Portugal’s colony of Brazil was a target for other colonial forces for all of the resources and ready slave labor available. One of the heroes against them was Henrique Dias, a Black Brazilian who faced off against the Dutch. His service would see him earn the title of “governador da gente preta” or “governor of the Black people.”
Not much is known about Dias’ youth. He was born to parents who had been freed and opted to join the militia in fighting the Dutch in 1633. He eventually came to command a 300 strong Black militia. Not large compared to the numbers that would take place in wars throughout Brazil but small and fast enough for the guerrilla warfare Henrique Dias enjoyed employing.
FIRST BATTLE OF THE GUARARAPES
Occurring on April 14, 1648, in Pernambuco, this was one of the last big showdowns with the Dutch invasion force. It also saw Dias as one of the leaders in command of a terço. This was an infantry unit—usually of a couple thousand—split up among multiple commanders.
The Dutch forces were 5,000 with cannons while Portugal had 2,000. Henrique Dias’ job was to take his Black terço and hold the Dutch off while the Portuguese would take the fight to the Dutch from the swamp.
The Dutch would suffer losses to the tune of around 1,000 while Portugal lost 80 and had 400 injured. Successful in this battle, Dias would join Portugal in fighting the Dutch in the start of 1649.
SECOND BATTLE OF THE GUARARAPES
This battle saw the Portuguese forces outnumbered by about 900 troops. However, they had a huge advantage in morale, native and Black troops, and knowledge of the terrain. The result was another slaughter by the home colonial force with the Dutch losing 1,045. Portugal would lose 45 and walk off with 200 injured.
AWARDS AND PRIVILEGES
As a result of his performance in battle, King Peter II made Henrique Dias and native commander Filipe Camarão Knights of the Order of Christ. He was also made “Governor of All Creoles, Blacks, and Mulattoes.”
Dias headed to Lisbon and requested that the Black men who served under him and helped Portugal hold on to Brazil be freed and given privileges. In the future, militia forces made up of free Blacks would take his name and be called “Henriques.”