Quilombo dos Palmares was a community of escaped slaves based in Brazil Alagoas state. It existed during most of the 17th century from 1605 until 1694.
The earliest quilombos started in the 1530s as Africans were brought to Brazil. These communities exploded at the same time as slavery’s expansion in the colony. As for Palmares, it formed in the early 1600s as slaves escaped into regions of Alagoas that were hard to reach.
Similar communities popped up throughout the region and were scattered, making it not worth the Portuguese’s time. This didn’t mean that the colonial power simply ignored the existence of these quilombos since landholders were losing slave labor.
It wasn’t until the Dutch set its eyes on Brazil that excursions to find out about the quilombos began. The Dutch initially planned to enlist the help of Palmares and other settlements to combat the Portuguese but plans changed. Prior to this, the Dutch-Portuguese War proved to be an opportunity for slaves to escape to the quilombos. Those leaving military service and poor Whites also found a home in Palmares.
Towards the middle of the 17th century, several quilombos merged into larger establishments. During the 1640s for instance, Palmares had a population of around 5,000 to 6,000 and was ruled by a “king” of sorts. Surrounding the larger establishment were smaller settlements of up to 100 people. These larger quilombos also featured fixtures such as residences, churches, stores, and a town hall of sorts.
Ten years later when the Dutch were run from Brazil, the Portuguese decided to go after the quilombos. During the 1650s, the king that the Portuguese would’ve dealt with was Ganga Zumba. The conflict against these establishments lasted decades and by 1676, Zumba called for a truce.
The two sides agreed to certain terms which raised the ire of a respected warrior named Zumbi. Just 21 or 22 at the time, Zumbi was born in Palmares, captured by the Portuguese as a child, and eventually escaped and returned home. A rebellion saw Zumbi eventually poison Zumba—by most accounts. Zumbi and the Portuguese continued their dispute into the 1690s.
The Quilombo dos Palmares was finally brought underfoot in 1694 when Portugal brought in hard-fought commanders Domingos Jorge Velho and Bernardo Viera de Melo. King Zumbi was finally captured in 1695 and beheaded in November of that year.
To keep the peace, the last of Zumbi and his brother’s followers were given land in Angola Janga with Palmares being ultimately destroyed. Portugal would still have to deal with slaves escaping into the region and living in smaller quilombos which were just as hard to find.