Coelho Pereira, Duarte (Late Fifteenth Century–1553 or 1554)

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Coelho Pereira, Duarte (Late Fifteenth Century–1553 or 1554)

Duarte Coelho Pereira was the first lord-proprietor of Pernambuco (1534–1553 or 1554). Coelho was one of the most important figures in sixteenth-century Brazil; he established a strong Portuguese foothold there. The circumstances surrounding Coehlo's birth and early career are shrouded in mystery. It is known, however, that he was the illegitimate son of a certain Gonçalo Coelho and that a brother, João de Azevedo, was a priest and chaplain. In 1509 Coelho joined an armada going to India under the leadership of Dom Fernando Coutinho. During the next twenty years, Coelho's actions in the Far East earned him praise and mention in almost all the chronicles of the period. He also amassed an immense fortune that later served him well in his efforts to colonize Brazil. In 1521 he was made a hidalgo in the king's household. Sometime around 1529 he arrived back in Portugal. After a diplomatic mission to France in 1530, Coelho returned to Portugal by late April or early May of 1531 and shortly thereafter was named capitão-mor of the annual armada sent to the African fortress of São Jorge da Mina. On the return voyage he rendezvoused in the Azores with ships arriving from India. Later in the year 1532 he was again in charge of an armada, this one on coast guard duty along the Malagueta coast. On this voyage Coelho captured a French galleon. Toward the end of January 1533 he and his armada were ordered to the Azores to await that year's armada from India. He was back in Portugal by the end of July or early August 1533.

By 1534 Coelho was married to Dona Brites de Albuquerque, niece of Jorge de Albuquerque, twice captain of Malacca and a former comrade-in-arms. In that year he was one of twelve men awarded captaincies in Brazil. Because of his exploits in Asia and as one of King João III's most trusted and dependable military men, Coelho received on 10 March 1534 the choicest grant of land in Brazil: a sixty-league territory with fertile soil, a good port, previous settlement, and proximity to Portugal. Roughly the area from the Rio São Francisco northward to the southern banks of the Rio Igaraçu (including all of present-day Alagoas and most of Pernambuco), the grant came with a vast number of powers and privileges. On 24 September 1534 the king issued Coelho's foral (charter), a statement of the obligations of the donatário (lord-proprietor) and his settlers. Like the other lords-proprietor, Coelho was granted extensive administrative, fiscal, and judicial powers by the crown in exchange for settling and defending at his own cost the land granted him.

Early in 1535, with his wife and her brother, Jerôanimo de Albuquerque, plus a good-sized armada of personnel and supplies, Coelho left Lisbon for Pernambuco. The lord-proprietor took firm hold of his captaincy and brought it order and prosperity by leading the fight against the hostile local population as well as French interlopers and by providing the blueprint for a stable agrarian colony.

Even though brazilwood had been the region's most important product before the era of the captaincies and continued to play a major role during the first lord-proprietor's lifetime, it was soon supplanted by sugar as the chief money crop. Exactly when the first sugarcane was planted in Coelho's colony is not known, but by April 1542 the lord-proprietor was reporting to the king that much cane had been planted and that a large sugar mill was almost ready for operation. At the same time, Coelho requested permission to import black slaves from Guiné (Guinea). Eight years later, in 1550, there were five engenhos (sugar mills) in use and many others under construction. Thus, in less than twenty years, Coelho had set his captaincy on a path of agro-industrial development that it would follow for the remainder of the Portuguese colonial era and well into the national period of Brazilian history.

Coelho, who had been granted his own coat of arms in 1545, reacted strongly to the crown's program in 1548 to cut back on donatarial prerogatives and establish a system of royal and centralized government in Brazil. As he informed King João III in 1550: "All the people of this Nova Lusitania were and are very much upset with these changes" (Dutra 1973, p. 438). In mid-1553 or 1554 Coelho returned a second time to Portugal to plead his case personally but died shortly after his arrival. He was buried in the tomb of Manuel de Moura in Lisbon's church of São João da Praça. He left as his heirs two teenage sons, Duarte Coelho de Albuquerque and Jorge de Albuquerque Coelho, who succeeded him as second and third lords-proprietor of Pernambuco.

See alsoAlbuquerque, Matias de; Brazil: The Colonial Era, 1500–1808; Brazilwood; Coelho, Jorge de Albuquerque; João III of Portugal; Sugar Industry.


Dutra, Francis A. "Duarte Coelho Pereira, First Lord-Proprietor of Pernambuco: The Beginning of a Dynasty." The Americas 29, no. 4 (1973): 415-441. Uses new archival material.

Mello, José Antônio Gonsalves de, and Cleonir Xavier De Albuquerque, eds. Cartas de Duarte Coelho a el rei. Recife, Brazil: Imprensa Universitária, 1967. The best edition of Duarte Coelho Pereira's correspondence.

Mota, A. Teixeira da. Duarte Coelho, capitão-mor de Armadas no Atlântico (1531–1535). Lisbon: Junta de Investigacões do Ultramar, 1972.

Porto, José da Costa. Duarte Coelho. Rio de Janeiro: Ministério da Educação e Cultura, Serviço de Documentação, 1961.

Saldanha, Antônio Vasconcelos. As capitanias o regime senhorial na expansão ultramarina portuguesa. Funchal, Brazil: Secretaria Regional do Turismo, Cultura e Emigração: Centro de Estudos de História do Atlântico, 1992. An important newer work on the donatarios (lords-proprietors) of Portuguese America (as well as other parts of the Portuguese Empire).

                                     Francis A. Dutra

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Coelho Pereira, Duarte (Late Fifteenth Century–1553 or 1554)

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