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The Rise and Fall of a Lisbon Family Business, 1710–1773: The Case of the House of Torres

  • João Paulo Salvado

Abstract

By weaving the political economy of the Portuguese empire into business history, this article highlights the role of metropolitan and colonial tax farming in the rise and fall of an elite that dominated the business scene in both mainland Portugal and colonial Brazil between roughly 1730 and 1760. It takes the Torres family business as a case study and argues that, while tax farming undoubtedly represented an opportunity to accumulate private wealth, it was also a risky business. Adding to the irregularity of fiscal income, tax farming imposed strict rules on tax farmers, deriving from the legal framework for public finance, while the Crown's policy of seeking to maximize revenue through competitive bidding also increased the risks to which they were exposed. While being highly concentrated on tax farming in Portugal and the South Atlantic empire allowed the Torres family business to amass extraordinary wealth, it also proportionately increased the firm's exposure to those risks, which were then further compounded by a succession problem that eventually led to its demise.

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João Paulo Salvado is research fellow at CIDEHUS, University of Évora. His current interests comprise state formation, empire-building, business history, and merchant elites.

1

Holder of a post-doctoral grant funded by FCT—Foundation for Science and Technology (Portugal)—and POPH/FSE (EC) (SFRH/BPD/88967/2012). This work is also financed by national funds by FCT under the project UID/HIS/00057/2013 (POCI-01–0145-FEDER-007701), FCT, COMPETE, FEDER, Portugal 2020.

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The Rise and Fall of a Lisbon Family Business, 1710–1773: The Case of the House of Torres

  • João Paulo Salvado

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