On April 22, 1500, during the reign of King Manuel I, a fleet led by navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in Brazil and took possession of the land in the name of the king.
At first, Brazil was set up as fifteen private, hereditary captaincies. Pernambuco succeeded by growing sugarcane. São Vicente prospered by dealing in indigenous slaves. The other thirteen captaincies failed, leading the king to make colonization a royal effort rather than a private one. In 1549, Tomé de Sousa sailed to Brazil to establish a central government.
Brazil had coastal cities and towns, which have been considered far less important than colonial settlements in Spanish America, but like Spanish America, urban settlements were important as the sites of institutional life of church and state, as well as urban groups of merchants.