Con­fed­er­a­dos forge new cul­tural iden­tity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY PAUL N. HER­BERT

Plagued with eco­nomic ruin, psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ror and per­sonal tragedy at the end of the Civil War, many South­ern­ers be­gan to dis­cuss pack­ing up their war-torn lives and em­i­grat­ing to for­eign lands as an an­ti­dote for their suf­fer­ing.

South­ern di­arist Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote about Con­fed­er­ate of­fi­cers go­ing to Mex­ico and Brazil, and Scar­lett O’Hara twice con­sid­ered the idea of flee­ing to Latin Amer­ica in the epic novel “Gone With the Wind.”

One South­ern girl con­fided in her di­ary: “The men are all talk­ing about go­ing to Mex­ico and Brazil.” An­other ad­dressed the same theme: “There is com­plete re­vul­sion in pub­lic feel­ing. No more talk about help from France or Eng­land, but all about em­i­gra­tion to Mex­ico or Brazil. We are ir­re­triev­ably ru­ined.”

One man summed it up for many: “You folks made our lives so im­pos­si­ble in the United States that we had to leave.”

In 1868, the 14th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion made it il­le­gal for for­mer Con­fed­er­ate of­fi­cers to hold any state or fed­eral po­si­tion in the United States. It is no won­der so many felt like ex­iles and strangers in their own homes.

Lives of seem­ingly end­less de­spair mo­ti­vated many to re­lo­cate. An es­ti­mated 3 mil­lion South­ern­ers aban­doned their homes in the for­mer Con­fed­er­ate States. They moved all over — to Texas, out West and even to North­ern states. Many left the United States al­to­gether de­spite lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties, dis­tance and ex­pense, never to re­turn.

Many mi­grated to Mex­ico, Canada, Eng­land (pro-Con­fed­er­acy dur­ing the war), Venezuela or nu­mer­ous other for­eign lo­ca­tions. But the most pop­u­lar coun­try of South­ern em­i­gra­tion was Brazil. South­ern­ers were en­er­gized with the fa­vor­able news that Brazil rolled out wel­come mats for them, pro­vided cheap land and, for good mea­sure, threw in cheer­ing crowds, par­ties and ser­e­nades.

It was al­most too good to be true, but ad­ven­tur­ers such as the sci­en­tist Matthew Fon­taine Maury had al­ready scouted out Latin Amer­ica years ear­lier and had writ­ten ex­ten­sively about its ben­e­fits. “The Ama­zon,” Maury wrote, “re­minds us of the Mis­sis­sippi. Its cli­mate an ev­er­last­ing sum­mer and its har­vest peren­nial.”

A pop­u­lar ditty at the time went:

Oh, give me a ship with a sail and with wheel,

And let me be off to happy Brazil!

Home of the sun­beam — great king­dom of Heat,

With woods ever green and snakes forty feet!

Land of the di­a­mond — bright na­tion of pearls,

With mon­keys aplenty, and Por­tuguese girls!

I yearn to feel her per­pet­ual spring,

And shake by the hand Dom Pe­dro her king,

Kneel at his feet — call him, “My Royal Boss!”

And re­ceive in “Wel­come, Old Hoss!”


Brazil had been of­fi­cially neu­tral dur­ing the war but had made no se­cret that it sym­pa­thized with the Con­fed­er­acy. Brazil­ians had har­bored and sup­plied South­ern ships (in­clud­ing those run­ning Yan­kee block­ades) and had re­fused Union de­mands to treat South­ern ships as pi­rate ves­sels.

With an open bor­der, Brazil­ian Em­peror Dom Pe­dro II wel­comed the South­ern­ers’ tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and determination. He hoped to make Brazil the ma­jor cot­ton sup­plier to Bri­tain. His agents met with prospec­tive colonists at offices in New York and Wash­ing­ton. He sub­si­dized pas­sage, made land avail­able very cheap, pro­vided free tem­po­rary hous­ing and ac­cel­er­ated and sim­pli­fied the nat­u­ral­iza­tion process.

In 1866, a group of Brazil­ians es­tab­lished the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Im­mi­gra­tion to en­cour­age leg­is­la­tion for new and ben­e­fi­cial im­mi­gra­tion pro­grams.

A for­mer Alabama cot­ton grower en­cour­aged oth­ers in 1868:

“Move here and buy land, which you can do on four years’ credit, at twenty-two cents per acre, bet­ter than I ever saw any­where in the United States even in the rich­est por­tions of Alabama. Bring with you all tools you can, as yours are gen­er­ally bet­ter than can be bought here.

“Bring all your house­hold fur­ni­ture ex­cept very heavy ar­ti­cles of wood. With what means you have don’t fear to start. If you can bring any num­ber of such fam­i­lies as your own, I can safely guar­an­tee them homes, and plenty of land for which Prov­i­dence has done more than for any other I have ever seen or heard of. (I have al­most for­given our en­e­mies all their wrongs, on ac­count of the bet­ter coun­try to which they forced me.)

“We have here a beau­ti­ful place for our vil­lage, in the cen­ter of rich land, and on a grand river. This is mid-sum­mer, ther­mome­ter at 85 rang­ing through the year from 95 to 65.”

Nearly all South­ern news­pa­pers railed against the ex­o­dus, know­ing the loss of cit­i­zens (to­day called “brain drain”) to be harm­ful to so­ci­ety. Robert E. Lee and Jef­fer­son Davis vo­cif­er­ously urged against it.

De­spite th­ese protests, many went to Brazil. They planned to stay and usu­ally did. By 1867, one Brazil­ian news­pa­per re­ported that it seemed as if Con­fed­er­a­dos were liv­ing on ev­ery block of Rio de Janeiro.

Their let­ters back home to friends and news­pa­pers were pos­i­tive. Em­i­grants wrote of a per­fect cli­mate, “nei­ther too hot nor cold, and where frost is never known, wa­ter as cold as the moun­tain spring, and so equally dis­trib­uted as to al­low ev­ery man to run his plan­ta­tion ma­chin­ery from it. Here also ev­ery­thing grows, and grows well.”

An­other wrote, “The war worn sol­dier, the be­reaved par­ent, the op­pressed patriot, the home­less and de­spoiled, can find refuge from the tri­als which be­set them, and a home not haunted by the eter­nal re­mem­brance of har­row­ing scenes of sor­row and death.” Al­though slav­ery still ex­isted in Brazil at the time, the great ma­jor­ity of South­ern­ers who em­i­grated were pleased sim­ply to have found comfortable new homes.

They be­came known as Con­fed­er­a­dos and quickly gained a rep­u­ta­tion for hon­esty and hard work. They adapted and set up com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing those known to­day as Amer­i­cana and Florida. Those com­mu­ni­ties have fre­quent gath­er­ings and cel­e­bra­tions, in­clud­ing some in which women dress in an­te­bel­lum gowns and men in gray uni­forms sim­i­lar to the type worn by their an­ces­tors.

Many Brazil­ians still carry names such as Lee, Jef­fer­son and Wash­ing­ton. The Con­fed­er­a­dos learned Por­tuguese but of­ten con­tin­ued to speak English at home and at gath­er­ings with other emi­gres. Ge­or­gia Gov. Jimmy Carter vis­ited in 1972; both he and his press sec­re­tary re­marked how the Con­fed­er­a­dos sounded and seemed just like South­ern­ers.

Paul N. Her­bert is the Pres­i­dent of the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety of Fair­fax County, Va. and au­thor of “God Knows All Your Names.”


(Above) In 1972, Ge­or­gia Gov. Jimmy Carter vis­ited Brazil and re­marked on the sim­i­lar­ity be­tween Amer­i­can South­ern­ers and Con­fed­er­a­dos, de­scen­dants of Con­fed­er­ates who em­i­grated to Brazil af­ter the Civil War. The youngsters with him are fifth-gen­er­a­tion Con­fed­er­a­dos. (Be­low, right) Flags of Brazil, the Con­fed­er­acy and the U.S. in a church speak to the de­scen­dants’ mixed her­itage.

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