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Bernardo Vieira de Melo

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Administrator, Military, Political

Bernardo Vieira de Melo

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Last update: 04/09/2013

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

Bernardo Vieira de Melo was born in the parish of Muribeca (todayJaboatão dosGuararapes) in the State of Pernambuco, in the second half of the 17th Century. Son of Bernardo Vieira de Melo, ordinancecaptain and noble gentleman of the Royal House, and Maria CarmeladeMelo. His first marriage was to Maria de Barros, with whom he had no sons, and second was to CatarinaLeitão, with whom he had four children.

The highlight of Bernardo Vieira de Melo’s story ishis role as military, political and  administrator. He was Governor and Captain-General of the captaincy of Rio Grande do Norte (1695-1700) and pacified the region where the hostility between the Indians and the Portuguese was predominant. Prior to this, he carried out several duties: Captain of Rio Grande, Captain of Infantry, Lieutenant-Colonel of Ordinances, Captain General of Igarassu by Royal Charter of 25 September 1709, and Captain of Horses. The expeditions led by himinclude: the final assault on the Palmares ‘Quilombo’ in Pernambuco;thecombat against the Tapuias Indians in Araborá; and the one that founded the Village of Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres (1696), on the left bank of the Açu (or Piranha) River in Rio Grande do Norte, which was a stepping stone for the conquest of the semi-arid wilderness. From this village,he began the settlement of the Indians into villages, which allowed the establishment of the settlers, and consequently the appearance of the village of São João Batista da Ribeirado Céu.Completing his term as governor of Rio Grande do Norte (1700), he returned to Pernambuco and was appointed Commander of the Third Line of Recife.

However, it’s as a character of the Guerra dos Mascates (Peddlers’ War) (1709-1714) that Bernardo Vieira deMelo is best known. This war was characterised by a class struggle: that of the Portuguese traders or merchants –known as ‘mascates’ – residents of what was then the town of Recife, and the plantation barons or nobles of Olinda – the “pés rapados” (bare feet), as the peddlerscalled them.

In the early 18th Century, the Portuguese merchants adjusted the prices of their products according to their interests, even though Pernambuco was undergoing a severe economic crisis caused by falling sugar prices on the international market and the aggravating factor of the discovery of gold and diamond mines in Minas Gerais. Adding to this, the majority of African slaves were going to Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro,rather than to Recife or Salvador, as had occurred in the 16thand 17th Centuries. Therefore, the price of black slaves increased, their lack in agriculture led to a fall in yields, and the price of sugar decreased, leaving the sugarcane plantationsin a critical situation.

The nobles of the town of Olinda, created by Duarte Coelhoas the capital of Pernambuco, controlled the positions in the Senate, and would neitherallowpeddlersto be represented there nor that the status of Recifeas a village be elevated to a town, thus becoming independent from Olinda. However, it is known that the reason for all this rejection was the pride of Olinda by their nobility, class prejudice and hatred of the Portuguese merchant (claiming that they were European and not Brazilian).

To illustrate the degree of rivalry between Olinda and Recife, there is the example of the procession of the ashes: in Olinda, every year on Ash Wednesday, the Third Order of StFrancis held the procession of Ashes; in Recife there was also a monastery of St Francis, and members of that Order wanted to have the same processionthe same day but their request was always denied. The people of Olinda argued that the distance from Recife to Olinda,the bishop’s see, was too far; Recife responded to that and proved otherwise. On another occasion, Recife’spriests proposed a deal: one year the procession of asheswould leave fromOlinda,and on Thursday from Recife; in the following year would be the other way round, alternating each year. Request denied. The ‘Cabido’ (all the canons of a cathedral) even“threatened excommunication to anyone who would help the city of Recife in their objective, as well as anyone who watched the procession”. Despite this attitude, Recife continued to have the procession every year, and in the meantime, Lisbon approved Recife’srequest.

The pretext for the start of the Peddlers’War was a Royal Charter of 19 November 1709, which elevated Recife to the category of town,and the placement of the new town’spillory on 15February 1710, with the approval of Governor Sebastião de Castro e Caldas.

From these events, others followed thatsealed the fate of Bernardo Vieira de Melo: in October 1710, for giving support to the Portuguese traders, raising the pillory, and the attempt to demarcate the boundaries between the two towns, Governor Sebastião de Castro e Caldas was attacked, and along with his aides and friends, fled to Salvador; Recife was then occupied by Olinda, the pillory was destroyed, and the recently-named authorities were arrested. The rebels went to Olinda where, at a meeting in the Senate Chamber, they discussed to whomthe government should be delivered,although legallyin the line of succession, it should have beenBishop ManoelÁlvares da Costa.

According to some historians, it was at this point that the historical importance of Bernardo Vieira de Melo was defined. As alderman in the Olindacouncil, on 10November 1710, he proposed the independence of Brazil to rid the country from the Portugueseyoke with an aristocratic republican government like that of Venice. Bernardo Vieira de Meloeven admitted that in a confrontation, if necessary, it would be more honourable for the Olinda nobles to surrender to the French than to serve the peddlers. This proposal is considered, therefore, as the first Republican initiative, “the first cry of independence” in Brazil. However, there is a considerable controversy around this fact dueto the absence of documents proving his proposal. The Minutes of the Senate’smeeting in which the proposal would have occurred have never been located. Still, faced with a range of evidence and considering the Peddlers’War to be a “real class struggle between the Olinda nobility and the bourgeoisie of Recife”, many historians accept the Republican character of the movement.
Because of that proposal for independence and his actions against the peddlers, Bernardo Vieira de Melo was attacked, persecuted, had a bounty placed on his head, surrendered to authorities and was arrested, along with other leaders in Pernambuco, his son and some relatives. They were kept at Fort Brum, then were sent to Lisbon and there imprisoned in Limoeiro Prison. On 10January 1714, the illustrious Pernambuco mandied in prison, in the arms of his son, and was buried in the Carmelite Monastery, Portugal. His son André Vieira de Melo died on 14April 1715.

Recife, 25 October 2006.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.



sources consulted

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ASSU. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 15 set. 2006.

BERNARDO Vieira de Melo.  Disponível em:  .  Acesso em: 15 set. 2006.

BURIL, Gilka Tavares. Bernardo Vieira de Melo. Anuário de Olinda, Olinda, anos 1961-1962, p. 15-16, dez. 1962.

FERRER, Vicente. Guerra dos Mascates (Olinda e Recife). Lisboa: Livraria Ventura Abrantes, 1914.

A GUERRA dos bárbaros: feitos e sonhos de Vieira de Melo. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 15 set. 2006.

GUERRA dos Mascates: as suas causas. Feliz Natal, Olinda, ano 3, n. 3, p. 10, 1948.

MARTINS, Joaquim Dias. Os mártires pernambucanos victimas da liberdade nas duas revoluções ensaiadas em 1710 e 1817. Pernambuco: Typ. de G. C. de Lemos e Silva, 1853.

MELLO, Mário. A guerra dos mascates como afirmação nacionalista. Revista do Instituto Arqueológico, Histórico e Geográfico Pernambucano, Recife, v. 36, p. 7-116, 1939-1940.

POPULAÇÃO ignora republicano famoso. Disponível em: . Acesso em: 15 set. 2006.


how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Bernardo Vieira de Melo. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009