Profiles of Women in the documents

Our documental typology starts by taking into account the origin and motivation of the documents, as mentioned in our brief ‘Documents and archives overview‘: Personal documents, Documents directed to administrative instances, and Documents originated in administrative instances.

Here we go into further detail about some documents in each of these broad types of document, and present our second layer of typolgy, that overlaps with the first but serves a different purpose: the profiles of women based on the weight of their ‘presence’ in the documents.

1. Women who wrote documents
(12 catalogue entries – ‘authors‘)

1.1 Women who wrote private letters
1.2 Women who wrote to official shperes

2. Women who had documents written for them
(65 catalogue entries – ‘indirect authors‘)

3. Women who are named in documents
(73 catalogue entries – ‘named in primary documents‘)

3.1 Women named and reported in documents
3.2 Women simply named in documents

These profile groupings are based on what we could find this far in the archives. It is evidently very marked by the kinds of documents that have been preserved in good conditions over up to 500 years – not necessarily what we wish to find, simply what can be found. We digress a little more about this in the section ‘Remarks on the significance of the documents‘.

Below are accounts of the profiles of women we are studying, as well as some examples of their stories as we can glimpse them over the documents.

1 Women who wrote documents

Given the context of our research – conducted primarily in official documents within state archives – it is not surprising to us that we have found very few documents actually written by women: only 12 such cases so far. This is, of course, the profile category that we wish to grow, and we will continue our efforts to find such documents in the following stages of the research.

For now, we present below the small but very important group of women writers we have met so far. Our direct authors fall into two categories: those who wrote private letters that were arrested as ‘evidence’ and preserved in official archives, and those who wrote to administrative officials.

1.1 Women who wrote private letters

We have catalogued six women who wrote private letters between the late 16th and early 18th century, all of them having been kept as evidence in processes by the Lisbon Inquisition. The letters have been found by the Project Post Scriptum A Digital Archive of Ordinary Writing (Early Modern Portugal and Spain) (cf. ps.clul.ul.pt) and constitutes part of their corpus, having originally been located by their researchers at the Lisbon Inquisition Fond at the Torre do Tombo National Archive.

As they are instances of private correspondence, the letters present a range of topics, all of them of very personal character, and were kept for different reasons by the Tribunal. Four of the women – Vicência Jorge (in 1591), Catarina Garcia de Cabreira (in 1592), Inês Fernandes (in 1592) and Isabel Gomes da Veiga (in 1730) – wrote letters to their husbands or companions, about varied topics, which were kept as evidence in processes against the said companions for bigamy.

Vicência Jorge. Author, 1591. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO-IL, 10755 / Projeto P.S. CARDS2253. MAP Catalog File [0150] .

Inês Fernandes. Author, 1592. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO-IL, 2555 / Projeto P.S. PS2517. MAP Catalog File [0146] .

Catarina Garcia de Cabreira. Author, 1592. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO-IL, 1476 / Projeto P.S. PSCR1143. MAP Catalog File [0142] .

Isabel Gomes da Veiga. Author, 1730. Private letter, ANTT/PS, PSCR0750. MAP Catalog File [0147] .

The three letters written by Maria Clara da Anunciação in the early 1700s were directed to her fiancé Antônio José, and kept by the church as evidence in a process against the said fiancé for breach of engagement of marriage.

Maria Clara da Anunciação. Author, 1730. Private letter, ACM-SP/PS, Arquivo da Cúria Metropolitana PGA-100/ Projeto P.S. PSCR1741. MAP Catalog File [0148] .

Finally, one of the authors of private letters, Domingas da Rosa de Morais, after writing to her husband in 1689, had the letter held against her as evidence in a process for bigamy against herself; in this case, we have also catalogued and studied the process itselft, in which Domingas was sentenced to public flogging and banned to the colony.

Domingas da Rosa de Morais. Author, 1689. Private letter, ANTT/PS, TSO, IL, 1462 / Projeto P.S. PSCR0270. MAP Catalog File [0143] .

1.2 Women who wrote to official spheres

We have found 6 documents that were written by women to civil and eclesiastical authorities, which we will present according to the archives (and therefore the sphere to which they were directed).

The first group are four documents written by women to mid-level colonial administrative officials. Three of them are letters; two letters from the end of the 18th century, kept within the ‘Morgado de Mateus’ fond at the Rio de Janeiro National Library, by Ana Maria Cardosa (1765) and by Maria Thereza de Nazaré (1769); and one letter from the early 19th century, by Antônia Felícia de Castro, kept as part of a larger process at the Capitancy of São Vicente Fond at São Paulo State Archive.

The topics in the four letters are very different in nature. Ana Maria writes to a middle-rank military officer in Atibaia, Domingos Leme do Prado, denouncing her father and brother, who sexually abuse her and her sisters. Dona Maria Thereza writes to the friar Manoel de Santana to thank him and to for the priviledges granted to her son, Antonio Vellozo de Miranda, a student of Philosophy in the Saint Francis convent in São Paulo. Antônia Felícia writes in response to a requirement, made by a third party, envolving debts she should have paid over the land inherited by her father.

Anna Maria Cardosa. Author, 1765. Letter, Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro (BNJ). Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Coleção Morgado de Mateus, Documentos Avulsos. Cota: I 30, 21, 25. MAP Catalog File [0140] .

Maria Thereza de Nazare. Author, 1769. Letter, Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, gaveta I-30, 21. MAP Catalog File [0149] .

Antônia Felícia de Castro. Author, 1816. Letter, São Paulo State Archive (APESP), 1.1.612/93-3-18. MAP Catalog File [0141] .

Also within in this group is one documents written to administrative officials in the diplomatic form of an official requirement, rather than a letter. We believe it may be deserving of special examination, as the mastering of such form of writing by a woman may be of interest in the field of the history of writing. The document was written and signed by Francisca Maria Xavier de Castro in 1791 and belongs to the Capitancy of São Vicente Fond; in it, Dona Francisca settles the deeds she is to receive over the negotiation of two enslaved men:

Francisca Maria Xavier de Castro. Author, 1791. Requirement (‘Requerimento’), São Paulo State Archive (APESP), 1.1.0697/23. MAP Catalog File [0145] .

Finally, we have found two documents – in the form of letters – written and signed by women and directed to the Lisbon Inquisition, both of them kept at the Lisbon Inquisition Fond at the Torre do Tombo National Archive: a letter by Francisca Antonieta, 1802, and a letter by Ana Isabel de Jesus, 1804. Both are denunciations of abuse from priests while the women were in the process of confession (a crime known as ‘solicitação‘, solicitation, in Portuguese).

Francisca Antonieta. Author, 1802. Letter, Portuguese National Archive – Torre do Tombo (ANTT), PT/TT/TSO-IL/028/CX1577/13655. MAP Catalog File [0144] .

Ana Isabel de Jesus. Author, 1804. Letter, Portuguese National Archive – Torre do Tombo (ANTT), PT/TT/TSO-IL/028/CX1577/13656. MAP Catalog File [0139] .

2 Women who had documents written for them

A second group of documents, which we find useful to highlight given our research purposes, are the documents that, even not having been written by women themselves, were ‘motivated’ by women. We are calling these women ‘indirect authors‘, tentatively, to indicate the fact that, although they have not taken the pen to write with their own hands, they have driven (or originated) the documents composition – and the documents, to some extent, ‘speak’ for them. The documents in this group are primarily requirements, applications, denunciations and other official instruments within official spheres of the colonial government.

We have found 65 such documents, and here we present some examples grouped by archival typology.

The largest group within this type (53 cases) is formed by general requirements, applications, complaints, etc., directed to mid-level administration spheres, denouncing, complaining and requesting official action against a very varied range of topics, which include ‘crimes against honor’, assassination attempts, property attacks (such as arsons), common thefts, theft and forgery of freedom letters from formerly enslaved and now freed and enfranchised women, marital abuse, land misappropriation, complaints about domestic services rendered and unpaid, broken promises of marriage, family abandonment and child abductions (in particular, abduction of children born to enfranchised, former enslaved women). Within this group there is one document from the Minas Gerais State Archive and 52 documents from the Captitancy of São Vicente Fond at the São Paulo State Archive.

As the first example of this typology we bring a declaration by Paula Maria Machada (no date declared), but written by Antônio da Costa Fernandes. The document is in first person, but in the final lines there is a declaration that it was written by Antônio on behalf of Paula.

And I, Paula Maria Machada, widow to Agostinho, say that my husband and I were very happy to sell our land for the price of thirty thousand réis to Francisco Barboza Teixeira and his wife Caterina Rodrigues (…)

I as witness made this [instrument] on behalf of Paula Maria Machada – Antônio da Costa Fernandes.


Paula Maria Machada. Indirect author. Declaration. São Paulo, Undated. Document written by: Fernandes, Antônio da Costa. São Paulo State Archive – 1.1.697/24. MAP Catalog File: [0131].

Most of the documents in this typology are not written in the first person. As a second example of a more frequent style in this typology and of the topics found in the documents, we bring the requirement presented by Bárbara Maria in 1817, from the Captitancy of São Vicente Fond, with a rough translation of its opening text:

Says Barbara Maria, a freed and emancipated woman as can be seen by the adjoined document, that she the complainant is over twenty years of age, more or less, and holds all the priviledges of emancipation, has no father, or any other person to whom the administration of her person may concern; and that nevertheless, that one brother of hers named Modesto, a slave to the Sargent Lucas in the Village of São João de Atibaia, has requested Your Lordship to have her arrested and delivered to his mother Domingas, inhabitant of the same said Village…

Barbara Maria. Indirect autor, 1817. Requirement (‘Requerimento’), São Paulo State Archive (APESP), 1.1.0613/93-3-44. MAP Catalog File [0087] .

Still within what we are calling ‘indirect authors’ is a special group, composed by 11 women who are plaintifs in so-called ‘Cartas de Datas‘, or land property claims, in 17th century documents found at the City of Jundiaí Concil Archive by Kathlin Carla de Morais, a colaborator to our Project. This set of documents deserve a separate regard for both diplomatic and thematic reasons; they are a particular form of official instrument, and they are very homogenous in terms of their subject, all of them being directed to the local authorities to request that land that had been ‘taken’ or occupied by the original settlers of the (then) village of Jundiaí be certified as property to the settlers or their heirs by the Crown. Finding women as plaintifs for the property in mid-17th century documents called the atention of Morais, who colaborated with the documentation and its philological edition for the Catalogue. The ‘Cartas de Datas‘ are, within our material, de documents that better represent the ‘Donas‘ (literaly, ‘owners’ – a form of treatment in Portuguese, roughly equivalent to ‘Madam’ or ‘Lady’), the women from the upper classes – mostly, in these documents, widows or daughters of early Portuguese settlers; and, we presume, white women.

Below is the complete list of the ‘Cartas de Datas‘; there are still no available facsimile images for this group of documents, but their full transcription by Morais can be read at the main M.A.P. Site.

Agostinha Rodrigues. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0074] .
Agostinha Rodrigues. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0075] .
Ana Maria Pais. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0076] .
Antônia de Paiva. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0086] .
Izabel Bicuda. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request(‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0105] .
Maria Cabral. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0112] .
Maria Fernandes. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0113] .
Maria Jorge. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0117] .
Maria Pais. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0120] .
Maria de Pinha. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0126] .
Maria dos Anjos. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0128] .
Mariana Pais. Indirect author, 1657. Land ownership certificate request (‘Carta de Data’), City of Jundiai Archive (CMJ). MAP Catalog File [0129] .

3 Women who are named in documents

The final set in our Catalogue is comprised of documents that were neither written by women nor driven by them in their composition – rather, documents that name women and (in some cases) report their speech. The first reason for including such documents in the Catalogue was the scarcity of documents actually written by women, as the previous categories will have shown. It became clear from the beginning that this scarcity of sources would force us to look to a wider universe of research, including documents that are about women rahter than authored (materially or othervise) by them. This was confirmed by the fact that up to now this is the largest group of catalogued material, with 73 instances.

3.1 Women named in documents, with their speech reported

As this research is originated in linguistics, philology and textual criticism, we are giving special and particular attention to documents in this larger group of ‘women named in documents’ in which we can find the presence of reported discourse in the textual materials. By reported discourse we mean, strictly speaking, textual material that contain linguistic markers such as dicendi verbs – as in ‘she said, she answered, she declared, she denied…’, etc., followed by an indirect reportation of a woman’s speech.

As linguists, we are acutely aware of the complexities that surround the ‘reportation’ of the discourse in most of these writings – however, we consider that, nevertheless, the documents represent valuable sources in a universe of scarcity. Currently, one of our main areas of interest as regards the linguistic and discoursive study of these documents is, precisely, to develop the analytical framework in which such ‘reported discourse’ can be critically regarded and brought to (linguistic and historiographical) examination.

Such complexity is even more to the point when we consider the archival typology involved in this subset of documents: most of them are confessions, denunciations and witness accounts included in Lisbon Inquisition processes. There are 31 such documents in our catalogue, pertaining whole or partial processes envolving ‘crimes/sins’ such as female sodomy (‘sodomia fieminarum‘), ‘judaism’, ‘heresy’ and ‘witchcraft’. As mentioned in Documents and archives : Overview, these documents were produced in the context of the ‘visitations’ of the Lisbon Inquisition to the Portuguese colonies in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

We present below one of these documents as an example, with a rough translation of one of the reported speech parts. This is the process of denounciation of Francisca Luís, compiled in Salvador, Bahia, in 1592, by the visiting principal of the Lisbon Inquisition. The selected text is the first part of Francisca’s first presentation at the Inquisitor’s ‘table’ (or visitation tribunal). She was accused of female sodomy (‘sodomia fieminarum‘), and released after paying ‘material and spiritual deeds‘.


Francisca Luís, freed black ‘crioula’ woman, from the city of O Porto, married to Domingos Soarez man of color patcher not present of whom she has no news wether living or deceased; street seller, inhabitant of this city (…) was admonished with much charity by the lord Visitor to declare and confess at this table all her blames in all her life that belong to her and to speak the truth as this will much benefit her for the discharge of her conscience; she answered that as she was in the city of O Porto about fifteen years ago she lived in closed quarters for about two months with Maria Álvares, weaver, a woman who had no husband in the house, and that after that she went to other parts and came to this Bahia, where after thirteen years of her arrival she heard Isabel Antônia say that at O Porto it was said that she the accused had sinned with the said weaver in the contra natura sin, but that she the accused at this table declares that never has she commited such sin with the said weaver…

Francisca Luis. Named in document, 1592. Inquisition process, Torre do Tombo National Archive (ANTT), TSO-IL, 13787. MAP Catalog File [0031] .

The full edition of this document, conservative and in modern Portuguese, can be seen in our Pilot Corpus.

3.2 Women simply named in documents

The second subset in this larger profile group of women named in documents again take us to the Captitancy of São Vicente Fond at the São Paulo State Archive, with 34 documents in which a woman is simply named, not necessarily with a report of her ‘speech’.

These documents are similar in nature to the ones described in 2 above – requirements, applications, complaints, etc., with the important difference that they have not been presented or driven by women, but rather, are presented by men, either on their behalf or against women, or citing women as witnesses. Regarding documents presented on the behalf of women, we have found topics such as denunciations, presented by men, of mistreatments or kidnappings of women, and request for the release of imprisoned women; as regards documents in which men accuse or present complaints against women , we have found topics such as ‘scandalous behaviour’, thefts, flights and child abandonment.

Because this group is so large, we present below an example, of a requirement made by José Pedroso on behalf of his wife Ana Rodrigues, in 1810, with a rough translation of the opening text.



Says José Pedroso, an indian from the village of Barueri presently living at the village of Parnaíba, that his wife Anna Rodriguez was arrested in the said village by a soldier for being found with a cover over her head, and they do not want to release her if the sum of 8.000 réis is not paid, and that as the said wife and the complainant himself are poor and miserable, who hardly have the necessary means not to perish from hunger, … he comes humbly at the feet of your lordship to request…

Anna Rodriguez. Named in document, 1810. Requirement, São Paulo State Archive (APESP), 1.1.608/93-1-1. MAP Catalog File [0012] .

A Word of warning

As the general observation of our typology by archive and of our profiling of women according to their ‘presence’ in the documents show, we are dealing with delicate material in our Catalogue, and it is our aim to treat this material with an according care. In our final ‘Remarks‘, we make some comments on the significance of these documents and how far they are (or are not) representative of the lives of Women in Portuguese America.