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Joaquim d’Almeida

Joaquim d’Almeida was a freed African slave from the Mahi nation who became a slave trader in Brazil and then resettled as a retornado (freed slave who emigrated “back” to Africa) in the Dahomey kingdom (modern Benin) of coastal West Africa.

Little is known of d’Almeida’s early life, but he was born Zoki Azata to the Azima family from Hoko, north of Dahomey. He was probably captured and enslaved by the Fon at a young age. Azata was sent to Brazil where he was purchased and later freed by slave trader Captain Manuel Joaquim d’Almeida. Azata took his master’s name after he was emancipated and baptized.

After manumission, d’Almeida continued to work with his former master in the slave trade. He lived primarily in Salvador da Bahia between 1835 and 1845 but traveled often to West Africa, spending most of his time in the city of Agoué. According to his last will and testament, written in Salvador in 1844, d’Almeida already possessed a significant fortune. He named two illegitimate children as heirs if he failed to have legitimate children.

Brazilians began to dominate the slave trade in Benin in the 1790s, and by the start of the nineteenth century, Francisco Felix de Souza (called the “Chacha de Souza”) had a virtual monopoly on slave exports from Ouidah thanks to the privileges conferred on him by King Gezo of Dahomey. Joaquim d’Almeida is credited as the first slave trader outside of the de Souza family to gain the king’s approval, thus opening trade up to other merchants and helping him to establish his own monopoly in Agoué. Later, he was named a customs officer in charge of tax collection for trade between Agoué and nearby Little Popo, which increased both his political and economic power.

In 1848 d’Almeida established himself in Ouidah and quickly became the richest and most influential resident of that city. When the British took control of nearby Danish slave posts in 1850, he was forced back to Agoué where he spent the remainder of his life. According to legend, a fellow Afro-Brazilian poisoned d’Almeida after a dispute over money in 1857. He was buried at his home in Agoué, suggesting that he privately held a syncretic view of religion, notwithstanding his very public support of the Catholic Church.

Despite his sordid history as a slave trader, Joaquim d’Almeida is remembered as a distinguished citizen in the history of Benin. The Ouidah neighborhood he founded and once lived in is still called “Zokikomé” in his honor.

Creator

Almieda, James

Online Resources

“d’Almeida, Joaquim” in Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

“Souza, Francisco Félix” de in Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography

Bibliography

“Joaquim D’Almeida.” In Dicionário da escravidão negra no Brasil, edited by Clovis Moura. São Paulo: Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 2004.

Kostiw, Nicolette M.. "d’Almeida, Joaquim." Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography , edited by Ed. Franklin W. Knight. , edited by and Henry Louis Gates Jr.. . Oxford African American Studies Center, http://www.oxfordaasc.com/article/opr/t456/e590 (accessed Thu Sep 05 11:15:53 EDT 2019).

 

Law, Robin. Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving “Port,” 1727–1892. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004.


Lovejoy, Paul. “Civilian Casualties in the Context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.” In Daily Lives of Civilians in Wartime Africa: From Slavery Days to Rwanda and Genocide, edited by John Laband, pp. 17–49. Westport: Greenwood, 2007.


Strickrodt, Silke. “‘Afro-Brazilians’ of the Western Slave Coast in the Nineteenth Century.” In Enslaving Connections: Changing Cultures of Africa and Brazil During the End of Slavery, edited by Jose C. Curto and Paul E. Lovejoy, pp. 215–47. New York: Humanity Books, 2004.


Verger, Pierre. Trade Relations between the Bight of Benin and Bahia from the 17th to 19th Century. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1976.

Key Events

c. 1835

d’Almeida is manumitted and continues working with his former master in the slave trade.

1840

The British consul of Bahia names d’Almeida specifically in a report on “agents on the coast of Africa who possess Establishments for the nefarious purpose of Slave Trading” and tries to get him expelled by the British Royal Navy for involvement in the illegal trade.

1844

Preparing to move to West Africa, d’Almeida draws up a will in the Brazilian city of Salvador de Bahia. The will indicates he possesses a significant fortune consisting of houses in both Brazil and Benin, millions of réis, thirty-six slaves in Havana, forty-six slaves on plantations across Brazil, seventy-three slaves in Benin, and nine personal slaves who attend to his daily needs. He also owns a quarter of the value of slave shipments carried by the Sarda and several unnamed private investments in various types of merchandise. D’Almeida names his former owner and business partner Manuel Joaquim d’Almeida as an executor to his will and two illegitimate children as heirs in the absence of legitimate descendants: a boy named Soteiro and a Creole girl Benedita. The will also frees four slave women: Benedita, a Yoruba woman, a Mina woman (his son’s mother), and a Nago woman. D’Almeida owes debts to people in both Brazil and Benin, indicating the extent of his financial network.

1845

D’Almeida relocates to Africa, settling first in Agoué where had long done business. That same year he erects the first Catholic chapel there, named Our Lord of the Needs and Redemption of Black Men (Senhor Bom Jesus das Necesidades e Redempção dos Homens Pretos) in honor of the Brazilian brotherhood. The chapel was a replica of the Church of the Holy Body (Igreja do Corpo Santo) in Salvador da Bahia and all of its religious artifacts were imported from Brazil.

1848

D’Almeida establishes himself in Ouidah.

1849

The Chacha de Souza, holder of a monopoly on slave trading out of Ouidah, dies. D’Almeida quickly becomes the city’s richest and most influential resident.

1850

British seizure of nearby slave posts forces d’Almeida to return to Agoué.

1857

D’Almeida dies in Agoué. Instead of in the graveyard of the Saint Francis monastery in Bahia outlined in his will, D’Almeida is buried at home in accordance with African tradition.