Soldiers of Misfortune,
Soldiers by Lot
‘‘Soldado de amor’’
Sou soldado, sentei praça
Na gentil tropa de amor;
Jurei as suas bandeiras,
Nunca serei desertor.
‘‘Soldier of Love’’
I am a soldier, I enlisted
In the gentle corps of love;
I swore an oath to its banners,
I will never be a deserter.
—Domingos Caldas Barbosa,
Verse of an eighteenth-century song
Portuguese o≈cials in Rio de Janeiro summarily punished the mulatto
composer Domingos Caldas Barbosa in the early 1760s by forcing him to
serve as a common soldier. This unwilling recruit later became the most
popular troubadour of the eighteenth-century Portuguese empire. The
veteran would mine his troubled past for inspiration, and his army experi-
ence supplied him with a powerful metaphor. Domingos Caldas Barbosa’s
life, race, and song provide a revealing introduction to this examination of
army recruitment and enlisted service, which I use to explore the under-
studied world of Brazil’s free poor and their interaction with the State
from 1864 to 1945. Even though Domingos lived in colonial times, his
legacy loomed large in the late 1800s when an independent Brazilian State
attempted to reform military recruitment and abolish slavery.
The son of an Angolan slave and an unidentified Portuguese merchant,
Domingos grew up in the city of Rio de Janeiro (hereafter, Rio) before
this lushly forested and mountain-ringed tropical port became Brazil’s
colonial capital in 1763. The boy’s father recognized Domingos as his
natural son, manumitted him, and provided privileged Jesuit schooling.