SOUSA, Tomé de (?-1579)
Illegitimate son of João de Sousa, Abbot of Rates, who in turn was the fifth son of Pêro de Sousa, Lord of Prado and member of the Royal Council, Tomé de Sousa had little hope for his future during his childhood and adolescence. The sparse information that can be obtained about him during the first half of the 16th century supports the view that he had very little prominence. We know he was in Asilah between 1527 and 1528, from where he led some cavalry attacks on Muslim-controlled areas. In 1534, he returned to Morocco and participated in aiding Safi during the siege. The following year, he was vested in the captaincy of one the ships of Carreira da India, returning to Portugal in 1537, without his name ever being associated with any of the significant events that occurred in the Asian dominions. On the other hand, Tomé de Sousa´s economic situation seems to have become somewhat prosperous, based on the various tença [pension paid to members of the nobility] endowment letters, which he acquired during the 1530s, with royal authorization.
When the Crown decided to establish the general government of Brazil in 1548, Tomé de Sousa, somewhat surprisingly, was selected to be the first governor. His status as a nobleman of illegitimate birth and without significant political or military experience, did not match the type of profile that was typical of the highest officials of Estado da India. The key to understanding the importance given Tomé de Sousa then, must be his having approached ? on an uncertain date ? Dom Antonio de Ataíde and his House. This first cousin of his had accumulated the positions of favorite of Dom João III, Treasurer, and first Count of Castanheira, in addition to having become a high profile player in the management of Portuguese expansionist policies. It was precisely the King and his great friend who had decided to promote Brazil in the context of Portuguese overseas interests, first through the organization of the expedition led by Martim Afonso de Sousa (1530?1533), which founded the bases for colonization of the territory, and after with the establishment of donatary captaincies (1534). Even so, around mid-century, the success of the colony continued to be at risk in face of the donataries´ absenteeism, the early stage of development of most of the captaincies, the hostility demonstrated by various native groups, and the persistent commercial and military threats posed by the French. These factors, when paired with the expectations of increasing profits from the cultivation of sugar cane and finding great mineral riches, required a more forceful and systematic intervention by the Crown.
Because the Brazilian territory held very little attraction to the more distinguished group of nobles who had careers in the service of the empire, and the central power was committed to making Portuguese presence in this region viable, the options for filling the position of governor general were few. In Tomé de Sousa, the basic merits of nobility converged with the full proof political and personal confidence which had been granted Dom António de Ataíde in particular.
Endowed with official instructions of government on 12 December, 1548 and officially nominated for a period of three years, on 7 January, 1749, Tomé de Sousa left Lisbon for Brazil on 1 February, cumulatively vested as admiral of the armada. The first Crown-designated officials to serve in the general magistracy and the superintendency of the treasury, as well as the Jesuit priests destined to missionary activities traveled with him. The immediate objectives were to occupy Baía de Todos os Santos and, there, to build a defensive infrastructure (considering its geostrategic significance) and to establish the headquarters of the territory´s political-administative apparatus, as well as a municipal organization. Thus the capital city of Salvador was founded. Tomé de Sousa, however, did not remain there at all times, traveling to the captaincies in the South to evaluate the status of the colonization process and to implement various measures in the political, military, judicial, and urban spheres. Other government actions included promoting the occupation of the space by: granting lands in sesmaria, constructing roads and establishing a shipyard, introducing cattle to meet various degrees of need, and supporting the activities of the Jesuits, which earned him Father Manuel da Nobrega´s unconditional praise.
Tomé de Sousa´s responsibilities as governor general ended on 13 July, 1553, about one and a half years after the expiration of his initial term, when his successor, Dom Duarte da Costa, took office. The extension of his term of service was not, in any way, due to his personal wishes, since in July of the previous year, he had pled with Dom João III to send him a substitute so that he could rejoin his family and arrange for the marriage of his only legitimate offspring, Dona Helena de Sousa, the product of his marriage to Dona Maria da Costa. Excluding the possible difficulties in the selection of a second governor general, an explanation for this situation may be that the Lisbon hierarchy was indeed pleased with his performance.
Back in the Kingdom and, again, through the influence of his cousin, Dom António de Ataíde, Tomé de Sousa took on the oversight of the House of Dom João III and, already into the reign of Dom Sebastião, the oversight of the House of Queen Dona Catarina. He also received new benefits, mercês, from the Crown and endeavored to consolidate the financial position of his heiress, who meanwhile had married Dom Diogo Lopes e Lima, Lord of Castro Daire.
He passed away on 28 January, 1579, and was burried in the Convent of Santo António da Castanheira, which had been patronized by his influent cousin.
COUTO, Jorge, A Construção do Brasil, Lisboa, Edições Cosmos, 1997. MAGALHÃES, Joaquim Romero de & Susana Münch Miranda (ed.), « Tomé de Sousa e a Instituição do Governo-Geral (1549)», in Mare Liberum, nº 17, Lisboa, CNCDP, 1999, pp. 7-38. PELÚCIA, Alexandra, Martim Afonso de Sousa e a sua Linhagem. Trajectórias de uma Elite no Império de D. João III e de D. Sebastião, Lisboa, CHAM, 2009. SERRÃO, Joel & A. H. de Oliveira Marques (dir.), Nova História da Expansão Portuguesa, vol. VI, O Império Luso-Brasileiro 1500-1620, coor. Harold Johnson e Maria Beatriz Nizza da Silva, Lisboa, Editorial Estampa, 1992. WEHLING, Arno e Maria José Wehling, «Processo e Procedimentos de Institucionalização do Estado Português no Brasil de D. João III, 1548-1557», in D. João III e o Império. Actas do Congresso Internacional?, Lisboa, CHAM-CEPCEP, 2004.
Author: Alexandra Pelúcia
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel