Adrift on an Inland Sea
Misinformation and the Limits of Empire in the Brazilian Backlands
Hal Langfur




ON A DAY OF SEEMINGLY LIMITLESS visibility in early 1801, the mineralogist José Vieira Couto ascended a ridge in Brazil’s southeastern interior and marveled at the view. “Toward the frontier, looking west, as if it were a vast ocean,” he wrote, “one sees the sky and the earth comingle on the smoky and smooth horizons.” In the company of his fellow voyagers, the young savant was returning from those horizons, concluding an exploratory mission of nearly ten months in search of diamonds. Now following the Espinhaço Mountains southward toward Vila Rica, the gilded capital of the captaincy of Minas Gerais, Portuguese America’s principal mining region, Couto dutifully continued to make his diary entries. Passing through “haunted corridors of tall cliffs” relieved now and then by peaceful meadows and crystalline rivers, he recorded sighting not only dramatic scenery but also potentially profitable copper reserves. In this more traveled country, back from the west, he was still keen to find evidence of mineral wealth to supplement what he knew some critics, perhaps even his monarch, would consider the disappointing results of a long, expensive expedition.1

Prince Regent João, ruling the Portuguese Empire for his incapacitated mother, Queen Maria I, had honored Couto with the appointment to investigate unconfirmed reports of the discovery of extensive new diamond fields. After an arduous search the Brazilian-born, Portuguese-trained scientist had located only a few low-quality deposits. In the course of their journey, expedition members had encountered vexing difficulties. They had been forced to rely on a band of impoverished prospectors who served as their backcountry guides, men and women of African descent, former slaves, descendants of slaves, and in some cases possibly fugitives from slavery. White, highly educated, the beneficiary of wealth and privilege, Couto avowed little faith in his unlikely chaperones. At best he dismissed them as rustics; at worst, as conniving frauds. Returning all but empty-handed, the scholar-scientist was left grasping for something positive to report to his royal patron.

The endless vistas he surveyed from the ridgeline offered at least the possibility of future attainments. His association of these tropical wooded grasslands with the immeasurable sea was a fitting image. They comprised the small, visible portion of the immense sertões, thinly colonized backlands that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, three hundred years after the Portuguese first set foot on South American shores, still accounted for most of the Brazilian interior. Once stewards of a seaborne empire of global scale, the Portuguese had long ago seen their predominance in intercontinental trade eclipsed. In Couto’s time colonial Brazil endured as the remaining stronghold of a gloried imperial past. The colony’s sertões beckoned as a potentially revivifying field of conquest.2

Well into the future, the promise of their sealike immensity would endure. Pondering the backlands more than a century later, the statesman and abolitionist Rui Barbosa imagined himself “a navigator at the edge of an unknown sea.” Invoking the “honor,” “destiny,” and quest for nature’s “opulent treasures” that the sertões and sea called forth, he proclaimed that there was, in both, “the same greatness, the same grandeur, the same inscrutability. Over one and the other extends that same enigma of indecipherable majesties. From one and the other issues the same expression of energy, strength, and power that cannot be resisted. One and the other stares at us, in the same way, like two unfathomable and inexhaustible reservoirs of life.”3 Such poetic yearning and the collective memory it summoned, we will come to see, had their concrete, place-based histories as well as their counternarratives.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, the unearthing of astonishing quantities of gold and diamonds along the Espinhaço cordillera, which stretches more than a thousand kilometers from south to north, had helped sustain an empire. Enslaved laborers shipped from Portuguese Africa kept the region’s minerals flowing to Lisbon. During the century’s second half, however, as bust followed boom, the Portuguese faced deepening economic challenges that grew more worrisome as revolutionary currents began to circulate in the Atlantic world. One response was a redoubling of efforts to colonize and govern the sprawling, still-unincorporated spaces of the continental interior. The Portuguese thereby hoped, in accordance with the era’s mercantilist orthodoxies, to extract the untapped wealth these lands were thought to contain, putting colonial labor and resources at the service of metropolitan prosperity. From the century’s midpoint until Brazil gained its independence in 1822, this inland sea, these unsurveyed lands, legally secured but never effectively controlled, became the arena of a diffuse but decisive struggle over the limits of empire.

In this book I demonstrate that the Portuguese drive to assert dominion over swaths of the South American interior was significantly more vigorous than generally appreciated even as the resulting challenges to imperial expansion proved correspondingly more disruptive. Accompanying the progress of quasi-private, military, and scientific forays into ostensibly unknown areas, the chapters that follow assess the objectives, limitations, disorientation, and ultimate dissolution of renewed colonizing ventures as they stretched from Portugal into Brazil’s southeastern backlands. Although rarely achieving their aims when authorized to integrate internal frontiers more firmly into the imperial domain, these missions merit close scrutiny because they defined and delimited key capacities of an early modern, transatlantic state. Even as the Portuguese crown honed its practice of long-distance power politics in an era of European absolutism, it was forced constantly to settle for meager gains and make unintended concessions at the effective outer limits of its American possessions.

By following expeditions as they departed the captaincy’s urban realm to march through unfamiliar grasslands and forests, we can better grasp this tension between consolidation and attenuation. We can explore apparent contradictions between the foci and the boundaries of colonial administrative potency, between overbearing yet underpowered institutions, between the sertões’ putatively subjugated yet practicably unmonitored inhabitants. These overland enterprises demonstrate the workings of a Portuguese monarchy at once forceful in its drive to secure and extract wealth from its boundless American colony yet constrained by distance, limited resources, geographic ignorance, and the machinations of its own vassals. They highlight the activities of those who interacted along what amounted to myriad inland edges of empire. They allow us to glimpse other wise invisible, wandering subjects and potential subjects, many of them still effectively stateless, in the act of challenging policies and practices aimed at territorializing Portuguese sovereignty.

In Brazil’s southeastern interior the specter of mining’s collapse lent a special gravity to journeys to the sertões that tested the reach of governing institutions. As the search for new mineral deposits and profitable alternatives intensified, expedition leaders were recruited to extend the effective jurisdiction and fortify the claims of their faraway sovereign. Departing from a discontinuous colonial domain, they carried orders to execute the crown’s bidding in matters deemed central to the control of territory. These tasks, endorsed by avid functionaries of Portugal’s transatlantic state, included subduing independent Indians, rounding up enslaved Africans who escaped their masters, surveilling small-scale prospectors, crushing contraband rings, reconnoitering reported gold and diamond strikes, and conducting scientific surveys. In the process officials and their backcountry envoys sought to secure new lands for mining, farming, ranching, and commerce, imposing civil, military, and ecclesiastical order. Although they described their aims in terms more common to the era in which they lived, they aspired to territorialize the empire, to ground the claims of the Portuguese monarch on the land.4 This objective proved elusive, not only as an outcome but also in the act itself.

As these roving mobilizations moved over great stretches of uncontrolled lands still in the process of being colonized, problems surfaced and purposes shifted according to the twisting of the trail and the lengthening separation from royal supervision. Reflecting on the construction and maintenance of Portuguese transatlantic governance in the eighteenth century, Laura de Mello e Souza has urged historians to attend more carefully to Lisbon’s dependence on individuals “who obeyed the norms and decisions emanating from the center of power, but who recreated them in daily practice, sometimes rendering the point of arrival so distinct from the point of departure that, not infrequently, the original idea and sense were obscured or even lost.”5 Overland expeditions gauge this transformation with unique spatial and temporal precision. They were conceived in palace pronouncements and trailside prose as archetypal conquest missions, consciously framed in the epic tradition of Homer, Camões, and venerated early Brazilian explorers. But they veered off course. The more Portugal’s financially strapped state worked to assert dominion over Brazil’s internal expanses, the more malleable its authority became.

Neither colonizers nor the colonized served as pliant participants in this resurgent endeavor as it played out over more than half a century. Men charged with exploring and establishing royal authority in zones targeted for internal colonization conducted themselves in ways that proved difficult to regulate. Representing the crown, respected vassals, soldiers, frontier administrators, and scientific experts found themselves ambivalently positioned at the nexus of royal directives, local realities, and personal ambition. In pursuit of mixed objectives, they in turn encountered marginalized frontier act ors operating beyond the purview of the state: seminomadic Native peoples, escaped slaves, itinerant poor, and those deemed vagabonds and criminals. These men and women—for women appear frequently enough in the sources to confirm they were a constant presence even if their voices were largely silenced—sometimes cooperated with but more frequently frustrated authorities bent on controlling them. They eluded, defied, redirected, and time and again tamed Lisbon’s imperial aims. The ship of Portugal’s transatlantic state was cast adrift, attempting to navigate unknown seas, encountering subjects and circumstances its captains could not control or sometimes even comprehend.

For practical and methodological reasons that will become evident—and because it is a history largely untold—I have set out to measure Lisbon’s projection of power against a particular obstacle: imperial information gathering. This data-driven barrier to royal ambitions took shape as a confusion of rumors, distortions, claims, conflicting reports, and disputed facts. Or, better perhaps, it refused to take shape, exerting its force in its amorphousness. The transmission of ambiguous and contradictory reports from the interior derived from an array of cross-purposes and competing projects. As its consequence, a campaign orchestrated by a series of monarchs, viceroys, and governors to secure territory and establish unchallenged rule was subverted during its preliminary acts of reconnaissance. Those bent on colonialism’s foundational undertaking, the absorption of unconquered lands, saw projects falter at their inception.

Easy distinctions contrasting elites and nonelites do not adequately capture what occurred. Problematic intelligence and communications confounded royal emissaries dispatched into the backlands. As a result expedition leaders contributed to the swirl of contradictory intelligence, wishful thinking, and fabrication that destabilized the very missions they were ordered to carry out. Their yearning for royal recognition and personal gain made them flawed proxies of an autocratic yet overextended administration. Simultaneously provoking official bewilderment were those already inhabiting lands targeted for colonization. Indians, Africans, Europeans, and their mixed descendants lived at distances that placed them beyond the capacity of imperial bureaucracies to gather and convey trustworthy, actionable intelligence about them. Among their most effective strategies to forestall unwanted royal impositions was to mediate the flow of information issuing from the backlands.

As in frontier settings throughout the Americas, intermediaries played an outsize role in determining the outcome of projects aimed at territorial appropriation and consolidation.6 Of particular importance for forays into the sertões were those who possessed local knowledge about topography, natural resources, and unsurveilled human activity. The drive to exercise metropolitan sovereignty over the inhabitants of distant forests, savannas, mountains, and river valleys hinged on the reliability of backcountry informants. These individuals stand at the center of this study. As specialists in the possibilities and pitfalls of a vast realm beyond the secured enclaves of colonial settlement, expedition leaders and the peoples they encountered together formed an expertise continuum. Even though they were from strikingly different social origins and often at odds, those who led colonizing intrusions and those they intruded on jointly contributed to the operational intelligence sought by the imperial administration.

To advance its quickening ambitions, the crown required, as a precondition for success, reliable information about places so poorly known they were only beginning to appear on manuscript maps. We “need better information concerning the physical and political state of the ultramarine dominions,” an exasperated minister for colonial affairs declared in 1796 from Lisbon.7 Other tenuously controlled areas in Africa and Asia attracted similar attention, but the Brazilian interior was the largest and most assiduously surveyed of these imperial spaces, where Portuguese administrators, applying Enlightenment principles to overseas statecraft, devised more ambitious and systematic means to collect data deemed essential for wealth extraction and effective governance.8 To this end, purveyors of backcountry expertise were summoned to report on developments in zones otherwise impervious to official investigation and intelligibility. Sometimes eager, sometimes reluctant, sometimes coerced, occasionally making names for themselves because of the understanding, exaggerations, or obfuscations they imparted, but more often remaining little known and even unnamed in the surviving sources, a panoply of information brokers exercised a vital yet largely unrecognized role in the Portuguese Empire’s unfulfilled drive to consolidate and exploit its South American holdings. They shared with each other and with higher authorities what they knew, thought they knew, and pretended to know. When intimidated and interrogated, they confirmed or denied what they were purported to know. Together they contributed to an accelerating early modern cataract of information and misinformation crossing the South Atlantic. Increasingly studied as a European phenomenon transforming metropolitan administration, commerce, and spheres of learning, this flow of communications over great distances begs further attention as a critical component of colonial governance. For here, at the intersection of “political intelligence and indigenous knowledge,” as C. A. Bayly discerned about another early modern empire, “colonial rule was at its most vulnerable.” As producers of unevenly reliable intelligence, linking the Brazilian interior to the places where Portuguese policy took shape, these individuals advance our understanding of imperial expansion, cohesion, and decay.9

With respect to the methodological challenges inherent in recovering relevant voices, any inquiry into colonial informants rightly raises postcolonial anxieties about the possibility of deciphering evidence collected from them. The agents of European empires could not function without local informants. Authorities singled them out, sought to install them where they were absent, coaxed and coerced them, miscast them as envoys of their clans and communities, and misrepresented or suppressed their views when they did not coincide with official imperatives. The resulting falsifications and silences ramify in archives that selectively store accounts of their words and documented actions. But these repositories also contain more evidence than commonly recognized of the reactions, adaptations, negotiations, and countermeasures of backcountry denizens. There are legitimate concerns about what can be gleaned from bullied, nonliterate knowledge brokers. Yet the fundamental problem hampering scholarship about such individuals is not the error of overestimating the value of the documentary record. It is not, in other words, a pervasive misreading of sources the motivations of whose subjects historians naively deem transparent. Incaution in the archives is always concerning. The far greater problem, however, is that scholars have tended to sidestep the task at hand. Diverse groups inhabiting great stretches of the colony’s interior have been consigned to the murky margins of history on the mistaken assumption that sources documenting their struggles are unavailable, insufficient, or insuperably untrustworthy. More troubling than the problem of misreading, in short, is the fact that many sources remain unread with an eye for the import of such individuals.10

My argument about the capacity exercised by those who supplied backcountry intelligence to challenge, redirect, and delay colonization efforts can be delineated in four parts. First, that the years between 1750 and 1822 witnessed a concerted imperial mobilization, the scope of which remains underappreciated, aimed at transforming multiple internal frontier zones into governed territory. Second, that this attempt to project the crown’s sovereign rule brought to prominence a sizeable contingent of backcountry adepts, elites and nonelites alike, who variously appropriated, evaded, and contested the state’s objectives, especially through the provision or withholding of critical information about lands, peoples, and resources, the nature of which ranged from fact to pure fantasy. Third, that the persistent inscrutability of the intelligence that reached captaincy, viceregal, and imperial halls of power from the distant sertões altered the course of empire, undermining efforts to incorporate zones deemed to be strategically significant. Finally, and more speculatively, I propose in an epilogue that the consequent inability to project territorial authority over sprawling lands beyond the Atlantic coast merits a prominent place it has not received among the factors explaining Portugal’s swift loss of its most important colony on Brazil’s independence two hundred years ago.

Brazil’s Internal Frontiers

If a single year can mark a sea change, 1750 best serves as the juncture at which the territorial formation of Brazil turned in on itself. When the Portuguese and Spanish crowns signed the Treaty of Madrid in that year, they established boundaries between the Iberian empires in South America that correspond to a remarkable degree to Brazil’s present international borders.11 Border disputes and further negotiations lay ahead, concerning, for instance, the Río de la Plata basin in the south and French Guiana in the north. Annulled in 1761, the treaty was later superseded, yet also generally reaffirmed, by the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1777. This high-stakes diplomatic wrangling, however, can divert attention from another, far larger theater of territorializing activity demarcated by the struggle for dominion over lands within the colony, rather than along its interimperial borders. Those borders rimmed a colony within which great expanses remained beyond Lisbon’s capacity to govern. Before 1750 the distinction between Brazil’s external and internal frontiers was more ambiguous. But as Portugal steadily resolved the problem of its colony’s external boundaries, a profusion of ungoverned internal realms, areas having nothing or almost nothing to do with Spanish or other foreign competitors, became the insistent object of royal preoccupation.

The era’s centrifugal tendencies were, in an anxious back-and-forth, both animated and held in check by a doggedly centralizing state in the thrall of the reformist autocrat Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the marquis of Pombal, first minister to the insubstantial José I. Pombal set out to remedy what he perceived as Portugal’s lack of political and economic control over Brazilian territory. Subsequent administrations followed his lead.12 Throughout the colony, stretching into the nineteenth century, expeditions moved like so many probing tentacles to extend the crown’s dominion. This expansionist impulse drew force from Pombal, his ministerial successors, and colonial administrators who promoted exploration for profitable alternatives to existing inland mining operations and coastal sugar plantations. Yet it also provoked tensions and systemic contradictions when they sought to contain what they had fostered, apprehensive about colonists who slipped outside their surveillance. A scholarly tendency to highlight the general accord struck between colonial elites and their metropolitan benefactors has tended to downplay such points of friction.13 Compared with their imperial rivals, moreover, the Portuguese confronted an especially wide gap between what was planned and what was possible in the realm of territorial consolidation. Despite its diplomatic triumphs in codifying ample South American borders, Portugal lacked the financial resources, military might, administrative strength, and sustained migratory stream necessary to achieve the kinds of integrative territorial gains made in Spanish and especially British America before independence movements fractured all three Atlantic empires.14

Well-consolidated Portuguese enclaves—islands and archipelagos of inland settlement, to use another maritime metaphor historians frequently invoke—places where state authority prevailed and where a functioning commercial economy was subject to at least a semblance of efficient taxation, accounted for a comparatively small portion of Brazil’s unevenly colonized domain. Much of its sparsely populated space remained feebly incorporated, socially and culturally discontiguous, the province of independent Indians as well as escaped slaves, straying subsistence farmers, and small-stakes miners. In a concerted policy shift, the intricacies of which remain poorly understood, the crown redoubled its efforts in the second half of the eighteenth century to control these outlying peoples, seeking to count them, tax them, conscript them for military service, bind them to parish churches, and map and profit from the lands they occupied. In every major region of the colony, authorities struggled to extend Portuguese rule over zones lying firmly within the interimperial border yet beyond the crown’s ambit. To measure the trajectory and significance of Portuguese America’s territorial consolidation, in short, we must abandon the notion of a proto-national perimeter within which royal authority held sway. Instead, we must place greater emphasis on these interior precincts. The spaces separating settler enclaves, the colony’s internal frontiers, did far more than is generally recognized to define colonial Brazil.

The precise nature of the inland zones scrutinized in this study will become evident in the following chapters. The term frontier, however, cannot be deployed without some initial explanation. Although Couto, the mineralogist returning from the west, did so in his diary entry, only rarely did Lusophone writers of his era use the word frontier in anything like the way scholars of imperial and national expansion use it today. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Portuguese cognate fronteira referred to a boundary between geographic jurisdictions. These jurisdictions might be the separate captaincies that together constituted the whole of Portuguese America. They might be different empires or nation-states. A frontier, that is, was a borderline or border zone. Both in the Americas and Africa, when the Portuguese wished to identify lands unsettled or thinly settled by colonists, they instead favored the term sertão or its plural sertões. Of uncertain etymology, this term is customarily translated into English as backlands, backcountry, interior, wilderness, or, perhaps confusingly, frontier. It is now generally reserved for describing Brazil’s impoverished, semiarid, northeastern interior. Throughout the colonial period, however, it had a much broader application, describing any of the immense lands beyond Brazil’s Atlantic coast considered incompletely incorporated. Imbued with intimations of the uncivilized, of a domain of wild animals and savage Indians, a neglected realm consisting of uncultivated, unexcavated, unclaimed land, the term was freighted with colonialist presuppositions. Similar associations have for many years troubled scholars who fret over continuing to use the term frontier, even as it persists in the absence of a more suitable alternative. Recognizing the contested nature of these concepts, I cautiously use them both, frontier and sertão, as well as backlands, backcountry, and interior, finding such contemporary academic substitutes as contact zone, middle ground, Native ground, and borderland no less imperfect for my purposes.15 Except to emphasize its imaginary qualities devised as a justification for seizure and occupation, I avoid the term wilderness, as connoting a place untouched by human habitation. While some early modern Portuguese commentators cast the sertões as unpopulated, they never were.

As an additional refinement, the term internal frontier is meant not simply to designate any frontier in the continental interior. Rather, it is intended to distinguish this sort of frontier from those variously described by historians as external frontiers, strategic frontiers, or borderlands, where two or more imperial powers vied for control of disputed territory, sometimes to the detriment, sometimes to the advantage, of those inhabiting these contested spaces. Assessing the centuries-long competition between Portugal and Spain in South America and Iberia, historian Tamar Herzog observes that the distinction between internal and external frontiers can be overdrawn. Frequently, she notes, “the struggle to occupy the land and control its inhabitants (the so-called internal frontier) coincided with and was simultaneous to fixing the border vis-à-vis neighbors (the so-called external frontier).”16 This caveat holds for many zones but not the ones examined in this book, which by the second half of the eighteenth century lay securely within the borders of the Portuguese Empire, unaffected except in the most indirect way by Spanish designs or by Portuguese measures meant to counter those designs. Despite their imperial internality, however, these frontiers remained stubbornly beyond the reach of Lisbon’s military, legal, fiscal, and ecclesiastical institutions. The imperviousness of such areas to metropolitan authority became ever more troubling as European monarchs learned to stress dominion over bounded territories, gradually broadening an older preoccupation with jurisdiction over groups of subjects. In Latin America this expanded notion of a sovereign’s power to include exclusive rule over contiguous territory was a product of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.17

And yet, during the period under study, in counterpoise to this absolutist, territorializing tendency, the internal frontier zones considered in this book moved only haltingly, and often seemingly not at all, toward the establishment of colonial settlements, integrated extractive economies, and consolidated sovereign authority as envisioned by Lisbon. They cannot not be construed as having been overtaken by an imagined leading edge of an expanding empire. Rather, they persisted as unstable spaces of conflict, mediation, negotiation, and appropriation. These were areas where the Portuguese state exhibited scant power to enforce its laws. Officials found it nearly impossible to foster the conditions necessary to establish a pliable labor force sizeable enough to impel the work of colonization. These internal frontiers tended to be located in comparatively unfamiliar ecological zones of difficult access to Portuguese explorers, soldiers, and settlers. The presence of Indigenous peoples often remained pivotal, yet what unfolded in these spaces cannot be limited to the confines of Indigenous history. Understanding their presence requires that we also follow the paths of wandering peoples of African, European, and mixed origins whose conduct sometimes tested royal objectives and challenged imperial absorption more than Native peoples did.18 Finally, and of particular interest for my purposes, the enduring impenetrability of these expanses elevated the significance of basic imperial intelligence gathering, including the production, exchange, withholding, and manipulation of the knowledge of places and peoples critical for colonization schemes.

Framed in this way, the present study contributes to a creative reappropriation of frontier historiography by scholars of the Latin American past. A new generation of historians is hard at work rethinking how their predecessors studied frontier zones, contributing to a resurgence of research focused on both the colonial and postcolonial periods. Improving on older approaches, working to strip away ethnocentric and nationalistic excesses from their conceptualization of frontiers, historians have turned their attention to areas ranging from the Sonoran Desert to the Amazon rainforest to the Patagonian grasslands. They have done so in dialogue with historians of other hemispheric and global frontiers, and with those who employ the concepts of borderlands and settler colonialism as their preferred analytical tools. They have demonstrated greater sensitivity to the agency of peoples of both Native and African descent in such zones. They have noted the centrality of ethnically hybrid intermediaries in areas where cultures met, clashed, and cooperated. They have pondered new ways to conceptualize and compare frontiers as distinct places and as creations of shared historical processes.19

The topic has particular relevance in Brazil, where incursions into Indigenous lands and primeval rainforests by wildcat miners, loggers, cattle ranchers, soy farmers, land speculators, and impoverished squatters continue to this day in the most recent wave of an inland migration lasting half a millennium. Despite this long history of internal colonization, Brazilian scholars often rejected the frontier as an analytical concept. They did so in response to the excesses they perceived in its application to the history of the United States, where during the first half of the twentieth century it became something of an academic obsession. Their reservations proved prescient, as their North American colleagues would come to share many of these same objections. In relegating the idea to the margins, however, Brazilian scholars often ended up neglecting the tension between internal expansion and its hinderances as a central feature of the colonial period.20 The renewal of scholarly interest in the subject has corresponded with an accelerating effort to study Indigenous history, until the 1990s a pursuit largely relegated to anthropologists, although it should be noted that the Native presence was never limited to colonial Brazil’s frontiers, shaping its urban and agricultural districts as well. Interest in these many zones reflects a growing conviction that colonial history cannot be adequately rendered without close attention to internal territorial consolidation, whether or not the term frontier is used to describe this process. The history of Portuguese America, in short, cannot be reduced to its established, export-oriented coastal plantation and inland mining complexes.


In order to better illuminate the issues at stake in this territorial struggle, I have narrowed my geographic scope to the sertões within and around the southeastern captaincy of Minas Gerais (today a state covering an area larger than France). Four distinct internal frontiers will be considered, areas located roughly in the region’s southwest, southeast, west, and northeast. In these four zones, separate sectors of what contemporaries categorized broadly as the captaincy’s western and eastern sertões, the royal push to transform long-standing assertions of sovereignty into effective governance occurred with particular intensity. These areas were not confined by the unsurveyed and still-disputed internal borders Minas Gerais shared with neighboring captaincies. Rather, they straddled these borders, extending into Goiás to the west, São Paulo to the south, Rio de Janeiro to the southeast, Espírito Santo to the east, and Bahia to the northeast. This meant that expeditions probing for resources, fugitives from slavery, renegade vassals, and stateless autochthons did not march exclusively outward from the region’s central mining zone, where most colonists originally settled as a consequence of the Espinhaço cordillera’s prolific gold and diamond deposits. Key operations also proceeded from the outside in, that is, ascending inland in the direction of Minas Gerais and Brazil’s Central Plateau from the seaboard (see map, “Southeastern Brazil, ca. 1800”).

Of the many undertakings meant to enforce Portuguese claims, four forays into the sertões, corresponding to the book’s four parts, will be examined with the aim of illustrating the range and evolving objectives of state-sponsored projects over the course of more than half a century. Their origins, outward progress, accomplishments, and shortcomings will be considered, paying special attention to the problematic acquisition and transmission of intelligence about places, peoples, and resources, and the consequences of these communications for the metropolitan making and frontier unmaking of Portuguese territorial control. The ventures are presented as aggregated microhistories, linking distant places, small incidents, and individual lives to large-scale historical processes. This method avoids the potential deficits, on the one hand, of a study so widely framed as to miss the salience of individual actors’ idiosyncratic conduct in particular environments and, on the other, one so narrowly drawn as to ignore systemic contexts, transatlantic implications, and transcontinental comparisons. Together these microhistories accomplish what any one of them alone would not: revealing from the ground up, yet in geographic and temporal breadth, the mechanisms of internal colonization.21 Their selection was determined by the comparative richness of the surviving documentation and their power to illuminate important aspects of the larger problem. All of these endeavors entailed various expeditions, although for coherence and concision, the emphasis in each part will be on one or two primary voyages.

In the first of the four missions, an ambitious merchant commissioned by the crown looked west to the wooded grasslands known as the cerrado along the ill-defined border dividing Minas Gerais and Goiás. Of the half-dozen expeditions he organized, one merits special attention. Setting out in the late 1760s with a retinue of settlers and enslaved laborers, he ordered a scribe to craft an unusual diary documenting his voyage, replete with paeans declaimed by rural poets and trailside cadenzas played by musicians. Polished for royal authorities, the diary trumpeted the merchant’s heroic search for Indian adversaries, escaped slaves, and undiscovered gold. Despite making exaggerated promises, he encountered mere flakes of precious metal and only vestiges of the foes he sought. These unimpressive results did not stop him from claiming extravagant rewards for phantom conquests. He managed to assemble vast holdings in the form of multiple royal land grants, circumventing laws designed to limit such excessive accumulations of private property. The measure of his accomplishments lay less in his feats as a frontiersman than in his ability to extract advantages from an imperial administration so eager to register territorial gains it surrendered caution for credulity.

In the second, a series of explorers chased after rumored mineral deposits in the mountainous tropical forest separating Minas Gerais from Rio de Janeiro. Basic reconnaissance of this area, not far inland yet hard to reach because of its rugged terrain, extended over many years. Native informants proved critical to the sharing and withholding of knowledge concerning forest routes and illicit mining activity. They were also suspected of participating in the contraband trade. Lisbon responded with contradictory orders, until reports of persistent criminal activity could no longer be ignored, prompting the mobilization of military expeditions in the mid-1780s. These deployments targeted a notorious smuggler rumored to possess supernatural powers, whose clandestine gold washings infuriated authorities and captured the attention of the Inquisition while attracting impoverished rural laborers from surrounding districts. Converging on the area from the north and the south, soldiers raided the site then attempted to promote supervised settlement. An ensuing military occupation, made possible by the grueling toil of enslaved porters, did not produce the desired transformation, leaving its commander’s reputation tarnished. The site’s mineral deposits turned out to be overstated, embellished by the same Native informants influential in prompting official action in the first place, and by those who coerced or inflated their testimony. Belatedly, authorities discovered they could convince few settlers to cooperate in their planned colonization scheme.

In the third foray, the one that found José Vieira Couto musing about the sealike sertão, the crown-appointed mineralogist was called on to provide his scientific expertise on a journey to investigate reports of diamond strikes in western Minas Gerais. The advent of scientific inquiry as an instrument of frontier exploration, heralded as an antidote to the disappointments of earlier intelligence failures, did not suddenly provide the clarifying, impartial information Lisbon desperately sought. The mineralogist was guided by a company of Black and racially mixed prospectors, men and women operating outside the law but angling for royal favors. Cognizant of the machinations of a system that dispensed rewards unequally, they exchanged what they knew only guardedly, seeking advantage in their unrivaled knowledge of terrain. The mineralogist found himself drawn into a penurious realm inhabited by informants he distrusted but could not disregard because of their expertise. His frustrated search for the mineralogical evidence that would make his quest worthwhile vied with his desire to impress his superiors and, like his prospector guides, receive royal recompense. Unable to acknowledge the meager results of his explorations, the scientist transmitted improbable findings that again left the crown susceptible to costly illusions about undiscovered mineral wealth. After investing in excavating the area, authorities were forced to abandon it when it failed to yield anything approaching the expected profits. Science in the service of empire offered no easy antidote to the flow of misinformation from the backlands.

In the fourth, frontier authorities explored for gold and pushed a trade route down a remote river valley linking northeastern Minas Gerais with coastal Bahia. The valley was controlled by highly mobile Indigenous foragers whose presumed savagery prompted a royal declaration of war. The conflict provided an early test of royal power and territorial dominion after Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807 forced the ruling Bragança family and its court to flee to Brazil. State actors sought to assert their strength in this frontier zone, but their actions betrayed their unmistakable weakness. They could not dictate policy in interior realms they ostensibly governed. When the valley’s Natives demonstrated a willingness to interact, the resulting exchanges destabilized the policy of military conquest, as some officials urged a less belligerent approach. The peaceable conduct of the valley’s Indigenous groups also attracted a new set of adventurers: northern European natural historians. These visitors further implicated scientific inquiry in the struggle over the colony’s internal frontiers. Foremost among them was a German prince who led an expedition up the same river valley in order to study its Natives. Hailed as uniquely enlightened, his ethnographic account contributed to the popularization of harmful stereotypes about Amerindians among an international readership. His claims of scientific precedence also ignored earlier Portuguese exertions and Indigenous responses to them. His account and its reception exemplify how backcountry histories were subject to erasure and reinscription on the eve of Brazil’s independence, during an era that emphasized new modes and measures of progress.

In selecting these four forays, I have skirted a coeval military campaign focused on the Doce River watershed, which drains Minas Gerais to the east, having examined the deadly assault on the Indigenous inhabitants of this sector of the Atlantic Forest in an earlier book.22 Although repercussions of this struggle will become evident at various points in the present study, the backcountry expeditions considered herein did not engage in warfare with Indians in any conventional sense. As such, these episodes present a different face of the crown’s drive to establish inland territorial sovereignty, less starkly bellicose but equally important for understanding the broader characteristics and significance of attempted territorial consolidation. The assault on the Indians inhabiting the Doce River basin was an especially violent case of a more comprehensive project to exert control over all of the colony’s inland inhabitants and the lands they occupied. Some Native peoples faced particularly harrowing pressures, but those who avoided armed conflict, as well as marginalized subjects of African and European descent, also felt the Portuguese crown’s attempt to tighten its grip across multiple geographic zones.

For Portuguese America as a whole, a satisfactory comprehensive account of the sweeping, post-1750 push toward colony-wide internal territorial consolidation has yet to be written; indeed, historians have struggled simply to delineate and name it.23 An initial conquest era slowly wrested much of Brazil’s long coastline from the Tupinambá and other Indigenous peoples in the sixteenth century. This feat established the foundations on which the bandeirantes—explorers and hunters of Indian slaves—pushed deeply but impermanently into the interior over much of the following century, while cattle herders and missionaries initiated a more lasting inland presence in a number of areas. When the gold strikes in Minas Gerais (first announced in the 1690s) led to subsequent discoveries farther west in Mato Grosso (1718) and Goiás (1725), the regions now defined as Brazil’s southeast and central-west together became the primary, though not exclusive, loci of territorializing efforts until the middle of the eighteenth century, especially areas where mineral deposits and their provisioning zones lay. By this rough periodization, expeditions roaming the interior in the second half of the century constituted a fourth wave of expansionary activity, one that has received the least scrutiny. A few of the era’s most prominent overland and river-borne expeditions have generated focused studies, and an understanding of regional variations has coalesced over time, particularly with respect to the Amazon basin and the colony’s southern borderlands.24 But scores of smaller, local and regional initiatives involving a greater range of actors and objectives have been treated as curiosities rather than as part of a coordinated transatlantic project.25 The expeditions selected here for close examination are replete with curiosities, but taken together they tell a larger story, connecting the ground-level machinations of territorial formation to the state-building practices of imperial integration.


1. José Vieira Couto, Memoria sobre as minas da capitania de Minas Geraes: Suas descrições, ensaios e domicílios próprios, à maneira de itinerário . . . (Rio de Janeiro: Laemmert, 1842), 100. Couto completed this long-unpublished account in 1801.

2. For an insightful discussion of the term sertão, including its uncertain origins, unstable meaning, and usage in colonial Minas Gerais, see Cláudia Damasceno Fonseca, Arraiais e vilas d’el rei: Espaco e poder nas Minas setecentistas (Belo Horizonte: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2011), chap. 1.

3. Rui Barbosa, “A Conferência de Alagoinhas (1919),” in Obras completas de Rui Barbosa, ed. Américo Jacobina Lacombe (Rio de Janeiro: Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa, 1988), vol. 46, tomo 3, 35–37. Souza notes that the twentieth-century historians of colonial Brazil, Alcântara Machado and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, also were fascinated by the natural, psychic, and cultural connection between the sea and the sertões. Laura de Mello e Souza, O sol e a sombra: Política e administração na América portuguesa do século XVIII (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2006), 325. For more recent invocations of this metaphor, see Tamar Herzog, Frontiers of Possession: Spain and Portugal in Europe and the Americas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015), 1, 42; Mary C. Karasch, Before Brasília (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016), 141, 303.

4. Works that have contributed to my understanding of Portugal’s late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century state and the challenges its representatives encountered while attempting to govern over great distances, particularly in Minas Gerais, include Souza, O sol e a sombra, esp. chap. 1; Júnia Ferreira Furtado, O Livro da Capa Verde: O regimento diamantino de 1771 e a vida no Distrito Diamantino no período da real extração (São Paulo: Annablume, 1996); Júnia Ferreira Furtado, Homens de negócio: A interiorização da metrópole e do comércio nas Minas setecentistas (São Paulo: Hucitec, 1999), esp. 15–27; Fonseca, Arraiais e vilas, esp. chap. 4; Francisco Eduardo de Andrade, A invenção das Minas Gerais: Empresas, descobrimentos e entradas nos sertões do ouro da América portuguesa (Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2008), esp. chap. 8; Kenneth R. Maxwell, Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750–1808 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973); Roderick J. Barman, Brazil: The Forging of a Nation, 1798–1852 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988); Jeremy Adelman, Sovereignty and Revolution in the Iberian Atlantic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). Also see Timothy Mitchell, “Society, Economy, and the State Effect,” in State/Culture: State-Formation after the Cultural Turn, ed. George Steinmetz (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 77, 85–89; Pierre Bourdieu, “Rethinking the State: Genesis and Structure of the Bureaucratic Field,” in State/Culture: State-Formation after the Cultural Turn, ed. George Steinmetz (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).

5. Souza, O sol e a sombra, 14, emphasis in original.

6. For an insightful interpretation of Brazil’s first century as a Portuguese colony focusing on such intermediaries, see Alida C. Metcalf, Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil, 1500–1600 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). Also see Judy Bieber, “Mediation through Militarization: Indigenous Soldiers and Transcultural Middlemen of the Rio Doce Divisions, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1808–1850,” The Americas 71, no. 2 (2014); Adriano Toledo Paiva, Os indígenas e os processos de conquista dos sertões de Minas Gerais (1767–1813) (Belo Horizonte: Argumentum, 2010); Heather F. Roller, “River Guides, Geographical Informants, and Colonial Field Agents in the Portuguese Amazon,” Colonial Latin American Review 21, no. 1 (2012).

7. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, quoted in Gabriel Paquette, Imperial Portugal in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions: The Luso-Brazilian World, c. 1770–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 52.

8. For parallel efforts, see Catarina Madeira Santos, “Administrative Knowledge in a Colonial Context: Angola in the Eighteenth Century,” British Journal for the History of Science 43, no. 4 (2010); William J. Simon, Scientific Expeditions in the Portuguese Overseas Territories (1783–1808) and the Role of Lisbon in the Intellectual-Scientific Community of the Late Eighteenth Century (Lisbon: Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, 1983); Márcia Moisés Ribeiro, “Ciência e império: O intercâmbio da técnica e o saber científico entre a Índia e a América portuguesa,” in A “Época Pombalina” no mundo luso-brasileiro, ed. Francisco Falcon and Claudia Rodrigues (Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 2015), 499–522; Ângela Domingues, “Para um melhor conhecimento dos domínios coloniais: A constituição de redes de informação no Império português em finais do Setecentos,” supplement, História, Ciências, Saúde—Manguinhos 8 (2001).

9. On the emerging field of early modern information history, see Ann Blair and Devin Fitzgerald, “A Revolution in Information?,” in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern European History, 1350–1750, ed. Hamish M. Scott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), vol. 1, esp. 249–53. Also see the seminal C. A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), quoting 2; C. A. Bayly, “The First Age of Global Imperialism, c. 1760–1830,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 26, no. 2 (1998); Paul Slack, “Government and Information in Seventeenth-Century England,” Past and Present, no. 184 (August 2004): 33–68; Robert Darnton, “An Early Information Society: News and the Media in Eighteenth-Century Paris,” American Historical Review 105, no. 1 (2000): 1–35; Jacob Soll, The Information Master: Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Secret State Intelligence System (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009); Brendan Dooley, ed., The Dissemination of News and the Emergence of Contemporaneity in Early Modern Europe (Farnham, UK: Routledge, 2010); Katherine Grandjean, American Passage: The Communications Frontier in Early New England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communications in the Early American South (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016); María M. Portuondo, Secret Science: Spanish Cosmography and the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Sylvia Sellers-García, Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013); Daniela Bleichmar, Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); Neil Safier, Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Ângela Domingues, Monarcas, ministros e cientistas: Mecanismos de poder, governação e informação no Brasil colonial (Lisbon: CHAM/FCSH/UNL and Universidade dos Açores, 2012). On the decisive participation of information brokers, colonial go-betweens, local experts, informants, and translators in forging “the contents and paths of knowledge” that accompanied worldwide empire-building during the period covered by the present study, see Simon Schaffer et al., eds., The Brokered World: Go-Betweens and Global Intelligence, 1770–1820 (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2009), quoting x.

10. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), esp. chaps. 1 and 3; Florencia E. Mallon, “The Promise and Dilemma of Subaltern Studies: Perspectives from Latin American History,” American Historical Review 99, no. 5 (1994); Hal Langfur, “Índios, territorialização e justiça improvisada nas florestas do sudeste do Brasil,” in Os indígenas e as Justiças nas Américas, ed. Maria Leônia Chaves de Resende, Ângela Domingues, and Pedro Cardim (Lisbon: Centro de História da Universidade de Lisboa, 2019), 184–85.

11. For a fascinating study of the cartographic history informing the treaty negotiations, see Júnia Ferreira Furtado, Oráculos da geografia iluminista: Dom Luís da Cunha e Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon D’Anville na construção da cartografia do Brasil (Belo Horizonte: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2012).

12. For an introduction to Pombal, his policies, and the historiographical debates that surround his rise to power, see Kenneth R. Maxwell, Pombal: Paradox of the Enlightenment (Cambridge,: Cambridge University Press, 1995); A. R. Disney, A History of Portugal and the Portuguese Empire: From Beginnings to 1807, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), vol. 1, chap. 13. On his and his successors’ determination to better control Brazilian territory to enhance metropolitan power, see Paquette, Imperial Portugal, 50–57; Kirsten Schultz, Tropical Versailles: Empire, Monarchy, and the Portuguese Royal Court in Rio de Janeiro, 1808–1821 (New York: Routledge, 2001), 22–27; Nívia Pombo, “D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho e a formulação do princípio de unidade política,” in Em terras lusas: Conflitos e fronteiras no Império Português, ed. Márcia Motta, José Vicente Serrão, and Marina M. Machado (Vinhedo: Horizonte, 2013); Antonio Cesar de Almeida Santos, “Poder e territorialização na América portuguesa (segunda metade do século XVIII),” Revista de Historia Moderna: Anales de la Universidad de Alicante, no. 36 (2018).

13. On the pact between the crown and colonial elites, see Júnia Ferreira Furtado, Diálogos oceânicos: Minas Gerais e as novas abordagens para uma história do Império Ultramarino Português (Belo Horizonte: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2001); Maria Odila Leite da Silva Dias, “A interiorização da metrópole,” in A interiorização da metrópole e outros estudos (São Paulo: Alameda, 2005); João Fragoso, Maria Fernanda Bicalho, Maria de Fátima Gouvêa, eds., O Antigo Regime nos trópicos: A dinâmica imperial portuguesa, séculos XVI–XVIII (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2001); Maria Fernanda Bicalho and Vera Lúcia Amaral Ferlini, eds., Modos de governar: Idéias e práticas políticas no Império português, séculos XVI–XIX (São Paulo: Alameda, 2005). For incisive criticism of this consensus model, see Souza, O sol e a sombra, 58–70; Adelman, Sovereignty and Revolution, 33–35.

14. See, for example, Barman, Brazil, chap. 1; Adelman, Sovereignty and Revolution, 125–31. For Spanish and British American comparisons, see David J. Weber, Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005); Daniel K. Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), chap. 6; D. W. Meinig, The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, vol. 1 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 288–95.

15. For the revival of the concept of the frontier in North American historiography, see Stephen Aron, “Convergence, California, and the Newest Western History,” California History 86, no. 4 (2009): 6. Also see Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, 1992); Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Kathleen DuVal, The Native Ground: Indians and Colonists in the Heart of the Continent (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, “On Borderlands,” Journal of American History 98, no. 2 (2011).

16. Herzog, Frontiers of Possession, 261. Herzog does not entirely discard the distinction between such frontiers, arguing that “what transpired in the American interior was an ideologically motivated divide between an internal and an external frontier, allowing actors to apply different criteria when dealing with rival Europeans and when facing natives” (13). Also see Weber, Bárbaros, esp. 22, 85–90; Amy Turner Bushnell, “Gates, Patterns, and Peripheries: The Field of Frontier Latin America,” in Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas, 1500–1820, ed. Christine Daniels and Michael V. Kennedy (New York: Routledge, 2002).

17. Peter Sahlins, Boundaries: The Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 6–7; Lucien Febvre, “Frontière: The Word and the Concept,” in A New Kind of History: From the Writings of Lucien Febvre, ed. Peter Burke (New York: Harper and Row, 1973), 208–17; Jeffrey A. Erbig Jr., Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met: Border Making in Eighteenth-Century South America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020), 3, 175n3.

18. My understanding of these zones continues to evolve, building on earlier efforts to discern their characteristics in Hal Langfur, The Forbidden Lands: Colonial Identity, Frontier Violence, and the Persistence of Brazil’s Eastern Indians, 1750–1830 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 4–7; Hal Langfur, “Frontier/Fronteira: A Transnational Reframing of Brazil’s Inland Colonization,” History Compass 12, no. 11 (2014). Although they prefer the umbrella term borderlands, my thinking has most recently benefited from the incisive essay by Cynthia Radding and Danna Levin Rojo, “Borderlands: A Working Definition,” in The Oxford Handbook of Borderlands of the Iberian World, ed. Cynthia Radding and Danna Levin Rojo (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), esp. 1–7.

19. For overviews of the Latin American frontier and borderlands historiography, as well as the theoretical and comparative underpinnings of the wider scholarly field, see Cynthia Radding and Danna Levin Rojo, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Borderlands of the Iberian World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019); Fabrício Prado, “The Fringes of Empires: Recent Scholarship on Colonial Frontiers and Borderlands in Latin America,” History Compass 10, no. 4 (2012); Langfur, “Frontier/Fronteira”; Hal Langfur, “Introduction: Recovering Brazil’s Indigenous Pasts,” in Native Brazil: Beyond the Cannibal and the Convert, 1500–1889, ed. Hal Langfur (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014); Márcio R. A. dos Santos, Rios e fronteiras: Conquista e ocupação do sertão baiano (São Paulo: Universidade de São Paulo 2017), chap. 11; José de Souza Martins, Fronteira: A degradação do Outro nos confins do humano (São Paulo: Contexto, 2009); Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in between in North American History,” American Historical Review 104, no. 3 (1999); James H. Merrell, “Indian History during the English Colonial Era,” in A Companion to Colonial America, ed. Daniel Vickers (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003); Hämäläinen and Truett, “On Borderlands.”; Nathaniel Millett, “Borderlands in the Atlantic World,” Atlantic Studies 10, no. 2 (2013); Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Walter L. Hixson, American Settler Colonialism: A History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

20. Prominent exceptions proved the rule. See, for example, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Caminhos e fronteiras (Rio de Janeiro: J. Olympio, 1957). Holanda used the term fronteira in this work to indicate a place in between—in between landscapes, populations, customs, institutions, techniques, and languages that came face to face with one another. However, he warned against any wholesale application of the concept to colonial Brazil, eschewing the triumphalism with which it had been invested by historians of the United States. On Holanda’s interest in the idea of the frontier, see Robert Wegner, A conquista do oeste: A fronteira na obra de Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (Belo Horizonte: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2000). Other classic works that examined frontier processes in colonial Brazil without necessarily adopting this terminology include João Capistrano de Abreu, Caminhos antigos e povoamento do Brasil (Belo Horizonte: Itatiaia, 1989); Basílio de Magalhães, Expansão geographica do Brasil colonial, 2nd ed. (São Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1935); Cassiano Ricardo, Marcha para Oeste: A influência da bandeira na formação social e política do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1940); Clodomir Vianna Moog, Bandeirantes and pioneers, trans. L. L. Barrett (New York: G. Braziller, 1964). For a more detailed discussion of these historiographical issues, see Langfur, “Frontier/Fronteira.”

21. On aggregation as a remedy for analytical problems that compromise some microhistorical approaches, see Rebecca Jean Emigh, “What Influences Official Information? Exploring Aggregate Microhistories of the Catasto of 1427,” in Small Worlds: Method, Meaning, and Narrative in Microhistory, ed. James F. Brooks, Christopher R. N. DeCorse, and John Walton (Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2008). Also see Lara Putnam, “To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History 39, no. 3 (2006); Rebecca J. Scott, “Small-Scale Dynamics of Large-Scale Processes,” American Historical Review 105, no. 2 (2000); Hans Medick, “Turning Global? Microhistory in Extension,” Historische Anthropologie 24, no. 2 (2016).

22. Langfur, Forbidden Lands.

23. Contributions pointing in the direction of such an account have come from John Hemming, who catalogs internal colonization in his survey of the era’s Indigenous history; from Ângela Domingues, who emphasizes the development of new “information networks” developed by naturalists and colonial officials, connecting Lisbon with many of the most remote areas of the Portuguese Empire; from Ronald Raminelli, who similarly examines what he terms “government at a distance” in his study of itinerant naturalists who functioned as a kind of intelligence-gathering corps as the crown strove to understand and administer its American possessions; and from Tamar Herzog, whose sweeping study of South American and Iberian territorial formation concentrates on borderland areas disputed by Spaniards and Portuguese. John Hemming, Amazon Frontier: The Defeat of the Brazilian Indians (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987); Ronald Raminelli, Viagens ultramarinas: Monarcas, vassalos e governo à distância (São Paulo: Alameda, 2008); Herzog, Frontiers of Possession; Domingues, “Para um melhor conhecimento.” Domingues’s essay was later reprinted in her collection of essays on governance and information in Portuguese America, Domingues, Monarcas, ministros e cientistas. On colonial mapmaking as a critical component of understanding Minas Gerais and Brazil as a geographic whole, see João Carlos Garcia, ed., A mais dilatada vista do mundo: Inventário da colecção cartográfica da Casa da Ínsua ([Lisbon]: Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 2002); Antônio Gilberto Costa et al., eds., Cartografia das Minas Gerais: Da Capitania à Província (Belo Horizonte: Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, 2002); Júnia Ferreira Furtado, “Um cartógrafo rebelde? José Joaquim da Rocha e a cartografia de Minas Gerais,” Anais do Museu Paulista 17, no. 2 (2009). Beyond the Brazilian case, John Lynch adopted the phrase “second conquest of America” to describe the coeval centralizing policies of the Spanish crown associated with the Bourbon Reforms. David Weber showed how the reforms emphasized greater administrative and economic control of Spanish America’s peripheral regions and their Native inhabitants. Although mentioning neither Portugal nor Brazil, C. A. Bayly proposed the moniker “the first age of global imperialism,” from about 1760 to 1830, an era of empire-building he considers neglected yet singularly important. John Lynch, The Spanish American Revolutions, 1808–1826, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 1986), 7–24; Weber, Bárbaros; Bayly, “First Age,” 28.

24. Perceptive studies, for example, treat the expeditions charged with fixing Brazil’s international borders after the treaties of Madrid and São Ildefonso; conquest of the southern Guarapuava plains in the 1760s; military missions dispatched to fortify the colony’s southwestern border in the 1760s and 1770s; and the scientific expeditions of Charles Marie de La Condamine, Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira, and other geostrategic and scientific ventures in the Amazon River basin in the 1780s and 1790s. See Erbig, Where Caciques and Mapmakers Met; Mário Olímpio Clemente Ferreira, O Tratado de Madrid e o Brasil meridional: Os trabalhos demarcadores das partidas do sul e a sua produção cartográfica (1749–1761) (Lisbon: Comissão Nacional para as Comemorações dos Descobrimentos Portugueses, 2001); Ana Maria de Moraes Belluzzo et al., Do contato ao confronto: A conquista de Guarapuava no século XVIII (São Paulo: BNB Paribas, 2003); Glória Porto Kok, O sertão itinerante: Expedições da Capitania de São Paulo no século XVIII (São Paulo: Hucitec, 2004); Ângela Domingues, Viagens de exploração geográfica na Amazónia em finais do século XVIII: Política, ciência e aventura (Lisboa: Instituto de Historia de Além-Mar, FCSH-UNL, 1991); Ronald Raminelli, “Do conhecimento físico e moral dos povos: Iconografia e taxionomia na Viagem Filosófica de Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira,” supplement, História, Ciências, Saúde-Manguinhos 8 (2001); Roller, “River Guides.”; Barbara A. Sommer, “Colony of the Sertão: Amazonian Expeditions and the Indian Slave Trade,” The Americas 61, no. 3 (2005); Mary Karasch, “Rethinking the Conquest of Goiás, 1775–1819,” The Americas 61, no. 3 (2005).

25. Model exceptions include Heather F. Roller, Amazonian Routes: Indigenous Mobility and Colonial Communities in Northern Brazil (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014); Domingues, Viagens de exploração.