Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides, the young man

Date of birth: 1602, Cádiz

Date of death: 1686, Lisboa

Governor of Rio de Janeiro and the Southern Partition.

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Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides was a key figure in the early years of the colonisation of Rio de Janeiro. A member of the powerful Correa de Sá family, he became a symbol of his clan’s dominance in the southern centre of Portuguese America. He held important positions during the period of the unification of the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns and after the Restoration, when King João IV took over the Portuguese throne. He made his personal wealth from trade, the slave trade and sugar production. He was involved in wars, conflicts and disputes over influence inside and outside the captaincy (Sá; Benevides, 2017: 2). He was born in Cádiz in 1602. The son of a Spanish mother, Maria de Mendoza y Benavides, and the first governor born in Rio de Janeiro, Martim de Sá, he was a member of a family that had a lot of credibility, both in the American colony and with the authorities in Portugal and Spain, since “they had established close links in Castile where they had put down roots and did not hide their dedication” (Coaracy, 1965: 89-90). Educated by the Jesuits, a religious order with which he and his family maintained a close relationship, he applied to King Philip III of Spain for the title of Knight of the Military Order of Santiago, claiming devotion to the monarch and possessing the qualities to serve him well, having been honoured and exempted from the legal requirement laid down in the statute of that order to be at least twenty-one years old[1]. In 1625, he commanded a relief expedition to Bahia, which had been invaded by the Dutch, bringing men and ammunition to lay siege to the enemy. In the middle of the journey, he spotted a Dutch convoy intending to take Espírito Santo and fought a battle there, from which he emerged victorious. Since 1627 he had held the title of Admiral of the southern coast of the River Plate, which implied, despite being an honorary post, an official link with the Spanish colonial territory, where he had relatives occupying important positions in Buenos Aires (Boxer, 1973:106). On 5 February 1628, his father arranged for him to be appointed mayor of Rio de Janeiro for life (Sá; Benevides, 2017: 6). His connection with Luís Cespedes Xeria, the husband of his cousin, Dona Vitória de Sá, and governor appointed to Paraguay, ensured that he was appointed to command an expedition whose aim was to put down a revolt by the natives of the Paiaguá and Guaicuru regions against the sovereignty of the Spanish Crown. In a document addressed to the monarch, Xeria suggested the name of Salvador for the post, claiming that, despite his young age, he had shown leadership and discernment in matters of interest to the Crown, defending the coasts of Brazil from the Dutch and other enemies of the Catholic religion, subjecting many indigenous peoples to Portuguese rule, just like his father (RHIGB, 1918: 38-39). He therefore asked to be appointed master of the field general, with full authority to promote or demote his soldier officers and also to submit to his orders the settlers who had to obey him (Boxer, 1973: 105). Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides married a widowed criolla in 1631, Doña Catalina de Ugarte y Velasco, a descendant of the Spanish conquistador elite and heiress of one of the richest men in São Miguel do Tucumã, who left him a large estate in the region that supplied Potosí (Boxer, 1973:110). After Martim de Sá’s death in 1632, Rio de Janeiro had two provisional governors until a board chaired by the Count Duke of Olivares decided to appoint him to the captaincy in 1635 (RIHGB, 1918: 50). It was only on 21 February 1636 that King Philip IV signed the decree appointing Benevides. He took office on 19 September 1637[2] and became commander of the southern captaincies. By then, he was already a large landowner in and around the city of Rio de Janeiro, as well as vast territories inherited from his father in Tijuca and Jacarepaguá. In addition to these assets, he also owned his wife’s property in Tucumã, in the Platine region, where he declared himself to be a resident and encomendero. He did a lot of business with Portuguese, Fluminense and Platine people. From Rio de Janeiro, Luanda and Lisbon, he set up various transactions that guaranteed his participation in a mercantile network whose activity was of great interest to the kingdom (Alencastro, 2000: 200-201). Thanks to a perpetual concession from the City Council, he secured for himself and his family a monopoly on weighing and storing sugar and other products exported through the port of Rio de Janeiro. Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides was a remarkable military man and a skilful politician. He belonged to a group of settlers who, under Habsburg rule, established close links with Castile, showing effective dedication to the Spanish government. However, even after the Restoration of Portugal (1640), led by the Bragança dynasty, “he managed to maintain his prestige with the Lisbon Court – the same prestige he had enjoyed with the Madrid Court” (Coaracy, 1965:89-90). “Knowing the strength and power of the Jesuits, he always knew how to keep them in his favour, in an exchange of reciprocal support” (Coaracy, 1965:89-90). Although he suffered strong opposition from other inhabitants of the captaincy, who rivalled him during his rule, he led a group that dominated the most important positions in the administration. He went beyond the “colonial man”, who circulated in the various regions of the Empire and made possible investments for his social and economic advancement in a particular square, even if it was different from the one of his birth. He didn’t fit in as an “overseas man”, who made a career overseas, seeking wealth and rewards to enjoy at court (Alencastro, 2000: 103-104). Benevides can be considered a “trans-imperial man” insofar as he travelled around three continents, not only in parts of the Portuguese empire, but also the Spanish, enjoying great prestige, reaching prominent military and political positions, and also taking part in the mercantile networks that interconnected these areas, where he worked in the slave trade, in plantation management and as a peruleiro. He received the rank of commander of the Brazilian fleets (1643) and was appointed a member of the Overseas Council (1644). He led the retaking of Angola (1648), then occupied by the Dutch, with an eye on the illegal slave trade to the Rio de la Plata and the need for labour in the captaincy of Rio de Janeiro. His interests were often linked to those of the Crown, which recognised how important he and his family were to the government of the southern captaincies of the State of Brazil.

[1] ANTT – Chancelaria da Ordem de Santiago, livro 10, folha 30. PT/TT/COM-F-B-1-10. – Concessão do título de Cavaleiro da Ordem de Santiago a Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides.

[2] Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo. Chancelaria de D. Filipe III – Livro 40, fl. 108 – PT/TT/CMR/P/1/40 – Capitão e governador do Rio de Janeiro a Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides.


  • Alencastro, Luiz Felipe de (2000). O trato dos viventes: formação do Brasil no Atlântico Sul. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.
  • Boxer, C.R. (1973). Salvador de Sá e a luta pelo Brasil e Angola (1602-1686). São Paulo: Editora Nacional. 
  • Coaracy, Vivaldo (1965). O Rio de Janeiro no século XVII. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio.
  • Revista do Instituto Histórico Geográfico Brasileiro (1918). Tomo 81. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional.
  • Sá, Helena de Cassia Trindade de; Benevides, Bruno Correa de Sá e. (2017). Privilégio familiar ou estratégia política: a permanência de Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides no governo do Rio de Janeiro (ca. 1637- ca.1643). Estudios Historicos, 18.


Helena de Cassia Trindade de Sá (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro)

How to quote this entry:

Helena de Cassia Trindade de Sá. “Salvador Correa de Sá e Benevides, the young man“. In: BRASILHIS Dictionary: Biographic and Thematic Dictionary of Brazil in the Spanish Monarch (1580-1640). Available in: Date of access: 13/04/2024.

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