Introduction to the English- Language Edition
Mary Ann Mahony
Slave traders transported more Africans to Brazil than to any other part of
the Americas. Between about 1570 and 1857, slave ships disembarked some
4.5 million Africans in Brazilian ports.1 Brazil was one of the first Eu ropean
colonies in the Americas in which enslaved Africans toiled on plantations and
in mines, and it was the last place in the hemi sphere to abolish slavery. The
enslavement of Africans and their descendants, thus, marks Brazil strongly.
Nowhere is Brazil’s African heritage clearer than in the northeastern state
(formerly province) of Bahia. Enslaved African and Afro- descended laborers
made Bahia one of the wealthiest plantation regions in the Americas as early
as the sixteenth century. In 1870, when Crossroads of Freedom opens, between
seventy thousand and eighty thousand Africans and their descendants lived
and labored in Bahia’s most impor tant sugar- producing region, the Recôn-
cavo. Indeed, as many as twenty- two thousand lived in the two largest Bahian
sugar- producing municipalities alone— Santo Amaro and São Francisco do
Conde. Although the number of enslaved laborers was shrinking in Brazil
at the time because of the end of the slave trade and the passage of the Law
of the Free Womb in 1871, slavery remained the dominant form of labor on
Recôncavo sugar plantations until slavery ended on May 13, 1888. Even as
abolition approached, these enslaved Africans and Afro- Bahians produced
an average of 41,800 tons of cane sugar annually for some of the most impor-
tant planters and po litical figures in nineteenth- century Brazil.2 As Walter
Fraga shows, when abolition was promulgated, ex- slaves ceased to work
for the sugar planters under the old conditions. Their efforts to control their
lives, exercise their newfound freedom, and change the terms of labor in the
Recôncavo brought sugar production crashing down in 1888 and left planters
struggling to cope financially and emotionally. Crossroads of Freedom tells
this story.
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