and Spain declined in the second half of the sixteenth century, as Europe finished replacing the population losses it had sustained in the Black Death. (George Huppert, After the Black Death [Bloomington, 1986], 112.) Second, the Brazilian Indian population began to collapse as smallpox, the most consistently lethal of Old World diseases, arrived in the ports and plantations. A 1562 smallpox epidemic killed 30,000 Indians within four months, then attacked and annihilated countless coastal Indian villages. Portuguese and allied Tupi Indian slave raiders were forced to conduct long-range slaving expeditions into the Brazilian highlands, and the captives they brought back to the coast were just as short-lived as their predecessors. By 1576, Portuguese planters in Brazil were beginning to meet their labor demands by importing African slaves – 40,000 by 1600, and hundreds of thousands in the subsequent century. These new bondsmen brought with them additional smallpox outbreaks which decimated both the Brazilian Indian population and the colony's Indian slave trade. (Dauril Alden and Joseph Miller, "Out of Africa: The Slave Trade and the Transmission of Smallpox to Brazil, 1560-1831," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (1987), 195-224.) I've not located any accounts of Brazilian Indian slaves traveling to Europe after 1550, though a few Tupi-Guarani Indians did cross the Atlantic voluntarily, of whom more later.

For the next entry in this series, click here.