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History & Heraldry


The first European to reach the region may have been the Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The northeastern tip of South America, Cape São Roque, 32 km to the north of Natal, was first officially visited by European navigators in 1501, in the 1501–1502 Portuguese expedition led by Amerigo Vespucci, who named the spot after the saint of the day. The Vespucci expedition also named the Potengi (Tupi for “River of Shrimps”) river, whose considerably large mouth contrasted with the nearby bodies of water, “Rio Grande” (Portuguese for “Great River”), after which the Captaincy, Province, and State were named. For decades thereafter, no permanent European settlement was established in the area, inhabited by the Potiguar tribe.

In 1534 the territory was given as a fief to João de Barros and Aires da Cunha who, however made no attempts to colonize the area.

Between 1535 and 1598, it was explored by French sailors in search for brazilwood. In 1598, the Portuguese built the Forte dos Reis Magos and, in the following year, founded the city of Natal. Raising cattle and growing sugarcane lifted the local development and economy.

In 1633, the area became a battleground between the expansionist Portuguese, seeking to take more land for their Brazilian territories, and the Dutch, who had gained a foothold in South America and had founded Nieuw Holland of which Rio Grande became a captaincy.

The religious confrontations (the Portuguese-Brazilian Catholicism and the Dutch Calvinism), Portugal’s restoration of the throne in 1640 and the reconquest of Maranhão in 1643, lead the Portuguese-Brazilians to undertake the 1645 uprising, led by André Vidal de Negreiros and João Fernandes Vieira. In 1654, the Dutch were finally cast out.

Thereafter Rio Grande shared the fate of Brazil and became a state of the Federation in 1889.


A coat of arms for the Dutch captaincy of Rio Grande was designed in 1637 by John Maurice of Nassau, the Governor General of Nieuw Holland (1637-1644). As an emblem the captaincy received a river and an ostrich on its bank because “such birds occur in large numbers there”.

The seal of the captaincy, on which were the arms, was engraved in silver but nothing is known about its later fate. [1]


Usually the arms are Or, the base Vert or Azure, the river Argent and the ostrich of its natural colours


Achievement of Rio Grande in the Atlas of Blaeu (1662)


Until the proclamation of the Republic in 1889 the arms of Brazil were also used in Rio Grande. An achievement of Rio Grande do Norte (so called when the Republic of Piratiny was renamed Rio Grande do Sul in 1835) was created  by decree N° 201 of  9 June 1909. It is:


Arms: Per fess, the chief Azure, the base a sea proper and a manned fisherman’s vessel in full sail proper; and on a chief Argent two flowers of cotton in saltire between two yellow flowers proper.

Crest: A five-pointed star Argent

Supporters: A coconut tree and a carnauba wax palm (Copernicia prunifera) standing on two stalks of sugare-cane in saltire tied with a ribbon vert and Or.


The achievement symbolizes the main economic activities of the state: fishery and agriculture (cotton and sugar).


ð See illustration in the head of this essay.


The decree reads:


Art. 1.° - O brazão d’Armas do Estado do Rio Grande do Norte é um escudo de campo aberto, dividido a dois terços de altura, tendo no plano inferior o mar, onde navega uma jangada de pescadores, que representam as industrias do sal e da pesca. No terço superior, em campo de prata, duas flôres aos lados e ao centro dois capulhos de algodeiro. Ladeiam o escudo, em toda a sua altura, um coqeiro á direita e uma carnaúba á esquerda, tendo os troncos ligados por duas cannas de assucar, presas por um laço com as côres nacionaes. Tanto os moveis do escudo, como os emblemas, em côres naturaes, representam a flóra principal do Estado. Cobre os escudo uma estrella branca symbolisando o Rio Grande do Norte na União Brasileira.

Art. 2.° - O desenho original deste brazão d’armas, exectado pelo sr. Corbiniano  Villaça, será archivado na Secretaria do Governo e delle se tirará uma copia authentica para o archivo do Instituto Historico e Geographico do Estado.

Art. 3.° - Revogam-se as disposições em contrario


Palacio do Governo do Estado do Rio Grande do Norte, 1.° de julho de 1909, 21.° da Republica

Alberto Maranhão, Henrique Catriciano de Souza.


Armed Forces








Arms of Rio Grande do Norte Military Police


Rio Grande do Norte is a part of the 7th Military Region together with Paraiba, Pernambuco and Alagoas.

Its headquarters are in Recife (PE).


The date 4 November 1836 on the scroll of the arms of the Rio Grande do Norte Military Police is the date of its foundation. The motto means: Always Vigilant.






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© Hubert de Vries 2011-12-07


[1] Barlaeus, Caspar: Nederlandsch Brazilië onder het bewind van Johan Maurits van Nassau, 1637-1644. pp. 121-122

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