Teodoro Fernandes Sampaio was an Afro-Brazilian engineer, geographer, writer, cartographer, architect, ethnographer, and historian. He experienced and even led some of Brazil’s greatest historical transformations: from a slave society to industrial capitalism, and from the imperial era to the Vargas nation-state.
Sampaio was born on January 7, 1855 in Santo Amaro da Purificação, Bahia, Brazil. His mother, Domingas da Paixao do Carmo, was enslaved and his father was most likely her master. His father apparently granted him freedom at birth or shortly thereafter as Sampaio lived his entire life a free man.
At age 9 Sampaio moved from Bahia to São Paulo, and then to Rio de Janeiro where he studied engineering at the elite Escola Politécnica do Rio de Janeiro. During his studies he also lectured on engineering and worked as an architectural draftsman for the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.
Sampaio was a pioneer in the fields of engineering and national infrastructure development in Brazil. In 1879 he was named as a member of the prestigious Comissão Hidráulica do Império, tasked with supporting industry in the interior by connecting it via railway to the ports of Rio, Bahia, and Pernambuco. Sampaio specifically oversaw the construction of the railway between Salvador da Bahia and São Francisco.
Toward the end of the São Francisco expedition, Sampaio trekked through the Chapada Diamantina region and the sertões (hinterlands) of Bahia. These travels prompted his first two major publications, still considered among the most important studies of the geography and culture of the interior of Brazil.
Sampaio viewed sanitation and transport projects as integral to the creation of a modern society and social equality, and worked in official capacities in these fields from the 1880s into the early twentieth century. He also continued to publish, lecture, and participate in politics and cultural institutions.
Sampaio died on 11 October 1937 in Rio de Janeiro. There are two towns named after him in Brazil, one in the state of Bahia and another in the state of São Paulo. A major road in the city of São Paulo is also named for him. Sampaio’s experiences and achievements would be remarkable for any person from any walk of life, but they are particularly impressive considering his birth to an enslaved mother in a society deeply structured by racism and oligarchic power. Sampaio dedicated his life to the development of public institutions and public health.
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De Azevedo, Thales, et al. “Epigrafes/Introduções.” In São Paulo no século XIX e outros ciclos históricos, by Teodoro Sampaio. São Paulo: Editora Vozes, 1978.
Filho, Luiz Viana. “Prefacio.” In O rio São Francisco e a Chapada Diamantina, by Teodoro Sampaio. Salvador: Livraria Progresso Editora, 1955.
Lima, Arnaldo do Rosário. “Teodoro Sampaio: Sua vida e sua obra.” M.A. diss., Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas, Universidade Federal da Bahia, 1981.
Santos, Ademir Pereira dos. Theodoro Sampaio: Nos sertões e nas cidades. Rio de Janeiro: Versal, 2010.
James Almeida and Steven J. Niven
Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.