Imagem card

Gervásio Pires Ferreira

Date Born.:

Doctor, Social Science

Gervásio Pires Ferreira

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 02/01/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

It is not the first time, Sir, that a good man finds himself forced to defend from the depths of a dungeon his innocence from the attacks of the infamous slander... The perversity of four wicked men was very precise to divert the attention of the magistrates from their crimes, and to be believed by loyal vassals, that the number of the victims of misfortune should be increased, so that in the multitude they may forget their names.
Defence of Gervásio Pires Ferreira (MELO, 1973, p.39, v.2).  

On 26 June 1765, Gervásio Pires Ferreira was born in the parish of São Frei Pedro Gonçalves, located in the province of Recife (now the city of Recife). Son of Portuguese parents, he was taken by them before turning twelve to study at Mafra College in Portugal. He studied humanities and then enrolled in the Faculty of Mathematics in Coimbra.

In the meantime, Gervásio Pires was affected by a strong ophthalmia and could not stay at university beyond the first year. Not being able to continue his academic activities, he turned to commerce in Lisbon’s great square. Later, he married Genoveva Perpétua de Jesus Caldas, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and became a successful businessman.

However, fearing the decay of Portugal at the time and seeing the prosperity of Brazil, Gervásio decided to leave with his family to Pernambuco on his own ship Espada de Ferro [the Iron Sword], arriving there in 1809. He became the first local businessman in the State to undertake navigation and direct trade with Asia (to the city of Calcutta, India).

But the life of Gervásio Pires would be transformed completely with the 1817 Revolution. Although he did not hold the title of Counsellor (at least not in writing), he was charged by the Provisional Government to examine the province’s fiscal system, as well as to propose the reforms he would deem necessary. Because of this fact, Gervásio was arrested by the opposition, clasped in irons, locked in the hold of the ship Carrasco and from there sent to the prisons of Bahia, where he suffered anguish, illness, deprivation, had his assets confiscated and other hardships for exactly three years, eight months and twenty-two days.

He was accused of the vague and indeterminate crime of Lesa-Nação [crimes against the crown], as well as the arrogance or relative weakness of the provincial government Junta. Although entitled to a privileged forum, Gervásio Pires – who was imprisoned in the Courthouse jail – gave up this right in order to be tried in the Supreme Court in Lisbon.

In the records of his defence, an excerpt states: One who did not escape the slander of the slanderers is the R. [Defendant], my constituent Gervásio Pires Ferreira, who for the sufferings that he has been through, and loss of the use of his voice and right arm from the progressive increase of illness, a high price [sic] has he paid the unfortunate remembrance of having retired to Pernambuco, when he had fled with his numerous family from the second invasion of the French in Portugal, by regretting the first one that he could not avoid (MELO, 1973, p.40, V. 2).

In the records of his defence, an excerpt states: One who did not escape the slander of the slanderers is the R. [Defendant], my constituent Gervásio Pires Ferreira, who for the sufferings that he has been through, and loss of the use of his voice and right arm from the progressive increase of illness, a high price [sic] has he paid the unfortunate remembrance of having retired to Pernambuco, when he had fled with his numerous family from the second invasion of the French in Portugal, by regretting the first one that he could not avoid (MELO, 1973, p.40, V. 2).

Shortly after returning to his family, the Goiana uprising took place: the battles began again and Pernambuco was mourning. Gervásio Pires offered himself to the Captain General of the time to try to obtain peace. The resolution of the Courts and the Royal Charter had already arrived from Lisbon ordering the election of a Provincial Government Junta. Hence, on 18 September 1821, Gervásio was elected president of the regenerating and people’s government of Pernambuco.

Through arms on several occasions, the Junta shielded the province from the insane yoke of the Lusitanian dominance. A contemporary historian points out, however, that this Junta stopped recognising the Prince Regent as the Head of Executive Power in Brazil, delegated by his father the King. It only issued an ordinance to the Capital’s House of Representatives, giving it some direction for the election of the representatives to the Brazilian Constituent Assembly. One thing could be said: all learned people approved the conduct of both Gervásio Pires and the Junta.

The Crown, however, was not at all pleased. It felt that Gervásio should fight more for it – and less for the Junta – to continue serving the King (to which he had sworn allegiance), and to revere his political decisions. On the night of 2 August 1822, and on the day of the 3rd, spreading terror among the population, troops began to oppose the Government and to arrest military officers, civil servants, the County Ombudsman and a various others considered to be Enemies of Brazil and disturbers of the harmony of the Portuguese Family.

But Gervásio Pires and his advisors recognised the duty to free all these prisoners. For this purpose, they formed a Council of Citizens with the aim of guaranteeing the means necessary to ensure public tranquillity. After several conflicts, the conspirators decided to depose the Junta, despite Gervásio (and his advisors) having asked the King and the Prince for their respective dismissals. In the minutes of the time, it is recorded that the resignation of the Governor occurred from the fact that he acted, to the Prince Regent, against the troops and against the people of the city. All this, therefore, happened ten days before the famous 7 September 1822.

When the Independence of Brazil occurred, Gervásio Pires was no longer a member of the Government, nor did he reside in Pernambuco: he went initially to Bahia, in the clutches of his Portuguese enemies, and was then sent to and locked up in Lisbon’s Limoeiro Prison. He was formally charged with: 1) removing from Pernambuco the European troops commanded by the Court and King, disobeying those sovereign orders and giving rise to the anarchy which from then on, had not ceased despoiling the Province; 2) having signed the Recife House of Representatives’ term of approval on 1 June, by which the independence from Executive Power in Brazil was declared, in the person of Prince D. Pedro; 3) giving orders for the election of the Representatives to the Courts of Brazil, with this act usurping the prerogatives of sovereign as he was only the President of a Government that depended immediately on the Courts and King; 4) refusing to give passports to ships destined for Bahia, declaring that city rebellious, which was reputed to be faithful by the Courts and King; 5) and fleeing to join the rebels, after the Government of Rio de Janeiro had declared war on Portugal, and the climate was one of rebellion and hostility.

In an extremely paradoxical way, Gervásio Pires was mistreated and deposed in Pernambuco for not joining Brazil’s cause; and he was arrested, harmed and prosecuted for joining the cause in Bahia and Lisbon. Only on 14 June 1823 did Gervásio acquire his freedom; and then he decided to leave for Rio de Janeiro.

His political career did not stop there, however. From 1828, he was elected to a number of positions: Councillor of the Province, Councillor of the Government, Member of the General Assembly in the 1830-1833 legislature, and Member of the Provincial Legislative Assembly. All this without having ever volunteered himself as a candidate. However, he accepted all these positions and served the province with all his enthusiasm. Moreover, Gervásio Pires created the Treasury and Provincial Treasury; the great budget law (of 1830); the law of fixing ground forces; and the adoption of the Code of Criminal Procedure by the House of Representatives.

In spite of the great inconveniences and loss of income that the Presidency of the Government of the Province of Pernambuco and the 1817 revolution had caused him, Gervásio Pires still managed to buy and establish a cotton ginning, spinning and weaving factory in Boa Vista. In 1827, he bought the Bulhões mill – in the parish of Santo Amaro de Jaboatão – and built another mill that he named Caxito.

According to Antônio Joaquim de Melo, writer of his biography at the end of the 19th century, Gervásio Pires never obtained and/or received the slightest recognition from the Brazilian Government. On the other hand, Regents could not grant titles and decorations; and for the Acclamation of Dom Pedro II’s Lawful Age, Gervásio was no longer alive: he had died on 9 March 1838. The house in which he lived no longer exists today: it was on the right side of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men in the neighbourhood and parish of Boa Vista. Gervásio Pires left ten children and twenty-one grandchildren.

In his will, he expressly requested his beloved wife, among other things, to give a gratification of one hundred thousand reis to each of the six citizens, heads of honest families, who would like to carry his body to the church of Our Lady Of the Rosary of the Black Men and to the chapel of the Bulhões mill; a donation of one hundred ordinary white cotton shirts and a hundred cloth trousers from the Fundão factory for the prisoners and men freed from the city jail who were most in need; a gratuity of twenty thousand reis to the Brotherhood of the Church of the Rosary for his grave; and the offer of ten thousand reis to the vicar of the parish for his licence.

In the life of Gervásio Pires, therefore, it is possible to perceive how a good man who always made law the rule of his conduct could be slandered, accused of being an accomplice to a rebellion, and deprived of all royal protection. But in spite of all this, Gervásio Pires Ferreira knew how to defend the rights of the people – already under threat – and defend the dignity of the Brazilian nation, which was outraged by despotism: one of the most shameful scourges of freedom.


 Recife, 15 July 2003.
(Updated on 20 November 2007).
Translated by Peter Leamy, November 2016.

sources consulted

MELO, Antônio Joaquim de. Biografia de Gervásio Pires Ferreira. Recife: Editora Universitária, 1973. 2 v.


how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Gervásio Pires Ferreira. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.