Pernambucan Revolution (1817)

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Pernambucan Revolution (1817)

Pernambucan Revolution (1817), an unsuccessful rebellion that started in the town of Recife in Brazil's northeastern state (then captaincy) of Pernambuco on 6 March 1817 and spread to the surrounding area. It represented the most critical challenge to Portuguese authority of any of the late-colonial regional uprisings in Brazil. In addition to declaring Brazil's independence and advocating a republican system of government, the rebellion placed strong emphasis on nationalism and individual freedoms as espoused by Enlightenment philosophy.

The rebellion was planned and carried out by native elites (largely planters) who had become increasingly alienated by the restrictions imposed by colonial control of the economy, and who also had studied and discussed alternative forms of governance in the secret societies, such as the Masonic lodges, that had begun to form throughout Brazil in the late eighteenth century. A monopoly on the trade of cotton and vacillating prices for sugar had slashed profits from the two main crops of Pernambuco for large property owners, among whom were many priests. Taxes and duties charged on imports increased their unhappiness. The poor, who would attempt to place their own mark on the unfolding events, had been severely hurt by a major drought in 1816. Composed largely of individuals of African descent, this particular population had experienced the discrimination common to all such groups in slave societies. The elite conspirators of the rebellion, almost all of whom were white, remained wary of the volatility of this group, especially given the incendiary language of freedom that accompanied many discussions of Enlightenment ideals.

Fighting broke out on 6 March, with Recife easily conquered. The next day provisional government was established, with appointments going to the major planners of the movement, such as Domingos José Martins, the priest João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Manuel Correia de Araújo, and José Luis de Mendonça. From the beginning, philosophical differences divided the members of the provisional government. Though they managed to establish contact with the promoters of a similar movement in Paraíba; with sympathizers in Ceará; and with allies in Buenos Aires, the United States, and England; much of the activity that came after the rebellion suffered from disorganization and a lack of a coherent vision. Furthermore, the response from the government in Rio de Janeiro, which came in the form of overland troops and a blockade of the harbor at Recife, meant that the revolutionaries had to turn their full attention to military preparations.

After a series of negotiations in which the king's military emissary, Admiral Rodrigo Lobo, held the upper hand, the revolutionaries abandoned Recife on 19 May. They were soon captured, and the hanging and dismembering of some of the leaders served as a severe warning to those with dreams of launching a similar challenge to colonial control.

See alsoBrazil, Independence Movements; Recife.


Very little has been written in English about the Pernambucan Revolution, but there is a good, brief account in Emília Viotti Da Costa, "The Political Emancipation of Brazil," in From Colony to Nation: Essays on the Independence of Brazil, edited by A. J. R. Russell-Wood (1975), pp. 43-88. Readers of Portuguese may consult Carlos Guilherme Mota, Nordeste 1817: Estruturas e argumentos (1972).

Additional Bibliography

Mello, Evaldo Cabral de. A outra independencia: O federalsimo pernambuco de 1817 a 1824. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2004.

Mourão, Concalo de Barros Carvalho e Mello. A revoluçao de 1817 e a historia do Brasil: Um estudo de historia diplomática. Belo Horizonte, Brazil: Editora Itatiaia Limitada, 1996.

Silva, Alberto Martins da. Padre João Baptista da Fonseca, 1787–1831: Revolucionário de 1817. Brasilia: Thesaurus Editora, 2004.

                                                Judith L. Allen