November 24, 2014 by nmsantos
At the end of the 17th century, Brazil’s sugar industry was struggling. Following the prosperity of the sugar mills of Dutch, French, and English colonies in Latin America, Brazil found itself faced with a serious economic crisis. It took this crisis, and the subsequent discovery of gold, to not only pull Brazil out of this economic slump, but also to give rise to a port city that would play a vital role in Brazil’s new economy.
The first major discovery of gold in Brazil took place in 1697, in the hinterlands of Taubaté (located between modern-day Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro). It was deemed to have been of very high quality, and thus inspired a gold rush to the Ouro Preto (then called Vila Rica) region of Minas Gerais in the 1700s.
This gold rush was characterized by a boom in population in the southeastern part of Brazil, as more people migrated from Portugal to participate in the rush and as colonists abandoned their struggling plantations in the northeast of Brazil. In addition, many slaves were brought to the Minas Gerais region to work the mines.
As a result of this increase in economic activity in the south, Rio de Janeiro became a bustling economic center and a major port city that would supply Brazil’s mines with domestic and foreign goods, while also exporting the mines’ riches abroad. The discovery of gold expanded trade routes and turned Rio de Janeiro into a cosmopolitan area that would become Brazil’s new colonial capital in 1763. Gold production rose dramatically until 1760, but it is impossible to know just how much gold was produced in Brazil due to widespread contraband and smuggling.
Miners prospecting for gold near the town of Tejuco in the Minas Gerais region made Brazil’s first diamond discovery in 1725. Following the discovery, a diamond rush ensued in the Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso regions. Rio de Janeiro’s status as an important economic hub solidified. “No colonial port in the world is so well situated for general commerce as Rio de Janeiro,” writes John Mawe of his visit to Brazil in the early 1800s. His description of Rio de Janeiro’s trade details the intimate relationship between Brazil’s mining districts, Rio de Janeiro, and the rest of the world, and also paints a picture of the hustle and bustle of Rio as a port city. (See pages 139-143 of his book in Additional Readings.)
 Simões, Ricardo Torre. Paula Ferreira. Clube De Autores, 2010.
 Antonil, André João. Cultura E Opulencia Do Brasil Por Suas Drogas E Minas. Lisboa, Portugal, 1711.
 Bicalho, M.F. “O Rio De Janeiro No Século XVIII: A Transferência Da Capital E a Construção Do Território Centro-sul Da América Portuguesa.” Revista Eletrônica Do CIEC, 2006. Accessed November 20, 2014. http://www.ifch.unicamp.br/ciec/revista/artigos/dossie1.pdf.
 Eakin, Marshall C. Brazil: The Once and Future Country. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.
 Mawe, John. Travels in the Interior of Brazil, Particulary in the Gold and Diamond Districts of That Country. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1812.