Timelines: Timeline of African Slavery in the Former Portuguese Empire, 1415 – 1974

Shalom, everyone! Of all the European colonial powers, Portugal maintained the system of African slavery the longest and well into the 20th century. Portugal was the first European power to engage in slave trading in AfricaPortugal accounted for about 40% of all Africans captured and transported to the Americas, the majority of whom ended up on plantations in Brazil. Slavery would not be abolished in Brazil until 1888.

Portugal also enslaved Africans within its own African colonies. Even after the abolition of slavery by Portugal in 1869, a system of forced labor, chibalo, was introduced in Portugal‘s African colonies in 1899 and was not abolished until 1961. Portugal would even wage a devastating war against her own African colonies from 1961 to 1974 in an effort to maintain her colonial empire. The following is a timeline of African slavery in the former Portuguese Empire from 1415 to 1974. Please note that this post is a work-in-progress. As more information becomes available, this timeline will be updated:

Year Historical Event
1415 Portugal captures the city of Ceuta located on the Peninsula of Almina on the north coast of Morocco.
1420 Portugal colonizes Madeira.
1431 Portugal colonizes the Azores.
1441 Start of European slave trading in Africa. The Portuguese captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão capture 12 Africans in Cabo Branco (modern Mauritania) and take them to Portugal as slaves.
1444 Lançarote de Freitas, a tax-collector from the Portuguese town of Lagos, forms a company to trade with Africa.
1444 (8 August 1444) de Freitas lands 235 kidnapped and enslaved Africans in Lagos, the first large group of African slaves brought to Europe.
1452 Start of the ‘sugar-slave complex’. Sugar is first planted in the Portuguese island of Madeira and, for the first time, African slaves are put to work on the sugar plantations.
1452 (18 June 1452) Pope Nicholas V issues Dum Diversas, a papal bull authorizing the Portuguese to reduce any non-Christians to the status of slaves.
1454 (8 January 1454) Pope Nicholas V issues Romanus Pontifex, a papal bull granting the Portuguese a perpetual monopoly in trade with Africa. Nevertheless, Spanish traders begin to bring slaves from Africa to Spain.
1461 The first of the Portuguese trading forts, the castle at Arguin (modern Mauritania), is completed.
1462 The Portuguese colony on the Cape Verde Islands is founded, an important way-station in the slave trade. Portuguese slave traders start to operate in Seville (Spain)
1469 King Afonso V grants the monopoly of trade in part of the Gulf of Guinea to merchant Fernão Gomes.
1473 The Equator crossed by navigators sponsored by Fernão Gomes.
1481 A Portuguese embassy to the court of King Edward IV of England concludes with the English government agreeing not to enter the slave trade, against the wishes of many English traders.
1481-1486 Diogo da Azambuja builds the castle at Elmina (modern Ghana) which was to become the most substantial and the most notorious of the slave-trading forts in West Africa.
1483 Diogo Cão discovers the Congo river. The region is later a major source of slaves.
1485-1486 Diogo Cão makes contact with the nation of Kongo and visits its capital, Mbanza Kongo. He establishes relations between Portugal and Kongo. Cão continues on to Cape Cross in present-day Namibia.
1486 João Afonso Aveiro makes contact with the kingdom and the city of Benin.
1486 Portuguese settle the West African island of São Tomé. This uninhabited West African island is planted with sugar and populated by African slaves by the Portuguese. The settlement thus extended and developed the sugar-slave complex that had been initiated in Madeira.
1487-1488 Bartolomeo Dias rounds the Cape of Good Hope and explores the Indian Ocean and the East African coast.
1494 Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 divides the world outside of Europe in an exclusive duopoly between the Portuguese and the Spanish along a north-south meridian 370 leagues, or 970 miles (1,560 km), west of the Cape Verde islands. However, as it was not possible at the time to correctly measure longitude, the exact boundary was disputed by the two countries until 1777.
1498 Portugal establishes a colony in the territory known today as Mozambique.
1500 (2 April 1500) Pedro Cabral of Portugal becomes the first European to make contact with Brazil, landing at Porto Seguro, southern Bahia.
1501 – 1866 Between 1501 and 1866, more than 4.9 million Africans were transported to Brazil to be slaves. Outside of Nigeria, Brazil has the largest single population of people of African descent.
1504 A small group of Africans, most likely slaves captured from a Portuguese vessel, are brought to the court of King James IV of Scotland.
1532 (22 January 1532) First Portuguese settlement established in BrazilMartim Afonso de Souza founds the first Portuguese colony in Brazil at São Vicente. Sugar production begins almost immediately.
1552 Earliest known landing of enslaved Africans in Brazil.
1555 The Portuguese sailor Fernão de Oliveira, in Arte de Guerra no mar (The Art of War at Sea), denounces the slave trade as an ‘evil trade’. The book anticipates many of the arguments made by abolitionists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
1555 (10 November 1555) A group of Norman and Breton sailors, under the command of Nicolas de Villegagnon, found the first French colony in South America. The settlement, close to modern Rio De Janiero in Brazil, is named La France Antarctique.
1570 King Sebastian of Portugal bans the enslavement of Native Americans under Portuguese rule, allowing only the enslavement of those hostile to Portuguese presence. This law was highly influenced by the Society of Jesus, which had missionaries in direct contact with Brazilian tribes.
1575 (20 February 1575) Paulo Dias de Novães founds the Portuguese colony of São Paulo de Luanda on the African mainland (modern Angola). The colony soon became a major slave-trading port supplying the vast Brazilian market.
1580 Following the death of King Henry of Portugal, and a short campaign by the Duke of Alva, Spain and Portugal are united under Philip II of Spain. Spain thus becomes the most important colonial power – and the largest participant in the slave trade.
1595 In a pattern that was to be adhered to for several decades, Philip II of Spain grants Pedro Gomes Reinal, a Portuguese merchant, a near monopoly in the slave trade. Reinal agrees to provide Spanish America with 4250 African slaves annually, with a further 1000 slaves being provided by other merchants.
1600 Pedro Gomes Reinal dies. The Spanish slave-trading monopoly is passed to Jaão Rodrigues Coutinho, Governor of Angola.
1600 Establishment of the Maroon community or quilombo of Palmares near Recife, Brazil by runaway slaves. The quilombos become the center of African resistance to slavery in Brazil, often resulting in armed conflict with Portuguese settlers to help other Africans escape the plantations.
1612 Angola exports slaves at a rate of 10,000 per year.
1616 The Portuguese built a new port in Benguela to expand Portugal’s access to Angolan slaves.
1617 – 1621 During the governorship of Luís Mendes de Vasconcellos, up to 50,000 Angolans were enslaved and shipped to the Americas.
1619 The first African slaves are brought to North America, on a Portuguese slave-trading ship, the San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist), in the British colony of JamestownVirginia. The ship, originating from Luanda and en route to Mexico, was captured by British pirates and redirected to Jamestown.
c.1630 – c.1670 Quilombo dos Palmeras leader and king Ganga Zumba born in Angola, son of Princess Aqualtune, daughter of a King of Kongo in northern Angola. Later in his childhood, he and many members of his family are captured by the Portuguese and sold into slavery in the Americas. Ganga Zumba is sold into slavery in the Captaincy of Pernambuco in Brazil. Eventually, Ganga Zumba escapes slavery and joins the resistance in the quilombo of Palmares.
1655 Freedom fighter Zumbi dos Palmares (Zumbi) born in Palmares., a descendant of Imbangala warriors from Angola. Zumbi was the nephew of Ganga Zumba, king of Palmares.
1675 Zumbi becomes commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the quilombo Kingdom of Palmares under its king Ganga Zumba.
1678 Pedro Almeida, governor of the captaincy of Pernambuco, offers Ganga Zumba a truce with the quilombo Kingdom of Palmares, in exchange for Palmares submitting to Portuguese authority. Zumbi, Ganga Zumba‘s commander-in-chief, distrustful of the Portuguese, resists the idea and challenges Ganga Zumba for the throne of PalmaresGanga Zumba killed by Zumbi, who becomes the new king of PalmaresZumbi vows increased armed resistance to the Portuguese. Tensions between the quilombos and Portugues colonists escalate.
1690s Enslaved Africans imported from Central Africa to work the gold and diamond mines in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
1694 Portuguese colonists under the military commanders Domingos Jorge Velho and Bernardo Vieira de Melo launch an assault on Palmares. The quilombo is defeated in 42 days. In spite of the defeat, resistance continues.
1695 (20 November 1695) Zumbi is captured and beheaded by the Portuguese. His severed head is put on display on a pike to dispel any rumors of his immortality, and to dissuade any further resistance.
1761 The Marquis of Pombal bans the importation of slaves to metropolitan Portugal.
1773 A new decree by the Marquis of Pombal, signed by the king Dom José, emancipates fourth-generation slaves and every child of a slave mother born (the child) after the decree was published.
1777 Slavery abolished in Madeira.
1815 Portugal bans the slave trade north of the Equator in return for a £750,000 payment by Britain.
1815 The Congress of Vienna declares its opposition to slavery.
1818 Portugal and Great Britain establish a bilateral treaty abolishing the slave trade
1822 (7 September 1822) Brazil declares independence from Portugal.
1831 Law of 7 November 1831, abolishing the maritime slave trade, banning any importation of slaves, and granting freedom to slaves illegally imported into Brazil. The law was seldom enforced prior to 1850, when Brazil, under British pressure, adopted additional legislation to criminalize the importation of slaves.
1835 Malê Revolt – Muslim Uprising of 1835. Uprising led by African-born ethnic group of the slaves, the Malês, that would free all the salves in Bahia.
1836 Portuguese Prime Minister Sá da Bandeira bans the transatlantic slave trade and the importation and exportation of slaves from, or to the Portuguese colonies south of the equator.
1842 United Kingdom – Portugal Bilateral treaty extending the enforcement of the slave trade ban to Portuguese ships south of the Equator.
1850 In Brazil, Eusébio de Queiróz Act (Law 581 of 4 September 1850) criminalizing the maritime slave trade as piracy, and imposing other criminal sanctions on the importation of slaves (already banned in 1831).
1851 (12 October 1851) Uruguay-Brazil bilateral treaty, Uruguay accepts returning to Brazil the escaped slaves from that country.
1869 Louis I abolishes slavery in all Portuguese territories and colonies.
1871 Brazil – Rio Branco Law (Law of Free Birth) makes the children born to slave mothers free.
1885 Brazil – Sexagenarians Law (a.k.a. Saraiva-Cotegipe Act) passed, freeing all slaves over the age of 60 and creating other measures for the gradual abolition of slavery, such as a Manumissions Fund administered by the State.
1888 Slavery abolished in Brazil – Golden Law decreeing the total abolition of slavery with immediate effect, without indemnities to slave owners, but the financial aid to the freedmen planned by the monarchy never takes place due to a military coup that establishes a Republic in the country. About 40% of all Africans shipped to the Americas were sent to Brazil.
1899 Portugal establishes a de jure system of forced labor in its African colonies known as chibalo, specifically in Angola and Mozambique.
1961 Portugal abolishes chibalo in all its remaining African colonies.
1961 – 1974 Portuguese colonial war resulting in the independence of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé e Principe.



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