Friday, October 13, 2017

Chintzes for the Portuguese 5: A Digression to Brazil

Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend, Edisto Island, South Carolina
 child's quilt. About 1835. Collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
The museum owns two of her quilts made from imported chintzes.

In 1838, according to accounts of the British Board of Trade, Brazil (a former Portuguese colony) imported £ 2,606,604 worth of British manufactures and produce. "Cotton Manufactures" made up the majority of the trade at £1,657,702.  In comparison Iron & Steel imports were totalled as £50,527, woolens £238,932.  
Hephzibah's quilt was cut from
 chintzes of the type
 Britain was exporting in such large quantities.

Manufactured cotton cloth made up over 60% of the British goods imported by Brazil. At that time textiles were the majority of Britain's exports and Brazil was their chief market. I noted in an earlier post that Sarah B. Parks described Brazil as the single largest importer of British cotton textiles after 1834.

From Hephzibah's larger quilt

Above a table of cotton exports from the United Kingdom in 1832.
Summary below:

What did they want with all that chintz and calico? Parks has a good answer.
"A great deal of the British cotton cloth sent to Brazil must have left the country again in the holds of vessels engaged in the slave trade; otherwise, it is hard to explain why Brazil’s per capita importation of British textiles was seven times the global average."

Brazil at the same latitude as Angola
was a natural port in the international exchange of 
enslaved people for cotton cloth.

Africans wanted machine-printed cottons and in the mid-19th century they continued to view their people as a trading commodity. Millions of yards of British prints went west to Brazil and then east again to Africa. This exchange continued until Brazil effectively outlawed the slave trade in 1856. (And then it probably continued to some degree illegally.)

Quiltmakers in the U.S. loved bird prints. The hawk in
Hephzibah's is found in several American quilts.

The customers for British prints had definite ideas about style. Parks notes critiques and suggestions in the Potiers Diary she used as a primary source. A multicolored, geometric stripe was “a good style for the Coast of Africa with some alterations, first if they came out on more ordinary cloth & glazed."

Coverlet [detail], cotton embroidered with silk, 
West Bengal, about 1600-1625.
 © Victoria and Albert Museum #438-1882 

Designing textiles to the taste of the importing customer makes economic sense for the exporting manufacturer. As soon as textiles became a pillar of world trade in the early 1500s the Chinese began listening to their trading partner, Portugal. They wove the King a silk damask flag with the Portuguese coat of arms that is mentioned in his inventory. 

The Portuguese dominated the seas from about 1500 to 1650. Maria Joao Pacheco Ferreira described many aspects of that Sino-Portuguese trade in his chapter "Chinese Textiles for Portuguese Tastes" in the book Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800

Museum collections contain examples of Indian textiles designed to please the Portuguese. One quilt survives today in Britain's Hardwick Hall, itemized in a 1601 inventory as "yellowe india stuffe imbrodered with birdes and beasts...." 

Silk quilted bedcovering,  ca. 1600.
  Collection of Colonial Williamsburg.
 Note the European sailing ship in both bedcovers.

Portugal lost it's premier position when the Dutch and English East India Companies came to rule the seas. The Dutch took over Portuguese colonies on Africa's west coast in the mid-17th century and became the leading traders in slaves, textiles and other commodities. But Portugal's former colony Brazil apparently developed a thriving trade on its own.

An early cylinder or roller printing machine. The
technology was well adapted to stripes.

The Industrial Revolution with its steam-powered looms and cylinder printing machines dramatically changed the direction of international trade. By the end of the 18th century cotton prints left Britain instead of arriving. By 1838 British manufacturers had been designing prints for the Portuguese market for quite a while.

See Hephzibah Townsend's quilts of imported British chintz at these links:


Read Sarah Parks's paper “ 'By your exertions conjointly with ours': British printed cottons in Brazil, 1827-1841" here at the Digital Commons at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln:

And "A Quilt from Bengal" by Avalon Fotheringham:


  1. I love your series on the Chintzs! Thank you so much!
    Would you please consider doing a series on Lucy Boston POTC? Thanks!

  2. The mustard whole quilt -Silk quilted bedcovering, ca. 1600.- is just amazing quilting.