Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 June 2007
This small but extraordinary document casts light on the ways in which slaves and former slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who, though illiterate or barely literate themselves, nevertheless used writing to press for what they wanted or thought they had a claim to. Poor Brazilians generally could not read or write, nor could many who were far better off, but slaves and former slaves are the subject here because written culture impinged on them in particular ways. In many of their writings freedom is a repeated theme—getting it and using it—but not the only one. Occasionally, a slave appealed through the courts to be removed from an abusive master's authority. Former slaves who accumulated property of their own might pass it on to heirs named in a will. Petty commerce and personal business involving money and receipts drew unlettered slaves and freed people into countless informal written transactions.