The Founding of Palmares

The development of a slave-based economy and society in Pernambuco meant that enslaved Africans would inevitably commit forms of resistance and try to break free from their bondage. Even among the earliest shipments of enslaved Africans to Pernambuco, there is evidence that some committed grand marronage – the act of escaping with the intention of forming autonomous communities separate from the slave society. [1] These formerly enslaved Africans would escape into the rugged interior of Brazil, about fifty miles inland from the coastal regions. [2] Yet most maroon societies – termed quilombos in Brazil – that developed were quickly destroyed by the Portuguese; in fact, seven of ten major quilombos in colonial Brazil were destroyed within two years.[3]

However, the quilombo of Palmares was no ordinary quilombo. Palmares was formed by some of the first enslaved Africans to escape into Pernambuco’s interior by around 1606, and by 1612, had developed a reputation for itself, attracting significant attention from the Portuguese authorities. [4] Despite this attention, Palmares began to grow steadily, but the most significant contributor to the quilombo’s growth was the Dutch invasion of Pernambuco in 1629. [5] The fighting between the Dutch and Portuguese created opportunities for enslaved Africans to flee from their engenhos into Palmares, causing the population of the quilombo to skyrocket to nearly 30,000.[6]

A map of the quilombo of Palmares at its height during the mid-seventeenth century. Palmares was not a single village, but rather nine separate villages that were united by a common ruler.

A map of the quilombo of Palmares at its height during the mid-seventeenth century. Palmares was not a single village, but rather nine separate villages that were united by a common ruler. [7]


[1] Anderson, Robert Nelson, “The Quilombo of Palmares: A New Overview of a Maroon State in Seventeenth-Century Brazil.” Journal of Latin American Studies 28, no. 3 (1996): 550.

[2] Orser, Charles E., and Pedro P. A. Funari, “Archaeology and Slave Resistance and Rebellion.” World Archaeology 33, no. 1 (2001): 66.

[3] Kent, R. K, “Palmares: An African State in Brazil.” The Journal of African History 6, no. 2 (1965): 162.

[4] Ibid., 165

[5] Anderson, Robert Nelson, “The Quilombo of Palmares: A New Overview of a Maroon State in Seventeenth-Century Brazil.” Journal of Latin American Studies 28, no. 3 (1996): 550.

[6] Rout, Leslie B, “Race and Slavery in Brazil.” The Wilson Quarterly (1976-) 1, no. 1 (1976): 84.

[7] Orser and Funari, “Archaeology and Slave Resistance and Rebellion,” 65.