Brazilian Gold Rush

The Brazilian Gold Rush was a gold rush that started in the 1690s, in the then Portuguese colony of Brazil in the Portuguese Empire. The gold rush opened up the major gold-producing area of Ouro Preto (Portuguese for black gold), then the aptly named Vila Rica ("Rich Town").[1] Eventually, the Brazilian Gold Rush created the world's longest gold rush period and the largest gold mines in South America.

Brazilian Gold Rush
Ouro Preto - Praça Tiradentes in southeastern Brazil where the Brazilian Gold Rush began in 1690s
DateLate 17th-late 19th century
LocationOuro Preto, Minas Gerais, Portuguese colony of Brazil, Portuguese Empire
CauseGold discovered by the bandeirantes in the mountains of Minas Gerais
Participants400,000 Portuguese miners
Brazilian miners
British miners
Other European miners
500,000 African slaves
OutcomeCreated the world's longest gold rush period and the largest gold mines in South America

The rush began when bandeirantes discovered large gold deposits in the mountains of Minas Gerais.[2] The bandeirantes were adventurers who organized themselves into small groups to explore the interior of Brazil. Many bandeirantes were of mixed indigenous and European background who adopted the ways of the natives, which permitted them to survive in the interior rainforest. While the bandeirantes searched for indigenous captives, they also searched for mineral wealth, which led to the gold being discovered.

More than 400,000 Portuguese and half a million African slaves came to the gold region to mine. Many people abandoned the sugar plantations and towns in the northeast coast to go to the gold region. By 1725, half the population of Brazil was living in southeastern Brazil.

Officially, 850 tons of gold were sent to Portugal in the 18th century. Other gold circulated illegally, and still other gold remained in the colony to adorn churches and for other uses.[3]

The municipality became the most populous city of Latin America, counting on about 40 thousand people in 1730 and, decades after, 80 thousand. At that time, the population of New York was less than half of that number of inhabitants and the population of São Paulo did not surpass 8 thousand.[4]

Minas Gerais was the gold mining center of Brazil. Slave labor was generally used for the workforce.[5] The discovery of gold in the area caused a huge influx of European immigrants and the government decided to bring in bureaucrats from Portugal to control operations. They set up numerous bureaucracies, often with conflicting duties and jurisdictions. The officials generally proved unequal to the task of controlling this highly lucrative industry.[6] In 1830, the St. John d'el Rey Mining Company, controlled by the British, opened the largest gold mine in Latin America. The British brought in modern management techniques and engineering expertise. Located in Nova Lima, the mine produced ore for 125 years.[7]

See also


  1. C. R. Boxer, "Brazilian Gold and British Traders in the First Half of the Eighteenth Century," Hispanic American Historical Review (1969) 49#3 pp. 454-472 in JSTOR
  2. "Ouro Preto." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. 27 Apr. 2009
  3. "Ouro Preto Ouro Preto". Archived from the original on 2016-03-10. Retrieved 2016-09-15.
  4. Ouro Preto
  5. Kathleen J. Higgins, Licentious Liberty in a Brazilian Gold-Mining Region: Slavery, Gender & Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Sabara, Minas Gerais (1999)
  6. A. J. R. Russell-Wood, "Local Government in Portuguese America. A Study of Cultural Divergence," Comparative Studies in Society & History (1974) 16#2 pp 187-231.
  7. Marshall C. Eakin, British Enterprise in Brazil: The St. John d'el Rey Mining Company & the Morro Velho Gold Mine, 1830-1960 (1990)
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