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Exploring the backlands of Piedade: land and labor in coffee-plantation Paraíba Valley (Bananal, c.1800-1880)

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Breno Aparecido Servidone Moreno
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Doctoral Thesis
Press: São Paulo.
Institution: Universidade de São Paulo (USP). Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH/SBD)
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Carlos de Almeida Prado Bacellar; Angelo Alves Carrara; Renato Leite Marcondes; Mariana de Aguiar Ferreira Muaze
Advisor: Carlos de Almeida Prado Bacellar

This dissertation investigates the dynamics of slave-based coffee economy in Bananal, a county in the Paraíba Valley, between 1800 and 1880, during its formation, expansion, heyday, and long-term survival. In order to fulfill this purpose, we have made use of an extensive body of sources, notably: the inventory of rustic goods (1819); the land registry (1855-8); the nominative lists of inhabitants (1801, 1817, 1829); the postmortem inventories (1806-79); the demographic census (1854); and the classification list of slaves to be freed by the Emancipation Fund (1873). By using these sources, we examine the agrarian structure and the profile of the landlords; the size of slave holdings; the productive framework of coffee estates and the patterns of exploitation of the enslaved workforce. We intend to demonstrate that land concentration in the Paraíba Valley, having come from the colonial legacy of Portuguese America, would later, during the expansion of the slave-based coffee economy, be one of the decisive vectors to advance the competitiveness of Brazilian coffee in the world market. Said land concentration made it possible to concatenate the extensive exploitation of natural resources with the intensive exploitation of the enslaved population. In the first half of the 19th century, the large rural landowners who had since 1810 been controlling a substantial portion of Bananals territory accumulated and concentrated slave holdings mostly composed of productive male Africans. During this period, said rural landowners sharply increased the patterns of labor overexploitation by structuring an unprecedented coffee production plan which broke with the ongoing patterns in the Caribbean. This process took place until the early 1850s, when these indices were stabilized. The period from 1850 to 1870 was marked by important changes in the rural properties of the Paraíba Valley. On the one hand, the abolition of the transatlantic [] trade (1850) alleviated structural imbalances in the slave demography, favoring the moderate natural growth of this population. On the other hand, with the increase in the relative costs of production, coffee growers stopped investing in expanding their crops. In the 1870s, two factors caused a reduction in production costs: the increase in coffee prices in relation to the price of captives and the arrival of the D. Pedro II Railway branches. With that, coffee growers went back to expanding their plantations. However, the counties in the Western portion of the Paraíba Valley (Areias, Queluz, Bananal, Vassouras, Resende, Barra Mansa, Rio Claro, São João Marcos, Piraí) were unable to meet the growing demand for coffee in the world market, losing competitiveness against for new production zones: the West of São Paulo and the triple frontier (the North of Rio de Janeiro, the South of Espírito Santo, and the Zona da Mata Mineira). That Valley region explored uninterruptedly since 1820 had few possibilities for expansion: depleted soils, the declining productivity of coffee trees, and the short supply of land in virgin forests. At the turn of the 1860s, environmental devastation was already visible. Even so, the big landowners continued to cut forests down and, given the difficulty of finding labor due to the aging of slaves, the patterns of labor overexploitation increased. Thus, the favorable context for the expansion of coffee production led to the downfall of farms in the Western Paraíba Valley, accelerating the institutional crisis of slavery in the Empire of Brazil (AU)

FAPESP's process: 16/17142-0 - Land, labor and capital: social hierarchies in "Médio Vale do Paraíba" (Bananal, 19th century)
Grantee:Breno Aparecido Servidone Moreno
Support Opportunities: Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate