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José Mariano

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Abolicionista pernambucano


José Mariano

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 29/08/2017

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

On 8 August 1850, José Mariano Carneiro da Cunha was born in the manor house of the Caxangá mill, in the district of Ribeirão, which at the time was in the municipality of Gameleira. The environment of mills and sugar plantations, as well as the structure of the manor houses and slave quarters, greatly influenced him. He went to live in Recife, joined the Faculty of Law and graduated in 1870, in the same class as Joaquim Nabuco. In this context, he was additionally acquainted with Rui Barbosa, and is identified soon with the abolitionist movement that spread between the populist layers and intellectual and political means. He then collaborated on newspapers, magazines and in various associations.

In Recife, José Mariano founded the newspaper A Provincia [The Province], which was a combative instrument that strongly advocated the liberation of slaves and greatly influenced public opinion. The first issue of the newspaper came out on 6 September 1872, about a year after the signing of the Free Womb Act (Rio Branco Law).

Like Joaquim Nabuco, Barros Sobrinho, João Ramos, Alfredo Pinto, Phaelante da Câmara, Vicente do Café and Leonor Porto, José Mariano was a member of the emancipatory association Clube do Cupim [Termite Club], founded in 1884, which freed, defended and protected slaves. Leonor Porto, in turn, founded and chaired another association: Aves Libertas [Free Birds], and Religious Orders – in particular, the Benedictines – also began to free their slaves from 1870.

At that time, a person of great importance in the community was the wife of José Mariano, the Recife-born Olegaria da Costa Gama. By her kindness and dedication to the slaves, she was nicknamed “mother of the poor” and “mother of the people”. Olegaria always supported runaway slaves, those stolen from slave quarters, or freedmen. Many of them escaped on barges laden with grass and branches, which passed in front of the Police Headquarters on Aurora Street.

Even when José Mariano was arrested, suffering countless humiliations and terrible torture, Olegaria continued to fight for the abolition of slavery. She even pledged her own jewellery to finance the expenses related to the election of Joaquim Nabuco, an abolitionist colleague, to the post of deputy general in 1887.

José Mariano was considered a communicative speaker, a courageous abolitionist, and one of the public men who most enjoyed the people’s sympathy in Pernambuco. Even when he was separated from the people and imprisoned, he showed his abolitionist and republican tendencies. He had courageous attitudes and his name was a banner. He managed to be elected representative in 1886, but the election was contested and José Mariano lost his seat.

On 13 May 1888, Princess Isabel signed the Golden Law declaring slavery to be abolished in Brazil. Together with national public opinion, the leaders of the redemptive campaign were consecrated: Joaquim Nabuco, José Mariano, José do Patrocínio, André Rebouças. A little more than a year later, the Republic was proclaimed by Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, on 15 November 1889. Deodoro’s government lasted only two years, however: with this resignation, the so-called Iron Marshal – Marshal Floriano Peixoto – assumed The Presidency of the Republic.

The name of José Mariano was among the representatives to the Constituent Assembly in 1890, and in 1891 he was elected Mayor of Recife. Shortly afterwards, Alexandre José Barbosa Lima – considered an authoritarian and Florianist – assumed the Government of Pernambuco. José Mariano immediately launched his opposition, publishing a series of articles against Marshal Floriano Peixoto. As a result of this, he was arrested in his residence (in Poço da Panela), and locked away in Fort Brum, under the accusation of conspiring with the Armada revolt.

José Mariano managed to be released from the dungeon, however, and assumed representative’s chair. The population of Recife was very fond of him. All the streets and houses, from the docks of the port, to Poço da Panela, were decorated and flew flags to welcome the return of the abolitionist. At the time, he also made a famous speech in the Chamber, which lasted five hours, narrating the martyrdom experienced as a prisoner.

But the general mood was one of much political conflict. In this context, the famous political journalist José Maria de Albuquerque Melo was murdered on 24 May while visiting an electoral section and protesting against illegalities practiced by the president of the table, the so-called Major Pataca. The Major shot the journalist several times, and as he was not allowed medical assistance, José Maria soon died. The incident shook Recife and had repercussions throughout the country. José Mariano immediately wrote an article on the subject, entitled A tragédia de Pernambuco [The Tragedy of Pernambuco], published in the Jornal do Comércio of Rio.

On 24 April 1898, due to the complications of a flu, Olegaria, the beloved wife of José Mariano, died. He was in Rio de Janeiro and could not even attend the funerals provided by the Pernambuco population, who idolised her and was very sorry for the fact. It is said that many black people committed suicide, poisoning themselves or throwing themselves into the Capibaribe River. The so-called Mother of the Poor had a solemn burial.

After such a painful loss, José Mariano moved away from political struggles. In 1899, he was appointed Officer of the Registry of Titles by President Rodrigues Alves, and was also presented with an Office of Titles and Documents on Rua do Rosário in Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately, not long afterwards, José Mariano Carneiro da Cunha became ill and died on 8 June 1912. At the expense of the State, the ship Ceará transported his embalmed body to Recife. A statewide period of mourning was decreed for three days, and there was a general commotion at his funeral. People were throwing flowers on his coffin and many were crying. To honour this illustrious abolitionist from Pernambuco, the newspaper A Lanceta published some verses in its edition of 12 June 1912, which end like this:

Cry ... cry Brazil for your great misery.
Because the cedar has fallen!

A statue was later erected in Poço da Panela and the quay along one of the banks of the Capibaribe River, in the centre of Recife was given his name: Cais José Mariano. His contemporaries, however, always wanted him to be remembered as an excellent popular orator, a great abolitionist and republican, and especially a Pernambuco man who gave everything of himself to his country.

Recife, 18 July 2003.
(Updated on 17 March 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

sources consulted

JOSÉ Mariano [Foto neste texto]. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: 28 ago. 2017.

PARAHYM, Orlando. José Mariano. Recife: Dialgraf, 1976.

SILVA, Jorge Fernandes da. Vidas que não morrem. Recife: Secretaria de Educação, Departamento de Cultura, 1982.


how to quote this text

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