Capitão Mor

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Capitão Mor

Capitão Mor, regimental colonel who was a military assistant to the governors of the captaincies. In Brazil's early colonial period, a capitão mor was a military commander of a frontline regiment. Each Donatário (lord proprietor) had a capitão mor of his territory. The early capitão mor was the person who governed new colonies for a period of three years. Since such a vast distance separated the colony from the kingdom, the capitães mor increased their power and became the political bosses of their districts. Often despotic in their application of local rule, they were in charge of enforcing royal laws, recruiting the militias, and serving as provincial governors. After 1764 they could impress men into the army, act as judges of final authority, and imprison deserters and vagrants. They could intervene in court trials or ecclesiastical affairs and even prevent couples from getting married. Usually they were local landowners of prominent families, who frequently abused their powers.

After their military power was curtailed, the capitães mor remained political bosses of their districts, exercising local autonomy in the sparsely populated rural areas where they were the real power. By the eighteenth century the title capitão mor was held by a governor of an unincorporated territory or by the commandant of a military company.

See alsoMilitias: Colonial Brazil .


Bailey W. Diffie, Latin American Civilization: Colonial Period (1945).

Additional Bibliography

Costa, Samuel Guimarães da. O último capitão-mor, 1782–1857. Curitiba: Scientia et Labor, 1988.

Monteiro, Rodrigo Bentes. O rei no espelho: A monarquia portuguesa e a colonizacão da América, 1640–1720. São Paulo: Editora Hucitec, 2002.

                                        Patricia Mulvey