The Courts of Brazil

Following procedures established in Article 7 of the Additional Convention between Great Britain and Portugal for the Prevention of the Slave Trade (28 July 1817) and a decree (alvará) of the Portuguese government (residing in Rio de Janeiro) dated 26 January 1818, Anglo-Portuguese binational tribunals were authorized to judge cases of suspected violations of restrictions on transatlantic slave trafficking. The Anglo-Brazilian treaty of 23 November 1826, which took effect in 1830, reorganized the bilateral courts, establishing Anglo-Brazilian Mixed Commissions in Rio de Janeiro and Freetown, Sierra Leone. With a few noted exceptions of seizures made before 1833, the cases brought before the tribunals in Rio de Janeiro concerned vessels that originated on the West Central African coast, especially the ports of Cabinda, Ambriz, Luanda, and Benguela, as well as various points of Mozambique.

In Rio, the Anglo-Portuguese Mixed Commission functioned between 1819 and 1822. It heard just one case, the Emilia. The successor Anglo-Brazilian Mixed Commission, operating between 1830 and 1845, heard nearly four dozen cases. The 1826 treaty expired in 1845 and the Anglo-Brazilian tribunal was shuttered. Independently, British and Brazilian naval courts subsequently judged cases of clandestine slave trading to Brazil. Alongside the bilateral and admiralty courts, local magistrates and provincial governors considered the fate of enslaved Africans illegally imported to Brazil.

Approximately 14,000 Africans rescued from the clandestine trade were formally declared to be africano/a livre (Free African). Their living and working conditions were regulated by a series of Brazilian laws. Also known as emancipados or Liberated Africans, the overwhelming majority of these Africans swept up into the Middle Passage lived the remainder of their lives as semi-free/psedo-enslaved in Brazil. Because of the special circumstances of their entry into Brazilian slave society and the legal regime of surveillance that followed them, the Free Africans of Brazil, especially those liberated before the Rio Mixed Commission, were especially well-documented, including multiple nominal registries taken from the time of original emancipation through the 1860s, when the Brazilian Free African regime was dismantled by Decree Nº 3.310 of 24 September 1864.

We are currently assembling the documentation related to the cases brought before the bilateral and Brazilian tribunals and the Africans registered therein. In time, the Brazilian section of these website will be separated into the different courts. Read more...

Adelino, Africano Livre