Confederates in the Jungle—Civil War Refugees in Brazil
The Fourth of July celebration has all the hallmarks of a scene from “Gone with the Wind,” or a county fair in the most unreconstructed corners of Mississippi or Alabama. The men, dressed in Confederate gray shell jackets, yellow-trimmed frock coats, kepis and plumed black slouch hats, cross the dance floor to select their partners, elegant young women in colorful hoop-skirted ball gowns. Arm in arm, they step to the rhythms of ancient dances, as the fiddle and banjo strike up the old-time strains of “Dixie’s Land,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “The Virginia Reel” and “Cumberland Gap.”
Meanwhile, families gather around banquet tables loaded down with dishes that are the products of centuries-old Southern family recipes. Along the sidelines, vendors hawk rebel battle flags, Confederate campaign caps, and T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers emblazoned with slogans like “Hell no, we won’t forget!”
Nearby stands a small stucco-walled chapel. An old cemetery, shaded by Alabama pines and bougainvillea, contains over 500 graves with stones bearing such venerable Southern names as MacKnight, Miller and Baird, Steagall, Oliver, and Norris, Owens, Carlton and Cobb.
The setting is, in fact, in the South - very far south, in Brazil.
The Festa Confederada is held as often as four times a year in Campo, an area carved out of the sugar cane fields outside Americana, a modern city of some 200,000 residents in the state of São Paulo. All the participants are “Confederados” - fifth-generation descendants of Southerners who immigrated here in the days following the Civil War. The entire scene - the dress, the music, food, even the conversation - is a carefully rendered homage to those disaffected rebels who elected to leave their conquered nation and make a new home in a foreign land.
By 1866, the future for countless Southerners appeared bleak. Not only had their bid for nationhood been destroyed; in many instances, so had their homes, their communities and their livelihood. The prospect of living under the harsh fist of the conquering North was more than many were willing to bear. As one Confederado descendant wrote, “Helpless under military occupation and burdened by the psychology of defeat, a sense of guilt, and the economic devastation wrought by the war, many felt they had no choice but to leave.”
There were other reasons. For some, the prospect of laboring alongside former slaves was unacceptable. And then there were those adventurers who hoped to find gold or silver in what was being widely touted as a tropical paradise. Whatever their impetus, for tens of thousands of Southerners, the promise of a new beginning in a new land was irresistible, and Latin America beckoned.
The Southerners’ knowledge of agriculture made them an attractive asset, and a number of countries, including Mexico, Honduras and Venezuela, competed to colonize the disaffected Americans. The most favorable offer, however, came from Brazil’s Emperor Dom Pedro II. Desperate to expand the cultivation of cotton in his country, he put together a proposal offering an impressive list of amenities, including the building of a new road and rail infrastructure for conveying crops to market. Brazil had been a strong ally to the Confederacy throughout the war, harboring and supplying rebel ships. And although Brazil had closed its ports to the African slave trade in 1850, it would not abolish slavery for another 38 years. Of all the Latin American nations, Brazil was the one with which the Southerners felt the strongest bond.
Glenn Greenwald would feel right at home with these paleo-secessionists.
It’s funny I have read a lot of fiction about nazi colonies in South America, but almost nothing about the Confederates.
Why would they celebrate the Fourth of July? Isn’t that, like, a Yankee festival? Wouldn’t they celebrate Ft. Sumter Day (April 1861?)