QUERY: Colonial gold mining, esp. Brazil

Vera S. Candiani's picture

Dear colleagues:

I'm in need of recommendations for readings on two topics relating to gold.

Priority is gold mining in colonial Brazil in particular, but also elsewhere in the Ibero-Americas during the colonial period. It's for a graduate course, mainly. 

Parallel to that, I'd also be grateful for readings on gold coinage and minting in Spanish and Portuguese empires.

English would be great, but I'll take any language.

With gratitude for any leads,


Vera S. Candiani
Department of History, Princeton University
   Books: Dreaming of ​Dry Land. Environmental Transformation in Colonial Mexico City (Stanford, 2014)
       CLAH Elinor Melville Prize 2015



Dear Professor Vera Candiani,

As a Max Weber Programme at the EUI, my research focuses on Gold mining and Diamonds in Brazil and inter-continental slave trade. The mining region was the largest slave system in the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century. Also, my research project "Neither coffee nor sugar" deals with the monetary system and slave trade.
I'd like to suggest:
Ramos, Donald. 1988. Slavery in Brazil: A case Study of Diamantina, Minas Gerais. The Americas, 45 (1): 47-59.
Bergad, Laird. 1999. Slavery and the Demographic and Economic History of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1720–1888. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Costa, Leonor Freire, Rocha, Maria Manuela, and Brito, Paulo. 2018. “The Alchemy of Gold: Interest Rates, Money Stock, and Credit in Eighteenth-Century Lisbon: alchemy of gold.” The Economic History Review 71 (4): 1147–72.
Evans, Chris. 2013. “Brazilian Gold, Cuban Copper and the Final Frontier of British Anti-Slavery”, Slavery and Abolition, 34: 118-134.
Depeyrot, Georges; Flynn, Dennis. 2016. From underground to End-Users: Global Monetary history in scientific context. Wetteren: Moneta.

Best regards,
Télio Cravo
European University Institute - Max Weber Programme, Postdoctoral Fellow

An excellent study of social dynamics in the Brazilian gold mining context is:

Higgins, Kathleen J., _Licentious Liberty in a Brazilian Gold-Mining Region: Slavery, Gender, and Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Sabara', Minas Gerais_ (The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania, 1999).

Best, Joanne Kropp, PhD, The University of Texas at El Paso (Retired)

I would also suggest A.J.R. Russell-Wood's synthetic chapter in the Cambridge History of Latin America.

C.R. Boxer's, The Golden Age of Brazil, is very old, but still very good on the details of mining and mining society.

Marshall Eakin
Vanderbilt University

I concur with all excellent suggestions already mentioned, especially Russell-Wood's synthetic chapter and Higgins' book. I'd add TePaske's "A New World of Gold and Silver" as a more general overview. Antonil's "Brazil at the Dawn of eighteenth-century" is an invaluable primary source. Costa & Rocha's "O Ouro do Brasil" is excellent, as everything they have published on the matter. Might be useful to check Carlos Kelmer Mathias's "As Múltiplas Faces da Escravidão". On coinage and minting, I suggest Fernando Cerqueira Lima & Rita Martins de Sousa, "Production, Supply and Circulation of National Gold Coins in Brazil (1703-1807)", 2017. If you're interested in trade and smuggling, Chris Ebert's "From Gold to Manioc: Contraband Trade in Brazil during the Golden Age, 1700–1750" (2011) is a good option for Europe, as is Carlos Silva Jr. "Enslaving Commodities: Tobacco, Gold, Cowry Trade, and Trans-Imperial Networks in the Bight of Benin (c. 1690s–c. 1790s)" (2021) - among many other options, of course!

Thiago Krause
2022-2023 Member - Institute for Advanced Study

Regarding minting, TePaske's monograph is great for quantitative approaches and the basics of the institutions (he includes Brazil and Spanish America):
John Jay TePaske, A New World of Gold and Silver, vol. 21, Atlantic World (Leiden, Netherlands; Boston: Brill, 2010).

The mints in Lima and Potosí only coined silver until gold coinage was permitted in the 1690s (Lima) and 1770s (Potosí). Eduardo Dargent's essays on these two mints in this volume are helpful:
Gonzalo Anes y Álvarez de Castrillón and Guillermo Céspedes del Castillo, eds., Las cecas indianas en 1536-1825 (Madrid: Museo Casa de la Moneda, 1996).
- I would also recommend Carlos Lazo García, Economía colonial y régimen monetario: Perú, siglos XVI-XIX (Lima: Banco Central de Reserva del Perú, Fondo Editorial, 1992).

For social history, see Felipe Castro Gutiérrez on the Mexico City Mint and the recent essays by Kris Lane and myself on the one in Potosí.
- Felipe Castro Gutiérrez, Historia social de la Real Casa de Moneda de México (México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2012).
- Kris Lane, “Slavery and the Casa de La Moneda in Seventeenth-Century Potosí,” in Territorios de Lo Cotidiano, Siglos XVII - XX: Del Antiguo Virreinato Del Perú a La Argentina Contemporánea, ed. Mónica Ghirardi (Rosario: Prohistoria Ediciones, 2014), 101–14
- Kris Lane, “From Corrupt to Criminal: Reflections on the Great Potosí Mint Fraud of 1649,” in Corruption in the Iberian Empires: Greed, Custom, and Colonial Networks, ed. Christoph Rosenmüller (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 33–62.
- James Almeida "Suspicious Possession: Policing Silver and Making Race in Colonial Potosí," Colonial Latin American Review 30:4 (2021), 545-564.

Estimados colegas,
Many, many thanks for the very helpful suggestions on gold mining in Brazil and Nueva Granada, as well as minting and circulation. I am now much better armed.
Vera Candiani
Princeton University

Dear Vera,
I will add some:

Claudia Leal's first chapter of her book Landscapes of freedom does an excellent job showing how gold was crucial for both the enslavement of thousands of Africans and their emancipation. It cites also a lot of the relevant work on mining in New Granada, in the colonial period.

Colonial Placer Mining in New Granada written by Robert West is a classic, with a lot of detailed information for mining in the Spanish America.

Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage Governing through Slavery in Colonial Quito by Sherwin K. Bryant may also be of your interest.

Although a bit old, there is abundant literature in Spanish for New Granada's case. If you are interested I can send you more.

Best wishes,
Lorena Campuzano