MELO, Fernão de
Captain of São Tomé Island between 1499 and 1517. Son of João de Melo, commendator of Casavel (order of Saint James of Compostela) and of Dona Leonor de Sequeira, he was a knight of the Order of Christ and a nobleman of the Royal House
A charter dated 11 December, 1499, granted him and his legitimate, direct, male successors the captaincy of São Tomé Island, after the previous captain, Alvaro de Caminha, died without direct heirs. Later charters granted him all the privileges and ample powers of his predecessor, to which were also added military prerogatives, rents, and rights derived from the office of Chief-Alcaide, which was to start the moment the island fortress was built (royal charters dated 15 December, 1499 and 4 January, 1500). Since the grant charter required him to ?live continuously? on the Island, he departed to São Tomé at the beginning of the year 1500, with his wife, Violante de Carvalhal, daughter of João Nunes de Carvalhal, and the respective offspring.
The first missionaries sent to the island, who belonged to the Augustinian Order of Eremites, traveled with Fernão de Melo. During his captaincy, the Misericórdia of São Tomé was founded (1504), and the construction of the respective hospital was initiated.
Under his administration, the clearing of the territory continued, but the sugar industry was not yet established, so that sugar cane transformation, which started then, was limited to the production of molasses. The slave traffic, in which the captain invested directly, remained the most profitable activity, whose supplying markets, though still centered on the Niger Delta, widened to the south, while the Congo region gained an ever more significant role. The relationship that was established between São Tomé and the Kingdom of Congo was to give rise to political rivalries, which at times were quite conflictual, being led by Fernão de Melo and the ntotela, King Afonso I (Myemba-a-Nzinga).
Internal disputes also arose between the captain and the inhabitants of São Tomé, namely the respective municipal council. The complaints of both the ?king? of Congo and the inhabitants of the island got to Lisbon and must have been judged sufficiently weighty, as on 15 November, 1512 or 1513 (the date of the document is uncertain), King Manuel I, through a corregidor nominated for this purpose, ordered the captain and all his family, including his wife, to present themselves at court.
We don´t know how quickly this order was implemented; however, the verification of faults was lengthy. In September 1516 when Bernardo Segura was sent to São Tomé as corregidor, a position he would take over on 29 October, one of the tasks he had been charged with was to conduct an inquest into the actions of the donatary captain. Misappropriating funds from the Royal Treasury, forcing marriages, interfering in municipal council elections, disrespecting some slaves´ freedom, and appointing an expatriate who had been convicted of murder to the position of judge were among the allegations which were investigated immediately. The investigation, however, was interrupted March 1517, when the news of the death of Fernão de Melo in Lisbon reached São Tomé. His firstborn son, João de Melo, would succeed him in the captaincy of the island.
Nova História da Expansão Portuguesa, vol. III, A Colonização Atlântica, coordenação de Artur Teodoro de Matos, Lisboa, Editorial Estampa, 2005; Portugaliae Monumenta Africana, vol. II, Lisboa, CNCDP/INCM, 1995; Celso Baptista de Sousa, S. Tomé e Príncipe. Do descobrimento aos meados do século XVI: desenvolvimento interno e irradiação no Golfo da Guiné, Lisboa, policopiado, 1990 [Dissertação de Mestrado em História Moderna apresentada à Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa].
Autor: Arlindo Caldeira
Translated by: Maria João Pimentel