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Maranhão Inventories Slave Database

Peer-Reviewed Data Article

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“Felup” in Elisée Reclus, Africa and Its Inhabitants, Vol. II (London: H. Virtue and Company, 1899, 180-1).

Volume 1 Issue 1

Maranhão Inventories Slave Database


Walter Hawthorne

Michigan State University

Date Published


How to Cite

Hawthorne, Walter. "Maranhão Inventories Slave Database." Journal of Slavery and Data Preservation 1, no. 1 (2020).

Article DOI

Article Rights

Copyright: Walter Hawthorne

Article License

Dataset Publisher

Harvard Dataverse

Dataset Identifier

Banner Image Citation

Page in 1767 slave inventory from Maranhão, Brazil, stored in an uncatalogued box at the Tribunal de Justiça do Estado do Maranhão in São Luís.

This dataset contains information about the lives of about 8,188 slaves in Maranhão, Brazil from the mid-eighteenth century through the early nineteenth century. From the captaincies founding to the middle of the eighteenth century, there were very few enslaved people of African descent (negros) in the country. Native peoples (indios) were forced by white settlers (brancos) to perform the lion’s share of labor in fields and in towns. However, over a quarter of a century, a dramatic shift took place as enslaved Africans imported by the Portuguese Companhia Geral do Grão Pará e Maranhāo became the primary labor source. A census of the population of Maranhão, in 1787 recorded the total population of the captaincy at about 99,000 of which about 10% were indio, 30% branco, and 59% negro. The census did not distinguish free from enslaved negros, but the overwhelming majority were slaves. By 1800, about a third of the enslaved negro population was crioulo or Brazilian born. Descriptions of the local population frequently include other categories as well: cafuzo (descendant of a indio and negro parents), mameluco (descendant of branco and indio parents), and mulato (descendant of branco and negro parents).

Data for the Maranhão Inventories Slave Database (MISD) was derived from inventories of slaveholders’ possessions that can be found in uncatalogued boxes in the Arquivo Judiciário do Estado do Maranhão, in São Luis, Brazil. When a property owner in the captaincy died, a representative of the state tallied his or her possessions—including slaves. Inventory takers usually made extensive notes about slaves. Typically, they recorded slaves’ names, approximate ages, marriage partners, children, professions or skills, monetary values, and “defects” (injuries and illnesses). Slaves’ original (African) names are not recorded. Slaves in Brazil were baptized and given new names. Inventory takers also asked slaves from what “nation” they hailed. To the question “What is your nation?” slaves often answered with the name of an ethnic group. This is particularly true of enslaved people from Upper Guinea, the largest slave supplying region for Maranhão, Brazil. Such responses tell us who slaves thought they were—what identities they chose to emphasize. Since ethnic identities can be traced to particular regions in Africa, recordings of slaves’ identities also reveal from where they hailed.

I drew conclusions from the dataset for my monograph From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1830, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010;  and for “From ‘Black Rice’ to 'Brown’: Rethinking the History of Risiculture In the Seventeenth- and Eighteenth Century Atlantic," The American Historical Review 115, 1 (February 2010), 151-163, among other articles. It has been cited in a variety of books and articles by other scholars.

Date Data Collected

2004 - 2005

Languages of the Data



Coverage Spatial








Guinea Bissau






São Luís

Upper Guinea

Temporal Coverage

1767 - 1831

Document Type(s)

Census or Register


Data was derived from inventories of slaveholders’ possessions that can be found in un-catalogued boxes in the Arquivo Judiciário do Estado do Maranhāo in São Luis, Brazil. The documents are in Portuguese. The column (or field) headings I created for the MISD are in English. The database contains 20 fields, which reflect information that inventory takers typically recorded. I did not create the database with publication in mind, so I did not always follow best practices. I standardized the spelling of ethnonyms, which sometimes showed variations from inventory to inventory. I translated some terms into English. For example, inventory takers used the Portuguese words for man and woman. I record these as M (male) and F (female). Moreover, I sometimes drew inferences. For example, gender was not noted, I inferred it based on the baptismal name and based on words used. For example, in Portuguese uma escrava means a female slave and um escravo means a male slave. For my research, I was interested in slaves' origins, so I created fields denoting Upper Guinea coast and Upper Guinea interior, along with Mina, Angola and Mozambique (Moçambique). These regional designations do not appear in documents, though Guine, Mina, Angola and Mozambique sometimes appear as ethnonyms.

Source Citations

Inventories of Slaveholders’ Possessions. Un-catalogued Boxes. Arquivo Judiciário do Estado do Maranhão (São Luis, Brazil).


National Endowment for the Humanities

Fulbright Hays

Matrix: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University

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