19th Century Coffee growing in Rio de Janeiro
The Pioneers of Coffee Growing in Rio de Janeiro.
Louis François Lecesne, a French doctor, is considered one of the pioneers in introducing coffee to Brazil early in the 19th century. He started out as a coffee planter in São Domingos (Haiti), where he had two large coffee farms, giving him wealth and a knowledge of the techniques of coffee planting. After fleeing the Slave Revolution in Haiti in 1791, he continued planting coffee, this time in Havana (Cuba), but in 1801 he was forced to leave the island after France invaded Spain, during the Napoleonic Wars. He lived for a time in the USA, in England, in France, and again in Cuba, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1816. Lecesne had plans to develop coffee planting in Brazil, but Emperor Dom João refused to support his project, opting instead for the development of wheat farming, which in the end was not so successful. Lecesne established the ‘Fazenda São Luis’ coffee farm in Gávea, on the slopes of the Tijuca mountain (today known as Gávea Pequena, on the road up to the Alto da Boa Vista, which starts in São Conrado). He settled there with his family in 1817, and according to descriptions given by various travelers, his property was one of the best and most productive. Dutchman Charles Alexandre Moke (also buried in Gamboa – grave No.1036/2) joined up with Lecesne, and together they cleared the area and planted 100,000 coffee trees. This served as an example to others, and Brazil became the largest producer and exporter of coffee in the world.
Lecesne died in 1823, leaving the farm to his heirs. With the growth of farming and the move of coffee planting to the Paraíba Valley in the 1830s, coffee growing in Gavea started to decline. The original forest had been destroyed to make way for coffee farms, but Tijuca Forest was replanted by Major Manuel Gomes Archer in the second half of the 19th century in a successful effort to protect Rio’s water supply, and forest once more covered the slopes of the mountain.
The original farm land was split up among various owners, and in 1916 part was sold to City Hall, in the then Federal District, for 40 “contos de réis”. The plan was to transform the area into a “holiday camp” for the practice of sport. It eventually became a playground for Mayors and Presidents of Brazil, such as Washington Luis (1869/1957), who lived in the mansion. Gávea Pequena is today the official residence of the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro. There is a pool, tennis court, football field, a tree-house for children, a waterfall, chapel, an orchard, and an area of 131,000 square meters of the replanted Atlantic Forest.
Louis François Lecesne, born in France in 1759, was buried in grave No. 1274/2 of the English Cemetery at Gamboa, in 1823. The cemetery records were recently improved by the addition of photographs of headstones, taken by Genealogist Tony Martin, who discovered other famous names in the cemetery.