Silva Xavier, Joaquim José da (1746–1792)

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Silva Xavier, Joaquim José da (1746–1792)

Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (Tirandentes; b. 1746; d. 21 April 1792), a participant in the Inconfidência Mineira. Silva Xavier was born near São João del Rei, Minas Gerais, Brazil. His father was a Portuguese-born gold miner important enough to be elected to the town council of São João del Rei; his mother was a native of Minas Gerais. Orphaned at an early age, Silva Xavier was raised by his brother, a priest. It is probable that his godfather, a dentist, provided Silva Xavier with the skills of what became his occasional trade and thus was the source of his nickname, Tiradentes (Toothpuller).

After an unsuccessful career as a muleteer and gold miner, Silva Xavier joined the royal dragoons as an alferes (ensign). He became the commander of the troops guarding a crucial portion of the Caminho Novo, the road between the mining district and Rio de Janeiro—an important post because gold and diamonds were shipped over this road.

Silva Xavier became involved in plotting independence after meeting José Álvares Maciel, newly returned from Portugal and England and imbued with the ideas of the French Enlightenment. The serious planning took shape in late 1788. Silva Xavier's motives for participating were probably a mixture of personal frustration at repeatedly being passed over for promotion and ideological commitment to ending Portuguese domination. Of the central group of plotters, Silva Xavier was the least important socially but perhaps was the most active in spreading their ideas. Under questioning he was unique in assuming sole responsibility for the plot. He was the only plotter to be executed by the state.

Silva Xavier has become one of the major heroic figures of Brazil's past—a symbol of opposition to Portuguese imperialism and of advocacy of Brazilian independence. While his role in the Inconfidência Mineira has often been controversial, he now is a significant symbol of Brazilian nationalism, reflecting the need for a national hero with strong republican roots.

See alsoBrazil: The Colonial Era, 1500–1808; Brazil, Independence Movements.


Kenneth R. Maxwell, Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750–1808 (1973).

Additional Bibliography

Furtado, João Pinto. O manto de Penélope: História, mito e memória da Inconfidência Mineira de 1788–9. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras: Companhia das Letras, 2002.

                                           Donald Ramos

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Silva Xavier, Joaquim José da (1746–1792)

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