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The illegitimate son of a Portuguese priest and a mulatto woman, José da Natividade Saldanha was born in Santo Amaro de Jaboatão, Pernambuco, Brazil. He went to Portugal, the colonial power, to study law at Coimbra University. While in law school Saldanha wrote and published his first collection of poems, Poemas dedicadas aos amigos e amantes do Brasil (Poems Dedicated to the Friends and Lovers of Brazil, 1822).

As a poet marked by Arcadianism, the influential neoclassical movement prevailing in some circles in Portugal and Brazil, Saldanha emphasized national and liberal ideologies that included the idea of a Brazilian republic and the abolition of slavery. Upon returning to Brazil the poet joined the secessionist movements brewing in Pernambuco and became a member of the junta that declared the independence of the Republic of Ecuador from Portugal in 1824 Condemned to death after the failure of this ...