Pedro de Teixeira
Pedro de Teixeira
The fact that 150 million Brazilians—and thus a large portion of South America's population—speak Portuguese rather than Spanish owes much to Pedro de Teixeira. In the course of a 1637-1639 expedition, he became the first European to travel up the Amazon River, and claimed the entire river valley for Portugal.
Born in 1587, Teixeira was 30 years old when he first arrived in Brazil, where he would spend most of his remaining 34 years. After helping to drive out French would-be colonists from the coastal town of Sao Luis (now a major city) in 1615, he helped establish Fort Presépio in the Amazon delta in 1616. The fort later became Belém, destined to become the largest city in the entire river valley.
More than 20 years later, a group of Spanish soldiers and priests arrived in Belém after travelling down the Amazon from Ecuador. Even though Spain and Portugal were at that point ruled by the same king, Portugal feared Spanish dominance in what it perceived as an unequal partnership. It seemed quite possible that Spain might seek to extend its influence over the Amazon; therefore the Portuguese governor of Maranhao commissioned Teixeira to lead an expedition upriver to stake Portuguese claims.
On October 28, 1637, Teixeira set out from the village of Cametá on the Tocantins River, an Amazon tributary in eastern Brazil. He led an enormous expedition, composed of 70 soldiers, some 1,200 Indian men, and many more women and children, who travelled in a fleet of more than 70 large canoes. The party sailed down the Tocantins, which flows northward to the Amazon, and from there they began the arduous task of moving upstream—that is, westward—along the world's largest river. Other Europeans had come down the Amazon before, but Teixeira's was the first to fight the mighty river's current.
After eight hard months of travel, first on the Amazon and then along a tributary, the group reached Spanish territories along the Andes. It took another four months of overland travel to reach the city of Quito, today the capital of Ecuador, where they met with the Spanish governor. Communications between the two groups were tense, but the governor received them with a show of cordiality. The Portuguese stayed for more than three months, and when they left, the governor sent with them his brother, a Jesuit priest. While this appeared like a gesture of friendship, in fact it made it possible for the Spanish to keep track of what their alleged allies were doing.
The group left Quito on February 16, 1639. When they reached the place where the Napo and Aguarico rivers come together—now in eastern Ecuador, near the Peruvian border—Teixeira claimed all lands and rivers "that enter from the east" for Portugal. On reaching Belém on December 12, Teixeira received a hero's welcome, but he did not have long to enjoy his new success. Appointed governor of Belém on February 28, 1640, he soon had to retire due to poor health, and died on June 4. During that year, Spain and Portugal dissolved their uneasy alliance—and thanks to Teixeira's efforts, the Amazon basin remained under the control of Portugal.