Dias, Henrique (?–1662)

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Dias, Henrique (?–1662)

Henrique Dias (d. 8 June 1662), black military leader during the seventeenth-century Portuguese campaign against the Dutch occupation of northeastern Brazil. Although it is unknown whether or not he had ever been a slave, Henrique Dias was a free and literate man when he volunteered for service in 1633. At that time the Dutch were expanding their occupation of Pernambuco beyond the coastal towns of Recife and Olinda and would eventually overtake large portions of the northeastern captaincies.

Initially the captain of a small force, Dias later commanded over three hundred men of color, some of whom were slaves. By 1636 he was a master of the guerrilla tactics that were then the basis of the Luso-Brazilian strategy against the Dutch. His skills as a military tactician were evident in all of his engagements, which ranged from his participation in the defense of Salvador (the capital of Bahia) in 1638 to his role in the campaign to recover territory in Alagoas in 1639. Returning to Pernambuco in 1645, Dias resumed his part in the fight against the enemy, eventually traveling to Rio Grande do Norte, where he and his men took a Dutch fort in 1647. By 1648 he was in Olinda, where his fighting prowess contributed to the defeat of the enemy. Finally, he fought in the front lines in the recapture of Recife in January 1654.

Though subject to racist treatment during his long career, Dias received many honors for his service. In 1638, for example, King Philip IV awarded him a knighthood, a highly unusual status for a man of African descent. In Brazil, Portuguese commander the Count of Torre granted him a patent in 1639 that carried the title "Governor of All Creoles, Blacks, and Mulattoes." Finally, in March 1656, he traveled to Portugal, where, in an audience with the court, Dias requested and received the freedom of all slaves who had served in his têrço (unit) and the continued existence of his force, which was to have the rights and privileges of white units. Though he later died much as he had been born, in relative obscurity, his memory was preserved in the name given to all subsequent black militia companies. They were called the "Henriques."

See alsoMilitias: Colonial Brazil .


The most extensive sources about the life of Henrique Dias are in Portuguese. See especially José Antônio Gon-salves De Mello, Henrique Dias: Governador dos pretos, crioulos, e mulatos do estado do Brasil (1954). Many shorter sketches are available in English, but the older of these contain inaccuracies. The best is found in A. J. R. Russell-Wood, The Black Man in Slavery and Freedom in Colonial Brazil (1982), pp. 84-87 and 102-103. On the Dutch presence in Brazil, see Charles R. Boxer, The Dutch in Brazil, 1624–1654 (1957).

                                          Judith L. Allen

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Dias, Henrique (?–1662)

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