The potentates of Gold and strategies for social mobility.
How to become nobility in the tropics
(Minas Gerais - XVIII century)
Cláudia Otoni1
Prefeitura Municipal de Belo Horizonte
The origins of potentates relate to the discovery of gold, relying on private militias of armed
slaves, making deals under life-threatening manners and using the rents from their own farms, this
group of powerful men sometimes cooperated with the Crown, seeking to obtain privileges,
sometimes remained independent, facilitating the waywardness of gold or heading revolts in the
hinterlands of Minas Gerais.
If at first the rulers confronted the Crown in their "territories of power," they also gave rise to
contribute to the metropolitan interests through impediment of riots, defense planning, aid in the
charging the fee called the fifth, and by turning their subordinates available.
The power of ruling through networks of solidarity gave them the social recognition giving
rise to a political culture characterized by domination and privately supported not only by a cultural
tradition based on honor and bravery, but also by negotiation with the Crown in search of
The nobility in Portuguese America was formed from the favors given by monarchs. It was
not a blood and hereditary nobility, but one related to the land that required a right to it by providing
services to the Crown through the acquisition and maintenance of territories , approaching the idea
of nobility coming from the process of the Reconquista in Portugal.
By drawing a profile of these potentates, some already inventoried by historiography, it is
perceived that they were conquerors or descendants of any conqueror. They held positions in the
administration, and got involved in the Holy Office, had land grants and titles, and had under his
command many captives. Aiming to enhance their own homes, the potentates used various
strategies to keep their position as in their marriage and insertion in the town council, which
facilitated access to other privileges and their signs of distinction.
This article intends to raise these strategies for social ascent of potentates in Minas Gerais in
the eighteenth century, demonstrating that their power is maintained not only by the ability to offer
Pós-graduada em História Moderna e Contemporânea (PUC-Minas,1992); pós-graduanda em História e Cultura de
Minas Gerais (PUC-Minas, 2010); professora de História pela Prefeitura Municipal de Belo Horizonte.
and return benefits in their informal practices, but because they were fully included in the cultural
universe of ennoblement from a political culture of the Portuguese Crown.
Keywords: power of leadership; solidarity networks; ennoblement; political culture.

Minas Gerais - XVIII century