This document is an invoice dated July 18, 1493 for a package sent from King João II of Portugal to Rui Gil, receiving clerk of the treasury,[1] with items for D. Pedro de Sousa and his three Blacks. Unfortunately, it does not say where Rui Gil and D. Pedro were located. Five months later, on December 10, 1493, Rui Gil delivered another package; he was ordered to “give to Pedro de Manicongo to take to the King of the Congo.”[2]  This implies that Rui Gil and D. Pedro were still in the same location but D. Pedro was soon to depart. Another invoice, also dated December 10, 1493, reads “give to João Soares who now we send with D. Pedro to Manicongo”.[3] These invoices imply that Rui Gil was to process a few packages that D. Pedro was to deliver either from Portugal or São Tomé to Manicongo.

Where was D. Pedro when he received the items for himself and for delivery to Congo? We know that Pedro de Sousa visited Portugal twice, in 1490 and in 1503. It seems unlikely that Pedro would have returned to Portugal in 1493 so soon after his return from his visit in 1490. The document is signed by a D. Allvaro, possibly Álvaro da Caminha, governor of São Tomé. Pedro de Sousa had a professional relationship with Álvaro da Caminha by 1499 at least, and in 1513 he was made bishop of São Tomé.[4]

The text gives us insight into some of the commodities that were popular in the era, especially the attire of BaKongo people in contact with the Portuguese and the attire of slaves. The terms applied to the various individuals mentioned in this document can help us understand their roles. Noblemen with black skin such as D. Pedro were in some instances referred to as negros,[5] but more often as pretos,[6] as in this document. In the collection from which this document was taken, the pattern is that pretos were socially superior to negros. The possessive pronoun “his” (seus) in the phrase “his Blacks” (negros seus) shows that D. Pedro held leverage over and possessed these three individuals as slaves. We know from other documents that D. Pedro owned people whom he called “my slaves” (minhas peças),[7] and that Álvara da Caminha privileged domestic slaves over their commercial counterparts.[8]

[1] On another shipping invoice, he is referred to as “Ruy Gill Magro” or Rui Gil the Skinny. Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 154. In 1478, João II hired certain noblemen to assassinate the governor of Moura, who had tried to align with King Fernando of Castile. Among these noblemen were the Magros brothers, Diogo Gil Moniz and Rui Gil Moniz, the uncles of Filipa Moniz, Christopher Columbus’ wife. Manuel da Silva Rosa, “Cristoforo Colombo versus Cristóbal Colón,” PhD diss. Universidade dos Açores, Ponta Delgada, 2023, 63-4. While there were no doubt many Rui Gils working for the Portuguese court and maybe more than one of them had the nickname “skinny”, including younger members of the same family, it is not likely that  João II would have signed an official document with this nickname on it for very many people.

[2] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 154.

[3] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria,  156

[4] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 159

[5] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 37-8.

[6] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 281, 288, 289, 366, 367-8. Preto means “black” or “dark” in this context. Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa: Academia das Ciências de Lisboa. Accessed April 20, 2024.

[7] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 274.

[8] Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 161.

Rui Gill, we order that you give to Don Pedro who came from Manicongo, one hooded cloak,[1] socks of cloth from Ypres,[2] one doublet[3] of satin,[4]  four undershirts of holland,[5] one leather belt and a pair leather boots,[6] a beret,[7] and half a dozen laces of silk, and a dozen and a half of leather, and likewise give to each of his three blacks hooded cloaks, socks from Ancona,[8] and doublets of fustian,[9] and to each, a pair of shirts from local fabric, and to each, belts of leather, and to each, pairs of shoes, and to each, black berets, everything made and taken from a tailor. Your notebook is accepted. Return it, then we will sign it.

               Made in Torres Vedras, 18th of July. Pedro Lomelim made it. Year 1493.

  1. Rey                             a. Dom Álvaro

               An outfit from Ypres and a doublet of satin and an undershirt of holland to Don Pedro, who came from Manicongo, and for his three blacks, outfits from Ancona and fustian, and shirts from local fabric. For the notebook… and berets, and a half a dozen  laces of silk, and one and a half of leather.

[1] Capuz e pelote. Garment with big flaps, worn under a cape. Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 150; Konadu, Africa’s Gold Coast through Portuguese Sources, xxiii.

[2] A city in Belgium.

[3] Gibão, from aljuba, a garment that covered men from neck to waist; a type of short coat that was worn over the shirt. Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 150. See Diccionario histórico de la lengua Española, 450.

[4] Çatym, satin woven sleek and smooth, from Arabic zaituni. Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 150. This word appeared when Arabs began trading satin with the Chinese city of Quanzhou, which they called Zaytūn. Esperança Cardeira, Gramática histórica do português europeu (São Paulo: Parábola Editorial, 2021), 174.  

[5] Holland is cloth woven from very fine linen (from Holland). Brásio, Monumenta missionaria, 150.

[6] Borzeguy[n]s.“Buskins” in English.

[7] Barrete dobrado. Literally “doubled beret”.

[8] A city in Italy.

[9]  Thick, heavy cloth made of cotton and linen.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think the three individuals described as “his Blacks” were slaves? Look at the main introduction and read the other documents relative to D. Pedro. Would it have been possible to apply a possessive pronoun to other people that we knew he traveled with?
  2. Why might D. Pedro choose to dress in Portuguese-style clothing rather than the typical clothing for BaKongo nobles?
  3. Why might D. Pedro choose to make his domestic slaves dress in Portuguese clothing? What would that choice mean to Portuguese people? Other BaKongo people? Other slaves?
  4. Were there any differences in the quality or origin of the clothes D. Pedro received versus the clothing of his three Blacks? Why?

Related Primary Sources