João Fernandes Vieira

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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Despite many doubts and controversies surrounding the origins of João Fernandes Vieira, one of the heroes of the Pernambuco Restoration, it can be confirmed that he was called Francisco de Ornelas, born in Funchal, on Madeira, in 1610, the illegitimate son of Francisco de Ornelas Muniz and a woman of humble backgrounds and maybe even of colour.

He ran away to Brazil, specifically to Pernambuco, at ten years of age in 1620, where he changed his name to João Fernandes Vieira.

The reasons for leaving his country are unknown, and all indications are that he travelled alone and by his own will.

When he arrived in Pernambuco, he worked as a labourer and was a butcher’s assistant. In a few years, he became a chief steward.

He volunteered for war service in the first days of the Dutch invasion, defending the Portuguese in Fort São João, until its surrender on 1 March 1630.

Active, ambitious and intelligent, he became rich thanks to his efforts and donations he received from his patrons, Affonso Rodrigues Serrão and his wife, as well as his friendship with political advisor and Dutch sugar baron Jacob Stachhouwer, for whom he was first manservant, then overseer and later attorney.

In 1639, Vieira was already an important person in the Pernambuco Portuguese society, when he was appointed for the position of ‘Escabino’ (member of the Municipal Chamber at the time) of Olinda.

He was effectively promoted to the role of ‘Escabino’ of Maurícia (Recife) from July 1641 to June 1642, later serving another term from 1642 to 1643.

In 1643, he married Maria César, daughter of the Madeira-born Francisco Berenguer de Andradaand Joana de Albuquerque, descendent of Jerônimo de Albuquerque. With the marriage, João Fernandes Vieira joined his economic prestige with rural Pernambuco nobility.

He was one of the most important sugar barons in Pernambuco, owner of more than one thousand slaves, eventually owning 16 plantations located in Pernambuco and Paraíba, namely: Meio; Ilhetas; Sant'Ana;Santo Antônio; São João; Inhobimor Santos Cosme e Damião; São Gabriel; Gargaú; Inhaman; Molinote; Cumaúpa; Jacaré; Abiaí; Tibiri de Baixo; Tibiri de Cimaand Santo André.

Trusted by the Dutch government, its collaborator and advisor in Brazilian matters, Vieira also had the support of the Luso-Brazilian community through his economic and social prestige, his donations to churches, societies and needy people, besides his entrance, through marriage, to the nobility of the land.

In this way, he enjoyed the consideration of the Dutch and the Portuguese. He was also one of the largest debtors of the West India Company. In 1642, his debt was estimated to be 219,854 florins.

When the dissatisfaction of the sugar barons in Pernambuco intensified, especially after the departure of Count Maurice of Nassauto Holland in 1644, the smart and astute Vieira felt that times were changing, and realising the advantages to be gained with the expulsion of the Dutch and the West India Company, drew away from the Flemish and became one of the leaders of the Pernambuco Insurrection and one of the heroes of the Restoration.

He fought along side his troops and won the Battle of Tabocas, which took place in Vitória de Santo Antão on 3 August 1645, and the Battle of Casa Forte, together with André Vidal de Negreiros, Henrique Dias and Felipe Camarão, on 17 August of the same year.

After taking the Casa Forte plantation, Vieira returned to his men at his São João plantation in Várzea, and began a system of ‘estâncias militares’, a type of fortification where one could be safe and store gunpowder and war munitions.

He also fought brilliantly in the two Battles ofGuararapes, under the command of General Barreto de Meneses, on 19 April 1648 and 19 February 1649 respectively, contributing to the final and definitive victory.

As reward for his services in the war, he was appointed Governor of Paraíba (1655-1657), and granted the position of Captain-General of the Kingdom of Angola (1658-1661).

He also held the post of Superintendent of Fortifications in Northeast Brazil, from 1661 to 1681.

Vieira commissioned Fry Rafael de Jesus to write a book on his life and extolling his deeds, in the same manner Gaspar Barléuhad written about Count Maurício de Nassau, the outcome being ‘Castrioto lusitano’, in which the author compared him to the Albanian warrior-prince Jorge Scanderberg Castrioto, who fought intensively against the Turks and Serbia for the recuperation of Albany, which had been annexed by Turkey.

João Fernandes Vieira died on 10 January 1681, in Olinda.

In 1886, his mortal remains were discovered in the main chapel of the church at the Olinda Convent.

In 1942, his bones were transferred to the Our Lady of the Pleasures of Montes Guararapes Church, being deposited in the wall of the main chapel with a commemorative inscription.

Recife, 21 october 2004.
(Updated on 28 august 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.


MELLO, José Antônio Gonsalves de. Restauradores de Pernambuco: biografias de figuras do século XVII que defenderam e consolidaram a unidade brasileira: João Fernandes Vieira. Recife: Imprensa Universitária, 1967. 2 v. 

VASCONCELLOS, Telma Bittencourt de. Dona Anna Paes. Recife: Edição do Autor, 2004. p. 188-191.


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. João Fernandes Vieira. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009



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