Correia, Mae Aurelia

Early 1800s
Trader in Guinea-Bissau

Mae Aurelia Correia was a wealthy and powerful trader in the GUINEA-BISSAU region from the 1820s to the 1840s. Among the many women traders of African or mixed ancestry at the time, Mae Aurelia was the most successful.

Little information exists about Mae Aurelia’s birth and family because the Portuguese colonial authorities in Guinea-Bissau kept poor records. Her sister (or aunt), Mae Julia da Silva Cardoso, worked closely with her. They operated trading vessels and maintained many slaves, including sailors and skilled artisans. As the business grew, the two women accumulated large quantities of gold and silver jewelry and expensive garments, and they lived in European-style houses.

Around 1825 Mae Aurelia married Caetano Jose Nozolini, an army officer from CAPE VERDE. It is certain that Nozolini must have had excellent leadership skills and other positive attributes, for Mae Aurelia would have been very careful to choose a husband that could be of the most help to her in building her business ventures. Together, the couple continued to gather great wealth, dominating the war-torn and untamed Guinea-Bissau region. No other leader in the region could mobilize as many people as Mae Aurelia could to defend her family’s interests. Nozolini’s leadership abilities, combined with Mae Aurelia’s shrewd business skill, enabled the couple to dominate trade in slaves and other commodities along the Geba and Grande rivers and on various nearby islands.

Portuguese colonial officials lacked soldiers and supplies, and they depended on Mae Aurelia, Nozolini, and other traders to help maintain order in the region. In 1826 Mae Aurelia and her husband played an important role in putting down a mutiny at the Portuguese fort in Bissau. In 1842 the Portuguese asked for Mae Aurelia’s assistance when the inhabitants of Bissau laid siege to the fort.

When British authorities took notice of the slave trading activities of Mae Aurelia and Nozolini, the couple claimed the slaves they were shipping to Cape Verde were members of their extended family. During the 1830s, Mae Aurelia and her husband used slaves to develop peanut plantations on the easily accessible island of Bolama along the coast. The island’s location gave the British an opportunity to strike at the two slave traders. In a series of raids on the island, British naval squadrons took hundreds of slaves to freedom in SIERRA LEONE.

A son and three daughters of Mae Aurelia and Nozolini survived infancy. The son, who was educated in France, took over the family business; two of the daughters married doctors involved in commerce; and the third daughter married a wealthy trader. Through their own ventures, the children maintained the family’s prominence in Guinea-Bissau. (See also Slave Trade, Trade.)