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10 Early Globalization in a corner of the Atlantic

Recife and the global Atlantic Economy
(from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth centuries)

Gustavo Acioli

Introduction to the studies of early globalization[1]

To begin, we should make clear what we understand by early globalization, by outlining the main aspects of this widely debated process. However, it is not my purpose to go over this matter, but only to make as clear as possible my standpoint, which is mainly circumscribed to to Economic History.

There has been an increasingly historiographical trend to support the reasoning which sees the late 15th and/or early 16th centuries as the globalization’s starting point (Bodley, 2002, pp. 118, 136; Flynn & Giraldez, 1995; Santos, 2002, p. 23; Zwart & Zanden, 2018, pp. 10, 20-24).[2] Even one scholar who points out the limits of interconnectedness and exchanges among the continents, particularly in reference to Eurasian trade before the 19th century, recognizes a “soft globalization” process in the Early Modern Age (Vries, 2010, pp. 711, 731). In this sense, the origin of 19th-century globalization phenomena lies in the European expansion from the late 15th to the 18th centuries. In this period, the Eurasian trade grew steadily, with moderate price convergence between Asia and Europe, and/or Europe and America. The trade of Asian goods in the European market had a real impact on the “effective augmentation of consumer’s choice,” which concurred to produce the soft globalization process (Vries, 2010, pp. 721-722, 728-729; Zwart & Zanden, 2018, pp. 45-50).[3]

The European seaborne expansion and empire building, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, set in motion people, commodities, knowledge, edibles, and fruits from all over the world. The exchanges entailed by this process established a worldwide trade network, sometimes spanning the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans (plus South China’s sea) at once (Bodley, 2002, p. 119; Cañizares-Esguerra, 2017, xxv; Vries, 2010, pp. 715-6; Zwart & Zanden, 2018, pp. 20, 24, 46-7, 56). We may say that the cornerstones of this early globalization were two trade flows: the Atlantic slave trade and the stream of American silver toward Asia, chiefly to China and India (Flynn & Giraldez, 1995, pp. 2002, 2008; Strobel, 2015, pp. 52, 70-1; Parthasarathi, 2011, pp. 46-50).

Actually, while China and India swallowed tons of silver (Flynn & Giráldez, 1995, p. 204; Parthasarathi, 2011, pp. 46-50), millions of yards of Asian cotton textiles (mostly from India), and silk and porcelain (from China) found their way to the West, mainly from the 17th century on (Steensgaarden, 1990; Chaudhuri 1978; Riello, 2009; Parthasarathi, 2011, pp. 27-34).[4] Those cotton fabrics, in turn, were the chief sort of good which made up the “bundles” in the purchasing of enslaved people in Atlantic Africa – from Senegambia to Angola –, whence millions of men, women and children were deported to toil in the New World’s lands (Green, 2012; Green, 2019; Miller, 1988, pp. 314-378, 445-481).[5] Thus, those trade flows were entangled, sometimes in the hands of the same merchants’ houses (Drayton, 2008, pp. 426-7, 429; Bohorquez, 2020).

The existence of globalization phenomena in the Early Modern Age is a contention that has been strongly denied by some scholars (mainly O’Rourke & Williamson, 2002; 2006 [1999]). They argue that globalization, understood as “the integration of international commodity markets” (O’Rourke & Williamson, 2002, pp. 25) is a 19th-century process, related to the steep decline of transport costs.[6] In fact, one historian that goes even further, by denying not only an early globalization, but even the existence of an economic Atlantic system (Emmer, 2003).

Nevertheless, among the very supporters of the early globalization thesis, we find disagreement about the nature of this historical process. While it may be viewed as a win-win game, several researchers underscore the unbalanced nature of the relations between some of the constituents of that global economy. As Robert Duplessis states, the European merchants “not only occupied some knots of the global Atlantic network but also operated most of the links between the knots” (Duplessis, 2010, pp. 51-2).[7] This view is congenial with one of the pioneering global approaches in the 1970s: the World-System Analysis.

If, on the one hand, Wallerstein (as other of his contemporaries) chose the entire modern European world-economy as the unity of analysis, on the other hand, he emphasized the inequality created and reproduced within this system. In this way, the World-System Analysis was one of the first approaches to go beyond the nation-state frame, while always drawing attention to the distinct and uneven role of the economies and societies which made up this totality (Wallerstein, 2004).[8]

In this chapter, we consider the city of Recife as a place whose economic role was born with the very process of early globalization; nevertheless, we should bear in mind that this place was embedded in the periphery of the modern European world-economy. However, seeing Pernambuco’s capital as part of the early globalization does not entail looking at each of its economic activities as “global.” Even though we may say that Recife was connected to several places abroad – sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly –, some of those activities might well be “more than local,” but “less than global” (Cooper, 2001, p. 202).[9]

The roots of colonization: Recife, sugar, and the Atlantic market

The manner in which international trade affected a town could sometimes exert more influence on it than its everyday connections with nearby places. Local history might be swallowed up in a broader history.[10]

South America’s Atlantic shore became known by the Portuguese as a stopover on their way to the other side of the globe, that is, while sailing the route to the Indian Ocean. Only three decades after the first Portuguese contact with the lands and peoples of the then baptized Terra de Vera Cruz or de Santa Cruz, the subjects of the Avis’s dynasty established settlements in the New World.

One of those hereditary captaincies was Pernambuco, which thrived by growing sugar cane, processing it and exporting sugar. Since its inception, this economy’s main connection with the world was through foreign trade, since sugar plantation was the cradle of this colony, as it was for most Portuguese settlements in Brazil’s shore, and for British and French Caribbean colonies as well (Schwartz, 2004; McCuscker & Menard, 2004, pp. 289-330; Blakburn, 1997, pp. 277-306, 401-456). From Pernambuco’s sugar mills, tons of the sugarcane sweetener found their way toward European markets since the middle of the 16th century. If Brazil became the major Atlantic sugar supplier by the late 16th century, this was due mainly to Pernambuco’s production and exports (Schwartz, 2004; Costa, 2002, pp. 273-4).

For almost one century, Recife was just the captaincy’s sugar outlet and remained under the jurisdiction of Olinda, Pernambuco’s first capital; nevertheless, it was a pivotal space for the settlement of Olinda and the riverine lands (Menezes, 2000, pp. 146, 148-9). However, during the quarter of century under Dutch rule, in the time when the West India Company (WIC)[11] conquered and controlled Pernambuco and the neighboring captaincies (1630-1654), Recife took over as the main political center. This enhanced its role as harbor and trade place, through which sugar and other tropical goods were exported and, in turn, several trade goods (and people) were imported.[12] Its centrality was not hampered by the ousting of the WIC from Brazil; on the contrary, Recife grew to the point of becoming a city in its own right, as decreed by the Portuguese crown in 1711, a clear sign of the power of Recife’s merchant community vis-à-vis the sugar-mill owners (Mello, 2007; Mello, 2003, pp. 353-770).

Figure 1 – Recife c. 1626. Detail of a map by João Teixeira Albernaz

Source: Reis, N. G. (2000, p.327).

Figure 2 – “Marin d’Olinda de Pernambuco/T’Recif de Pernambvco,” anonymous author, c. 1630

Source: Publicado em Joannes de Laet, Historie ofte Iaerlijck Verhael … Leyden: Bonaventuere ende Abraham Elsevier, 1644. (Subtitles in Dutch).

We may fairly say that, from the start, the port of Recife was directly connected with cities and places beyond Lisbon, the center of the Portuguese empire. Ships that set sail from Europe’s northern and northwestern ports would come straight to Recife, where they loaded cargoes of sugar and dye wood (brazilwood). The chief European port with direct connections to Recife was Antwerp, the main European port for the re-exportation of overseas commodities in the 16th and early 17th centuries. However, Hamburg’s huge ships (hulks or urcas) also used to load sugar in Pernambuco, as did English vessels (Mauro, 1997, pp. 311-3; Mello, 1993, pp. 27-30; Costa, 2002, pp. 116-7; Schwartz, 2004, pp. 173-4). In the 1590s, Brazil’s sugar represented 86%of Antwerp’s sugar imports, largely surpassing the supplies from St. Tomé supplies; of those imports, Pernambuco’s share was tantamount to two thirds. This trend went on when Amsterdam took over Antwerp’s role as distribution hub for overseas commodities (Ebert, 2003; Ebert, 2008).[13]

The sugar wars and the rise of Recife

From the middle of the 16th century on, Pernambuco’s sugar reached the tables of European nobles, affluent families and, eventually, common people, as scores of Northwestern European ships, mainly from the Netherlands, shuttled between Antwerp, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Recife (Mintz, 1985, pp. 74-150; Stols, 2004; Mello, 2002, pp. 102-9). In the early 18th century, Brazilian sugar still held a strong position in Hamburg’s colonial goods imports; however, by the 1730s, it was superseded by French Caribbean sugar (Arnold, 2018, pp. 4-5; Arnold, 2020, pp. 102-5, 109). In the latter half of the 17th century, when Pernambuco was recovered after the wars with the Dutch (Mello, 2007), its sugar production rose to the second place in terms of volume (behind Bahia, but above Rio de Janeiro), a position sustained until the early 19th century (Lopes, 2018, pp. 21-37; Melo, 2017, p. 8).

Amsterdam’s merchants were engaged in a thriving re-exporting trade of the Iberian colonies’ goods, which in turn involved them in the African slave trade (Ribeiro, Antunes, 2012, pp. 7-8, 10, 14-5). Despite the supposed Iberian proclivity to mercantilism, Recife enjoyed direct connections with non-Portuguese ports, since the sugar trade was not under strict government control (Godinho, 1982, pp. 112-3). However, this openness to the Atlantic world was suddenly curtailed by the Spanish Habsburgs some years after they became rulers of Portugal (1580-1640). The Habsburgs’ trade embargo imposed on the Netherlands (1585-90, 1598-1603 and 1604-1609) actually thwarted the Dutch access to Pernambuco’s sugar, which meant that Recife was no longer being visited by Dutch ships as it used to (Ebert, 2003; Ebert, 2008).

Conversely, the Spanish efforts to drive the Dutch out of the sugar market led them to covet the Portuguese settlements, from which sugar poured into European societies. The conquest of Pernambuco and its neighboring captaincies by the West India Company (WIC) was a point of no return for Recife (Mello 2007, pp. 19-70). From its simple role as Olinda’s auxiliary harbor, under the WIC’s control Recife would become a city, in a moment when this port’s connections were as global as ever (Miranda & Clementino, 2020)[14].

In the quarter-century under Dutch rule, Recife became a cosmopolitan city, as the merchant cities used to be[15]. Soldiers, sailors, preachers, traders, and male and female workers from several European places lived in its streets, having come from the Netherlands, England, Scotland, France, Poland, and German lands (Klooster, 2016, pp. 120-3). Besides sundry European people, the Dutch Brazil’s capital was crowded with West and West Central Africans, most of them enslaved workers, even though the WIC was not as successful in the slave trade as the Portuguese (Boogaart & Emmer, 1979, pp. 367-9; Postma, 1990, pp. 20-2; Puntoni, 1999, 150-62). Furthermore, allied Indians (Tabajara, Tairariu, Potiguar) also lived or passed through Recife and its hinterland. Though these peoples were diverse and not always lived side by side, they often created close ties, for instance through intermarriage. Even Catholics, protestants and Jews shared the city’s spaces (Miranda, 2014, pp. 55-61, 78-83; Miranda, 2020, pp. 8-10; Noorlander, 2011, pp. 103-121; Mello, 2001, passim).

Nevertheless, we should remember that the Portuguese in Pernambuco never accepted the Dutch rule, and Recife was afflicted by warlike deeds, such as skirmishes and the burning of sugar mills, even during the Pax Nassoviana, that is, the years of Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen’s government (1637-1644) (Mello, 2007, pp. 13; Klooster, 2017, pp. 3-4, 67-9).

The Dutch-Portuguese conflicts were “sugar wars” (Mello, 2007, p. 12) and, as such, shaped the sugar market in a global scale.[16] When the WIC waged war and encroached on Pernambuco, playing havoc with the sugar mills, the sugar supply declined and its prices rose. Hence, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) started to export sizable volumes of sugar from Taiwan to Europe. After the end of Dutch Brazil, the increasing amounts of Brazilian sugar supply turned the “Chinese sugar” less competitive in Europe, making the VOC cease to load that commodity toward Europe (Israel, 1989, p. 174; Strobel, 2015, p. 133).

Since the 16th century, Recife became the center of the northern captaincies due to its role as the main outlet for the hinterland’s output.[17] Besides sugar, through this port were exported wood, hides, tobacco, cotton, and other less relevant commodities to the Atlantic world and beyond (even to the far East). Those goods used to come from places very close to Recife, such as Olinda, but also from plantations in the Capibaribe valley or the sugar-producing zones north and south of Recife, and from the neighboring captaincies. Cattle and cotton, especially in the late 18th century, were funneled from the far interior (the so-called sertões) of Pernambuco and the other northern captaincies (Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, and Ceará) toward the coastal market. Cow hides could be exported either in natura or previously tanned (vaquetas). Eventually, those remote places became connected to the Atlantic economy due to their export production, which was channeled through Recife channeled.[18]

The mercantile role of Recife not only prompted it to become the center of the northern captaincies (Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceara, and Piauí)[19], as reflected in its spaces. Recife’s buildings and streets were named after its functions in the city’s trade life: there were two casas da alfândega (customs houses), the rua da Senzala (Slave Quarters street), the alfâdega dos escravos (slaves custom), and the rua dos Tanoeiros (Coopers street). To cope with the growing need of space, streets and buildings, the port’s narrow area was enlarged, beginning in the 17th century, by reclaiming land from the sea.

Customers of Pernambuco’s merchandises

Among the variety of goods which Recife exported during the first three centuries of Portuguese settlement, sugar had the lion’s share, except for the late eighteenth century.[20] If the price of sugar was the single concern of sugar-mill owners, it was due to this commodity’s pivotal role in the development of the captaincy and, hence, for its colonial elite.[21] The prime connections linking Recife to European ports and – indirectly – to several other Central and East European markets were built upon the sugar trade. Up to the mid-17th century, the sweet delicacies and pastries in the tables of the nobles and other affluent groups in Lisbon, Madrid, Seville, London, Paris, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Genoa, and Venice certainly included some sugar, which was also supplied to European refineries from the greatest sugar cane producer of that time: Pernambuco (Mintz, 1986, pp. 31, 38, 90-6; Schwartz, 1984, p. 424).[22]

Pernambuco’s sugar exports faced hard times between the end of Dutch rule (1654) and the late 18th century. Nevertheless, the captaincy held the second position as sugar exporter, except for a brief period of a few years, when Rio de Janeiro supplied more sugar than Pernambuco in the latter half of the 17th century (Lopes, 2015, p. 48; Melo, 2017, p. 8; see Graphic 1).

Graphic 1 – Brazil’s sugar exports (crates)

Source: Melo, 2017, pp. 8.

If Recife was the outlet for its hinterland’s commodities, it was also the gateway of the capital goods needed for sugar production. Most of the sugar mills’ parts were procured abroad, since neither Portugal nor the Portuguese settlers had enough manufactured hardware. Thus, the milling gear and the sugar mill equipment (cobres: caldeiras, tachos, paróis, bacias) — as those owned by a wealthy merchant who passed away in the middle of the 18th century[23] — were supplied by Recife’s merchants to the sugar mill owners, who commonly paid for them in sugar (Antonil, 1837 [1711], pp. 42, 73-4). Those capital goods came from Europe through Portugal, mainly from British manufacturers, at least in the 18th century,[24] even in the period when the Brazilian sugar was not purveyed to British costumers.[25] Hence, we could affirm that Recife provided global upstream and downstream connections for commodity growers.

Furthermore, Pernambuco’s inhabitants had access to foreign consumption goods. Thanks to post-mortem inventories, we can have a glimpse of Recife’s dwellers’ patterns of consumption, which demonstrates that those people, at least the slave owners, could readily obtain goods from several places outside Brazil and its metropolis. One good example is a former female slave, Teresa Afonso, who became a petty slave owner and had several foreign pieces of clothes, textiles, and other imported goods: kitchenware from Veneza, pieces of baeta (British baize), taffeta, bretanha (Brittany), camelão, riscado, xamalote, French linen, panos da costa (textiles from the Slave Coast).[26] Thus, this simple old woman amassed clothes and textiles from Europe, Asia and Africa as personal belongings.

As Pernambuco also became a land of tobacco growers – at least since the 17th century – this product was yet another commodity shipped from Recife that reached several societies in the Atlantic. Besides the Portuguese, several customers of British, French, Spanish, Dutch, German and Italian origins smoked and snuffed Brazilian tobacco in the 17th and 18th centuries. Furthermore, Portuguese settlers during the Iberian Union (1580-1640) sowed tobacco in Spanish America and acted as intermediaries between the Spanish growers and the British, helping to spread this culture in the Caribbean colonies and Venezuela and providing access to tobacco consumption in England even before this country’s colonies grew tobacco (Norton & Gizbert, pp. 254, 260-1, 267-71).

In the 18th century, however, the chief destination of Pernambuco’s tobacco was the Slave Coast. Slave ships departing from Recife loaded thousands of tobacco rolls, which the captains and other agents exchanged for manufactured goods and enslaved Africans in the Bight of Benin.[27] Thus, thousands of small and medium-sized tobacco growers (including slave owners) in Pernambuco, Alagoas (whose tobacco boasted the best reputation), and Paraíba were also connected to the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean thanks to Recife’s exports.

Nevertheless, Pernambuco’s involvement in the Atlantic tobacco market was not as prominent as in the case of Bahia. This captaincy’s tobacco production was quite superior to Pernambuco’s in the 18th century, when Bahia exported twenty times more tobacco to Portugal, while its tobacco exports to West Africa were four times greater than Pernambuco’s (Lopes, 2018, pp. 148-9; Nardi, 1996, pp. 150, 224).[28]

At the same time, along with sugar and tobacco, the ships sailing from Recife included cow hides in their cargo. Tens of thousands of cattle heads were tended in the dry hinterlands of Northeast captaincies (the sertões, including the lands in Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte). Those lands were conquered in Portuguese military campaigns against the indigenous peoples between the late 17th century and the 1720s; those peoples were eventually subordinated, repelled or killed (Puntoni, 2002).

By the end of that century, Pernambuco’s settlers (and the neighboring captaincies’ as well) were harshly hit by a global phenomenon: a severe drought stemming from natural causes: El Niño. The shortage of rainfall was felt also in Angola, where it destabilized the societies already disrupted by the slave trade. Starving people were pushed into slavery and hence into the Atlantic slave trade. In the eastern shore of the south Atlantic, the 1790s drought provoked the death and/or dislocation of hinterland dwellers, decimated most of the cattle and brought about dearth of foodstuff in the cities (Miller, 1982; Felipe, 2020, pp. 101-132; for a critic review of Miller’s approach, see Candido, 2013, pp. 94-112).[29]

Global connections under the metropolis’ shield

We should recognize that Recife did not profit from connections as wide and diverse as those of London or Mexico City.[30] Portuguese subjects in Brazil had to deal with the royal laws devised to set up a shield over its overseas possessions, designed to eliminate business relations with foreigners.[31] Thus, Recife’s inhabitants (as in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia) used to resort to every opportunity they found to engage in business with non-allowed trade agents. Sometimes, they carried out this kind of trade under cover of the law; sometimes, the trade relations were openly illegal, being, nevertheless, tolerated or even sponsored by the colonial authorities. These trade opportunities were loopholes for global connections.

The Portuguese Crown forbade foreign ships from anchoring in Brazil’s harbors, except when captains informed that their ships needed rigging, or to provide water and food to the crew.[32] In those cases, the Portuguese laws allowed the royal authorities, chiefly the governor of the captaincy, to host the foreign ship and let its captain and crew purchase what they needed.[33] Thus, as several non-Portuguese ships called at Recife (even though not as much as in Bahia and Rio de Janeiro), particularly from the early 18th century on, Recife’s dwellers were in touch and carried out business with people from sundry places. In the years 1723-1725, for example, five foreign ships anchored in Recife; all those vessels were attached to the Ostend Company, though one of those was English.[34] When a foreign ship was allowed to anchor in Recife, its crew used to engage in business with local merchants, purportedly under the royal authorities’ supervision; however, as the Crown’s advisers pointed out, it was an opportunity to smuggle (Pijning, 2001, pp. 403-407).[35]

Global links at West Africa

Recife was one of the major Atlantic slave ports, trading slaves mainly from the Bight of Benin and Angola (Domingues da Silva & Eltis, 2008, pp. 122). It is likely that the greatest cosmopolitan place where Recife’s merchants and seafaring men used to work was West Africa, especially the Slave Coast.[36] In the several ports of the slave trade, people from England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Brazil and British America carried out business, exchanging African enslaved people for trade goods and commodities from Europe, India, China, East Asia and America.[37] The African involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, in turn, brought African kingdoms closer to global patterns of consumption, making them dependent on imported goods as a way to buttress the rulers’ authority.[38]

Since the last quarter of the 17th century, ships cleared from Recife loaded with tobacco rolls, jeribita (sugar cane spirits) and manufactured goods. Once at the Slave Coast, captains and their crew bargained for slaves and European or Asian goods. To procure a full load of slaves, they carried out business with African agents, offering a bundle that usually included tobacco. However, since the discovery of gold in Southwest Brazil, it became usual for slave traders from Bahia and Pernambuco to trade with British, French, and Dutch merchants in West Africa. In the first half of the 18th century, gold possibly comprised half of Recife’s slave ships’ cargoes, becoming one of the chief products to purchase the manufactures demanded by African traders. Hence, Recife’s slave vessels brought home thousands of enslaved people and foreign goods purchased with gold and tobacco.

One example of the aforementioned trade can be found in a slave ship voyage of 1752. The ship Aleluia da Ressurreição e Almas sailed to the Slave Coast, laden with tobacco and manufactured goods.[39] Even though the ship’s log does not report the presence of Brazilian gold (given that the Portuguese Crown forbade any gold transactions beyond metropolitan supervision), we may suppose that there was indeed gold in the cargo, thanks to several 18th-century British records. For example, in 1719, a certain João da Silva arrived in the Slave Coast aboard a Pernambuco vessel, where he traded 118 ounces of gold in exchange for slaves.[40] This is just one of several records of Portuguese traders departing from Brazil’s ports and delivering gold to the British in West Africa, during the first half of the 18th century.[41] The Dutch West India Company, which had been collecting (or extorting) tobacco from Portuguese slave traders for one quarter century, also got access to Brazilian gold flowing to West Africa.[42]. Even the Danish slave traders made efforts to attract the Portuguese with the aim to obtain gold, but as successfully as the British and the Dutch (and, perhaps, the French).[43]

The slave vessel Aleluia da Ressurreição e Almas moored off at several West African ports and at the St. Jorge da Mina castle (the Dutch, once Portuguese, fortress). In Anamobu, the ship’s captain purchased Asian fabrics, iron, cowries, and liquors from Dutch and British slave traders.[44] Even if slave ship departures from Pernambuco peaked between the 1690s and the 1730s, it was Bahia which held the lion’s share of Brazil’s slave imports from the Bight of Benin (Graphic 2).

Graphic 2 – Volume of Bahia’s and Pernambuco’s slave imports into Brazil from the Bight of Benin (1696-1760)

While in West Africa, Portuguese slave traders had the opportunity to openly deal with Europeans and Africans, and to purchase Asian and European manufactures (mainly textiles), cowries from the Indian ocean and, of course, African human beings. This was the multilateral pattern of trade at the Slave Coast for Recife’s slave ships, at least in the years of Brazil’s enormous gold output.[45] If there was a global arena which had Brazilian merchants as active players, that was the West African slave trade.

Final remarks: global periphery

In the previous lines, we tried to point out the economic activities in which Recife used to be involved and which can be fairly connected to global history. Insofar as most of those activities (as well as some aspects of Recife’s material life) were framed by Atlantic connections, this is one way to pursue a global perspective (Marquese & Pimenta, 2015, pp. 35-6).

From its very inception, the rise of Recife as a port-city was strongly enmeshed with networks that connected central and peripheral areas of the European world-economy. Its place and role inside those networks, in turn, were defined by the city’s features as an outlet for colonial commodities and transformed Pernambuco into a gateway for highly desired and needed manufactures. Surely, Recife’s engagement in and contribution to the evolution of the European world-economy was not steady. Its linkages with the global economy could be direct — as in the second half of the 16th or the earlier half of the 18th centuries — or indirect, since most of Pernambuco’s exports were conveyed only to Portugal for almost two centuries.

Recife’s contribution to the globalization process was a response to the core areas’ demand for “colonial groceries” (McCants, 2008, pp. 173-4), which Northeast Brazil’s conquerors and settlers tried to fulfill since the 16th century. From sugar to cotton, raw materials and semi-processed goods have been the cornerstone of the region’s integration into the global economy. Recife thrived as the port whence those goods departed toward the Atlantic and as the entrance gate for the thousands of African bonded men and women who toiled in the Northern captaincies’ fields.

In short, although one can fairly sustain that Recife was part of the “soft globalization” process, we may better understand its contribution to and how it was shaped by globalization if we see this city as being embedded in the periphery of the early Modern global economy.


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  1. I’m grateful to Bruno Miranda, Diego Martins, Leonardo Marques, Maximiliano Menz, Pedro Puntoni and Wolfgang Lenk for their contributions to improve this chapter. I would also like to thank the two anonymous referees, whose remarks were very useful to enhance the paper’s arguments and clearness.
  2. Flynn & Giraldez (1995, 2002, 2008) have led the way in this debate regarding the role of “silver cycles.” They even point out a date to the origins of globalization: 1571; Flynn & Giraldez, 1995, p. 212.
  3. Zwart and Zanden argue in favor of the early modern globalization, however, they intend “move beyond the dichotomy of hard and soft globalization” (Zwart & Zanden, 2018, p. 4).
  4. At least one scholar deems Flynn and Giraldez’s estimates of China’s share in the world silver trade as overrated; see Vries, 2010, pp. 735-6.
  5. On the West-East silver flow, see Flynn & Giraldez, 1995; on the role of textiles in the Atlantic slave trade, see, among many others, Duplessis, 2010; Heintze, 2007, pp. 473-506; Miller, 1988, pp. 71-104; Lopes & Menz, 2019.
  6. O’Rourke & Williamson, 2006 [the first edition is from 1999], pp. 13, 31, seem to suggest that the globalization process cannot take place without trading liberalization. For a challenge of this view, see Rönback, 2009, pp. 96, 106-8, 111; Zwart & Zanden, 2018, p. 44).
  7. In the original: “Não apenas ocupavam alguns dos nós da rede global atlântica, como também operavam a maior parte das ligações entre todos os nós.” This perspective is akin to the sociological concept of “nodes” in the network of the “global system’s city systems,” which highlights the hierarchical nature of the global network (Timberlake & Ma, 2007, pp. 255-6, 266).
  8. On the contribution of the World-System analysis to and its shared points with global history, see Kuntz, 2014, pp. 7-10; Conrad, 2016, pp. 47-52; for its contribution to the sociological field in linking “social change and global process,” see Timberlake & Ma, 2007, pp. 257-8. As an example of a historical approach to early globalization which, in lieu of unbalance and hierarchy, emphasizes reciprocity in the relations between cities and economies, see Antunes, 2009.
  9. Some scholars demonstrate the “trans-imperial” nature of economic relationships in the Atlantic economy, without labeling them as “global,” see Borucki, 2012; Ribeiro da Silva, 2016; while others may underscore the multiple connections of the Atlantic slave trade, without approaching it as “global”: Harms, 2002.
  10. Braudel, 1983, vol. II, pp. 190.
  11. Marquese, Berbel & Parron (2017, pp. 26-7) connect the rise of Dutch economy to what Giovanni Arrighi calls “the Dutch cycle of accumulation,” the second phase of the rise of capitalism; Arrighi, 2009, pp. 130-47.
  12. For a matter of convenience, I will refer to it as Recife, even though the sources between the 16th and 18th centuries often named the city as “the port of Pernambuco”, or simply Pernambuco; however, the appellation Recife has been attested already in the early 17th century; see: Salvador, 2010 [1627], pp. 142. The city’s name, Recife, literally “Reef,” stems from the coral reef along the shore, called arrecife in Portuguese.
  13. On the economic rise of Amsterdam, see Israel, 1989, pp. 29-42.
  14. The global feature of the Dutch-Iberian wars was signaled by Boxer half a century ago; Boxer, 1957; Boxer, 1969, pp. 117-135.
  15. The cosmopolitan character of merchant cities is pointed out by Braudel, 1992, pp. 30-1.
  16. “Sugar wars” means that both sides fought for control of sugar producing areas, but also that sugar sustained both sides’ finances.
  17. For this conceptualization of center and peripheries inside colonial Brazil, see Schwartz, 1984, pp. 421-500.
  18. For a good demonstration of the direct and indirect global economic connections between far apart areas in the Early Modern age, see Kobayashi, 2019; in the Atlantic basin, the connections among continents went beyond the coasts, once the sea lanes, and the African and New World rivers became part of a single transport system; see Thornton, 1998, pp. 14-21.
  19. And Alagoas, but this place was not a captaincy.
  20. Data on Pernambuco’s sugar and cotton exports can be found in Arruda, 1980, and Melo, 2017.
  21. By the way, sugar prices showed a strong convergence in the Atlantic economies from the 1620s onward, what can be deemed as one sign of Early Globalization; see Ronback, 2009, pp. 107-9.
  22. Around 1629, there were about 350 sugar mills in Brazil; Pernambuco accounted for more than 50% of total production; Schwartz, 1984, pp. 424. Mauro (1997, p. 313) points out Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Bohemia as further destinations for Amsterdam’s sugar imports.
  23. Instituto Arqueológico, Histórico e Geográfico Pernambucano. Inventory of José Vaz Salgado, 1759.
  24. In the first half of the 17th century, S. Tomé imported caldeiras from the Netherlands, and it is likely that the same was true concerning Brazil; see Mauro, 1997, pp. 249. However, as the British ironware manufacturers came to be the main consumers of Baltic iron from the early 18th century on, superseding Dutch producers, it is not unlikely that they supplied Portugal and its Atlantic empire. See: Evans & Rydén, 2007, pp. 46, 48-9, 54-8.
  25. See Dias, 2017, pp. 140-1, where the author provides examples of sugar mill parts ordered in London to be dispatched to Pernambuco in the last quarter of the 18th century. Among the goods related to José Vaz Salgado’s sugar mill Camorim, there were the usual cobres grandes e miúdos – large and small hardware. Vaz Salgado was a successful merchant of the 18th century, one of the wealthiest inhabitants of Recife, owner of lands and thousands of cattle heads. See: Souza, 2012, pp. 130-1. The sugar mill equipment is described in Inventário dos bens do Capitão Mor José Vaz Salgado, 1759. Instituto Arqueológico, Histórico e Geográfico Pernambucano, Arquivo Judiciário, cx. 001
  26. Instituto Histórico Arqueológico e Geográfico de Pernambuco – Inventário de Thereza Afonso – 1768. fl. 17-20, 25. About Thereza Afonso’s life, see Melo, 2014, pp. 216-7. I am grateful to Gian Carlo de Melo for sharing with me the transcription of this document (there are other personal inventories at IAHGP, but they are in very bad conditions, making them almost impossible to read). For the role of European and Asian textiles in the Atlantic slave societies, see Duplessis, 2010; Duplessis, 2016. The meaning of the textiles’ name can be found in Duplessis, 2010; Miller, 1986, pp. 242-246. For the use of inventories as sources to demonstrate pre-industrial patterns of consumption, see McCants, 2010; Shammas, 2000.
  27. Lopes, 2018, pp. 143-217; see also Ribeiro Da Silva, 2016, pp. 57-61.
  28. In fact, the data for Pernambuco are very scattered and far from complete.
  29. For a global perspective about the interplay of natural phenomena and historical processes, see Parker, 2013.
  30. For London, see Hancock, 1995; for Mexico City, see Gruzinski, 2014.
  31. In fact, all the European seaborne empires were legally closed to foreigners, as per the so-called mercantilism; although rather criticized, the concept of mercantilism was not discarded: the classical work on this subject is Hecksher,1983; his presumptions were addressed by Wilson, 1957, and Coleman, 1980; one fresh approach, which revisits the rationale of mercantilist policies and thought, can be found in Magnusson, 1995, pp. 1-48. For a critical review of mercantilism as a historical subject, see Pincus, 2012.
  32. The Portuguese named these ships’ necessary visits as arribadas.
  33. The law (Alvará) which stated the rules for “arribadas” of foreign vessels is dated October 5, 1715.
  34. AHU, Pernambuco, Documento Avulsos, Cx. 32, Doc. 2898. On the Ostend Company, an East India Company based on the Southern Low Countries and set up in 1723, see BAGUET, 2015.
  35. To date, no one, as far as I know, has demonstrated how many Indians called at Recife during the three first centuries of Portuguese settlement. The number of Portuguese ships which stopped in Salvador/Bahia while going to or coming from the Indian Ocean is addressed by LAPA, 1968, pp. 327-343.
  36. As Pétré-Grenouilleau underscores, the Atlantic slave trade calls for a global approach: “Comme toute bonne histoire, l’histoire globale est forcément comparative. Cela semble aller de soi dans le cadre du trafic négrier, étant donné la variété des régions et des acteurs concernés”. Pétré-Grenouilleau, 2004, p. 10.
  37. The literature on this subject is quite extensive; see Law, 2006; Manning, 1976; on the trading relations among European slave traders at West Africa, see Ruderman, 2016. The case of Angola is addressed by Lenk & Menz on this volume.
  38. Harms, 2003, pp. 170-173; Inikori, 2010. For the political impact of the Atlantic slave trade in Bantu polities, see Miller, 1988, pp. 40-139.
  39. [ENTRADA da Carregaçam que no Recife de Pernambuco me consignou o Sr. Jozé de Freitas Sacotto, na sua galera por invocação Aleluya da Surreição e Almas; a mim Jozé Francisco Rocha]. Costa da Mina, 1752. AHU, CU, S. Tomé, Cx. 8, Doc. 100. For a detailed analysis of this voyage, see Lopes, 2018, 164-177. Also Almeida, 2018.
  40. Among many records involving Portuguese slave ships’ captains and traders, at least one mentions Pernambuco as the origin of those slave ships; see Gold debtor to adventures to Brazil […]. Whydah Journal (1718-1721). PRO. T.70/592-93, Journals of Accounts, William’s Fort, 1718-1727. 15/08/1719, Fl. 44.
  41. See Whydah Journal (1718-1721). PRO. T.70/592-93, Journals of Accounts, William’s Fort, 1718-1727. Also Verger, 1987, pp. 62-4.
  42. See Verger, 1987; Postma and Schwartz, 2003; Heijer, 2003.
  43. See Danish Sources for the History of Ghana,1657-1754. Vol 1, pp. 151, 241.
  44. The role of Anamobu in the 18th-century slave trade is addressed by Shumway, pp. 4-6; chapter one.
  45. Besides Lopes, 2018, see Almeida, 2018; Ferreira, 2010; Acioli & Marques, 2019; the pioneer work is Verger, 1987.

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