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Handwritten note from Princess Isabel

Handwritten note from Princess Isabel

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Princess Isabel, exiled in France, comments on the controversial subject of Vilarejos da Liberdade.

Handwritten note from Princess Isabel to Senhor Massa. In French. No date, in France. 13.7 cm x 9.6 cm. Excellent condition. Single piece.

Dear Mr Massa

My thanks for the precious books you just sent me to my dear Vilarejos de Liberdade. You have all my sympathy.

Isabelle Comtesse d'Eu

Since childhood, we Brazilians have learned that May 13th should be celebrated, since it was on that date, in 1888, that Princess Isabel signed the well-known Lei Áurea, which put an end to slavery in Brazil. Currently, we know that the use of the word “end” with regard to the forced labor of Africans brought to the country is, to say the least, questionable, since the vestiges of this practice still permeate our society today. Even so, the Lei Áurea is a historical landmark in this long journey of the search for equality, and hence the great importance of the woman who signed it, but, after all, what was the relationship between Princess Isabel and the abolitionist movement?

There is much debate about the real abolitionist spirit of the monarch who made slavery illegal in Brazil. Would Isabel have acted with the welfare of the slaves in mind? It is known that, in the last decades of the 19th century, the end of slavery was already a path of no return, no matter how much the slaveholding aristocracy tried to postpone it, as it did in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to sign the abolition. Even with all the opposition, the freedom train would eventually arrive at the station, as the external and internal pressure for abolition was very strong. That said, the fact of signing this law may have been, in Isabel's eyes, a last gasp in the struggle to keep the monarchy firm, another institution that, at the time, was already in ruins. Was that the only reason for the princess's illustrious attitude?

To rekindle this discussion, new historical documents seem to demonstrate Princess Isabel's interest in the subject of slavery beyond the Brazilian situation. One of them is the letter in which she thanks you for the books sent to her dear Vilarejos da Liberdade. But what were these villages anyway? In French West Africa, between 1887 and 1910, the Vilarejos da Liberdade were created with an initially noble purpose: to welcome freed slaves during abolition. However, its use did not take long to become corrupted, and the villages became granaries of forced labor for the French administration, which built such villages close to its centers of power, and organized them as prisons. The conditions of life and work were so deplorable that the workers who managed to escape preferred to submit to an African boss than to return to serve the French colonizers.

New information brings to light aspects that help us to unravel the complexity of the characters that populate our history. What, then, could be Princess Isabel's interest in the so-called Vilarejos da Liberdade? Did he study them during his stay in France? Perhaps this model of freedom interested you to apply it in Brazil? If so, was she aware of the real purpose of these villages? All these unanswered questions still generate great intrigue, however it is a fact that the correspondence of the Brazilian monarch shows a concern for the subject.

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