João Nunes Correia

Birth: 1543, Castro Daire

Death: 1625, Madrid


Link to BRASILHIS database:

New Christian merchant of Portuguese origin. He developed his business mainly in the captaincy of Pernambuco (Brazil), where he acquired great political and social prestige. He was also often involved as a contractor, administering several of the commercial rights of the crowns of Portugal and Castile.

João Nunes Correia, also known as Juan Núñez Correa, was born in Castro Daire in 1543, the son of Manuel Nunes, a merchant and farmer, and Lucrécia Rodrigues. João began his commercial activity in Pernambuco, taking charge of the family business in the region between 1585 and 1592, while gaining experience to replace his older brother Henrique, who took over the family after his death in 1598. He had other siblings, Diogo, Antonio, Branca and Florença. (Almeida, 2009: 185; Carrasco Vázquez, 2002: 368-370).

In Pernambuco he was dedicated to the sale of indigenous slaves for the production of sugar. He also owned two sugar plantations. The growth of these businesses made João the owner of one of the three largest fortunes in the captaincy, valued at two hundred thousand cruzados in 1590. (Almeida, 2009: 185)

This position allowed him to acquire a pre-eminent position in Pernambuco society, and he also participated in some of the expansion projects of the Hispanic Monarchy in Brazil. Thus, together with his brother Diogo, João financed the supplying of the troops led by Martim Leitão in his conquest expedition to Paraíba. However, this did not prevent the Inquisition from frequently turning its eye on him. In 1592 he was arrested and sent to Lisbon accused of Judaising. During his time in prison, he sent messages to various personalities, among them the governor Francisco de Sousa, so that they would take care of his business or advance the proceedings that would finally get him out of prison, exonerated of the charges and without the confiscation of his goods (Almeida, 2009: 185). (Almeida, 2009: 185-186).

He enjoyed respect and consideration among the Judeo-converted community of Pernambuco. Rumours of behaviour that underlined the accusations of Judaising against João were also frequent in Pernambucan society: that he had a crucifix next to the toilet, that he did not respect Catholic holidays, or that he acted as a rabbi of the Pernambucan Judaising community. Other investigations were opened against him, including one accusing him of acting as a moneylender (onzeneiro). (Almeida, 2009: 186).

Despite being forbidden to leave Lisbon, he managed to obtain several permits to trade and settled in Madrid from 1595 onwards. Here he obtained royal authorisation to continue managing his sugar business in Pernambuco. In 1594, together with André Lopes Pinto and Fernández Ángel, he signed a 6-year contract for the palo brasil. By 1600 the contractors had already exceeded the value of the contract, but it was nevertheless renewed for another 9 years. In 1602 it was interrupted as they continued to exceed the contract. Despite this, João renewed the contract that year together with Mateus da Veiga, and again alone between 1603 and 1606. The latter contract was terminated by the crown due to the contractor’s high debts (Almeida, 2009: 187; Costa, 1985: 56). 

João Nunes Correia again formed a company with Lopes Pinto and Fernández Ángel, this time to traffic African slaves. For this purpose they assigned Manuel Ruiz Cartagena as their factor in Angola between 1597 and 1600. In 1603 he also acceded to the seat of avería, although he also had to relinquish it in 1606 due to debts and numerous conflicts with merchants in Seville. These problems were due, on the one hand, to the overzealousness of the contracting party, who urged his port agents to be strict with the collection. On the other hand, he apparently took advantage of the contract to ship his own silver from America to Seville without paying the taxes. He also allegedly extended this privilege to some of his Portuguese associates.  (Caballero Juárez, 1996/1997:439-440; Studnicki-Gizbert, 2007:117).

In 1605 he obtained the contract for the preparation of the silver fleet. This contract was not without its problems either, with frequent tensions between the contractor and the Seville Consulate of merchants. The latter accused him of skimping on expenses, producing poor quality and poorly supplied ships. (Cañón García, 2017: 27-28).

At the height of his career as a businessman, his network extended from Madrid to Seville, Angola, and Brazil. From Lisbon, his relationship with the prominent Ximenes family served as a bridge to Antwerp and other northern European centres. (Assis, 2007:20)

João Nunes Correia also acted as a mentor to his nephew João Nunes Saraiva, who acted as his agent in Seville from 1607 onwards. When Nunes Correia died in 1625, it was this nephew who took over the network and business that his uncle had built up.  (Carrasco Vázquez, 2002: 370).


– Almeida, A.A. (dir.) (2009). Dicionário Histórico dos Sefarditas Portugueses. Mercadores e Gente de Trato. Lisboa: Campo da Comunicação.

– Assis, A.A. (2007). Os Infortúnios e heresias do cristão-novo Diogo Nunes, senhor de engenho da Paraíba quinhentista nas malhas da Inquisição, Revista Eletrônica de História do Brasil, 9, 2, 16-29.

– Caballero Juárez, J.A. (1996/1997). Los asientos de la avería de la armada de la Carrera de Indias, Ius Fugit. Revista interdisciplinar de estudios histórico-jurídicos, 5-6, 429-442.  

– Cañón García, P. (2017). Las redes atlánticas de comercio con Brasil y su circulación durante el periodo de la Unión de Coronas (1580-1640) (Trabajo de Fin de Máster). Universidad de Salamanca, Salamanca.

– Carrasco Vázquez, J. (2002). Comercio y finanzas de una familia sefardita portuguesa: Los Núñez Correa. En Contreras, J.; García García, B.J.; Pulido, I. (eds.). Familia, religión y negocio: El sefardismo en las relaciones entre el mundo ibérico y los Países Bajos en la Edad Moderna. Madrid: Fundación Carlos de Amberes y Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores.

– Costa, C.X. (1985). Receita e despesa do Estado do Brasil no periodo filipino (tesis de mestrado). Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife.Studnicki-Gizbert, D. (2007). A Nation Upon the Ocean Sea: Portugal’s Atlantic diaspora and the crisis of the Spanish Empire, 1492-1640. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Pablo Cañón García

How to quote this entry:

Pablo Cañón (European University Institute). “João Nunes Correia“. In: BRASILHIS Dictionary: Biographic and Thematic Dictionary of Brazil in the Spanish Monarch (1580-1640). Available in: Date of access: 25/02/2024.

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