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Moisés de Souza Netto

Moisés de Souza Netto was a creole slave who earned his freedom through military service and whose latter life illustrates the opportunities and challenges that freed slaves faced in nineteenth-century Brazil.
 
Moisés was born enslaved, to an unknown slave mother and a white father, Antonio de Souza Netto. Little is known about his early life, but his father became his master and also a general on the rebel side fighting for independence for the state of Rio Grande do Sul in the Farroupilha civil war (1835–45).
 
Being the son of a general did not grant Netto special treatment and he was never acknowledged as a legitimate heir, but participation in the war effort offered a potential path for slaves to earn freedom. His contribution to the Farroupilha conflict began in June 1840, when he was one of General Netto’s troops who fought against the legalist (imperial) forces.
 
On July 18, 1840 Netto abandoned the rebels to join the legalist forces of the Fifth Cavalry, where he remained through the rest of the conflict. Immediately after the conflict ended in 1845, Netto successfully petitioned the government for manumission on account of war service.
 
From that point on, Netto worked as a freedman for the baron of Jacuí on one of his cattle ranches. His military service also translated into social advancement as he eventually became a foreman who led troops and oversaw a pasture or a meat-salting area (charqueada), an unobtainable position for most former slaves.
 
On December 13, 1856 Netto gathered four of his subordinates in order to punish Agostinho, a man of mixed Afro-Brazilian descent. Although both men enjoyed important positions on the plantation, Netto was Agostinho’s superior. Netto acted as the oppressor of his underlings, distancing himself from the world in which he had been a part and irritating Agosthinho through his actions. Agostinho also accused Netto of making advances on his fiancé, a slave named Juliana. Agostinho tried to negotiate his punishment, saying that what Netto had decided was unfair. This enraged Netto, who drew a knife and advanced upon Agostinho. Agostinho responded by disarming Netto and wounding him fatally in the chest.
 
Agostinho confessed to murder before a Rio Pardo jury and was sentenced to death on September 19, 1857. The law on which his sentence was based, passed in the aftermath of a series of 1830s insurrections, imposed greater penalties for crimes committed against slave owners, their families, taskmasters, and foremen.
 
While military service was sometimes a path to manumission, Netto’s is the only known situation in which a slave was granted manumission due to direct participation in the Farroupilha civil war. His fate is a reminder that for most slaves and people of color, conflict pushed them towards precariousness and instability.

Read the full, original biography by Daniela Vallandro de Carvalho in The Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

View complete story (pdf)

Bibliography

Aladrén, Gabriel. Liberdades negras nas paragens do sul: Alforria e inserção social de libertos em Porto Alegre, 1800–1835. Rio de Janeiro: FGV Editora, 2009.
 

de Carvalho, Daniela Vallandro and Andre Pagliarini. "Netto, Moisés de Souza." Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography , edited by Ed. Franklin W. Knight. , edited by , Henry Louis Gates Jr.. Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t456/e1514 (accessed Thu Sep 05 10:54:31 EDT 2019).


Flores, Moacyr. Negros na Revolução Farroupilha: Traição em Porongos e farsa em Ponche Verde. Porto Alegre: EST, 2004.

Leitman, Spencer L.“The Black Ragamuffins: Racial Hypocrisy in Nineteenth Century Southern Brazil.” The Americas 33, no. 3 (January 1977): 504–18.

Schwartz, Stuart B. Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992

Adapted by

James Almeida and Steven J. Niven

Contributing Institutions

Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.

Key Events

1835

The Farroupilha Civil War, also known in English as the Ragamuffin War (because of the tattered rags worn by the rebels), breaks out when the state of Rio Grande do Sul declares independence from the Brazilian Empire

1836

Under the leadership of Moisés’s father, General Antonio de Souza Netto, the rebels establish a short-lived separate state, the Riograndense Republic.

June 1840

Moisés de Souza Netto joins the Farroupilha conflict as one of General Netto’s troops who fought against the legalist (imperial) forces of Brazil’s Eighth Army Brigade in the midst of a harsh winter.

July 18, 1840

Netto abandons the rebels to join the legalist forces of the Fifth Cavalry, where he remains through the rest of the conflict.

Late February 1845

The Treaty of Poncho Verde (negotiated in February and signed March 1) ends the Farroupilha Civil War. Netto petitions immediately afterwards for manumission on account of war service.

May 31, 1845

The Baron of Caxias, then army general and provincial president, writes in the margin of the petition that Netto should be granted his liberty.

June 6, 1945

Netto’s manumission is officially registered by the First Notary of Porto Alegre. He begins work almost immediately after war as a freed foreman for the baron of Jacuí on one of his cattle ranches called Tabatinga in the district of Capivari on the bank of the Pardo River.

December 13, 1856

Netto attempts to punish Agostinho, an Afro-Brazilian subordinate. Agostinho resists and fatally wounds Netto in the ensuing conflict.

September 19, 1857

Agostinho is sentenced to death for Netto’s murder.