The Confederates Who Moved to Brazil

Many citizens of the Confederacy disappeared from public records at the end of the Civil War or soon thereafter. Of course, record keeping was spotty at best in the turmoil that followed the defeat of the Confederacy. If you can’t find your relatives during that time, you might be tempted to say, “Oh well, he (or she) probably died in the war.” Don’t be so sure.

Americana is a small city about 100 miles from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. The town was settled by disgruntled American Confederates after their side lost the Civil War. Descendants of the original settlers still live there today, and most of them still speak English with a strong southern drawl.

After the Civil War, many families from the old South were left landless and destitute. They probably hated living under a conquering army of Yankees. Brazilian emperor Dom Pedro II realized this group of disenchanted Americans could be a solution to one of his problems: how to develop the sparsely-settled areas of his country. He was especially interested in developing the cultivation of cotton, a crop well-known to the former Confederates. He provided incentives to people who knew how to raise cotton, offering land at twenty-two cents an acre with four years credit and passage to Brazil for thirty Yankee dollars. Each family was encouraged to bring a tent, light-weight furniture, farming supplies and seeds, and provisions to last six months.

Dom Pedro II sent recruiters into Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas in search of experienced cotton farmers for his country. Many southerners saw this as their only option for happiness, to build a community with southern values in the jungle of Brazil. They would become known as the Confederados. About 10,000 Confederates did take the Emperor up on his offer although about sixty percent of them later went back to the United States in small groups.

The immigrants settled in several different areas of Brazil, but the most successful group settled in what is now known as Americana in the state of São Paulo. The first immigrant to arrive was the lawyer and ex-senator of Alabama, Colonel William Hutchinson Norris. He left Alabama in 1866. The following year his family joined him, along with many families from several other Confederate States. They soon built houses and formed an agricultural society that was quite different from that of their Portuguese-speaking neighbors.

The colonists were ecstatic about what they saw, and one wrote back to the Mobile Daily Register: “I have sugar cane, cotton, pumpkins, squash, five kinds of sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, cornfield peas, snap beans, butter beans, ochre [probably okra], tomatoes and fine chance at tobacco. I have a great variety of fruits on my place. I have made enough to live well on and am better pleased than other.”

Confederate immigrants Mr. Joseph Whitaker and Mrs. Isabel Norris

A small town soon formed, and a train station was built when the first railroad line was constructed through the area in 1875. The train station was officially named “Villa da Estação de Santa Bárbara” (Santa Bárbara Station Town), but the nearby town became popularly known as “Villa dos Americanos” (Town of the Americans). The town was later officially named Americana.

Slavery was still legal in Brazil when the Confederates arrived, probably one of the reasons they were attracted to the area. Black slaves were used in agriculture and in a textile mill established by one of the immigrants. However, a new law soon after in 1871 freed all children born to slave parents, thereby signaling the future end of slavery. The Law of Sexagenarians in 1885 freed slaves when they reached the age of 60, and Brazil finally outlawed all slavery in 1888. The textile mill soon failed, as did a number of the larger farms in Americana. The smaller farms succeeded, however, and the area slowly grew and prospered.

New waves of immigrants settled in and near Americana, notably large numbers of Italians and Germans in the 1880s. The families intermarried over the years, and today Americana’s population is described as a mixture of Luso-Afro-Brazilians (Luso meaning Portuguese) and immigrants, mainly Italian, Portuguese, German, and Arabic. The name of Americana still survives, and because of intermarriages, almost all of today’s citizens of the area can claim some Confederados ancestry. Indeed, English (with a southern accent) is the unofficial second language of the area and is still spoken by many in the area.

Today Americana is a city of 120,000 people. The ties to the old South live on. Festa Confederada is a celebration that takes place in the cemetery where the old Confederates are buried. The food served includes southern fried chicken, vinegar pie, chess pie, and biscuits. Banjos are played and Confederate songs are sung. The men wear Confederate uniforms, and the women dress in pink and blue and wear matching ribbons in their hair. The festival often looks like scenes from “Gone With the Wind.”

About 400 Americans and some of their descendants are buried in the cemetery. One of the graves belongs to W.S. Wise, a great uncle of Rosalynn (Mrs. Jimmy) Carter, wife of the former president of the United States. In 1972, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter made a visit to this cemetery. The cemetery contains a small chapel, an obelisk with the Confederate flag and the names of the original families, and a small museum with photos and artifacts from the original settlers.

You can learn more about this settlement and the families who lived there by starting online. Auburn University has a large Confederados Collection; a guide to the collection may be found at http://www.lib.auburn.edu/archive/find-aid/958.htm. A web site of the history of the Confederados may be found at http://www.confederados.com.br/. This web site also contains a list of Confederados families.

Much more information may be found in The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil, a book by by Cyrus B. Dawsey (Editor), James M. Dawsey (Editor), Michael L. Conniff (Foreword), & 9 more, available on Amazon at http://goo.gl/8IOgcs.

If your long-lost relatives disappeared shortly after the American Civil War, you might find them in Americana, São Paulo, Brazil.

9 Comments

Elsie Wiggins Petty November 5, 2014 at 9:14 pm

You are very correct that many former Confederates emigrated to other countries during Reconstruction. I am a descendant of Richard Wiggins who took his family to Brazil and found that he did not like life there. He and his family returned to the United States. Many of those families who emigrated to Brazil, Mexico and other countries did eventually return to the United States. Passenger lists for the return passage is one record to search. My ancestor’s family returned through the port of Baltimore. Another source to search would be American newspapers from the location in the United States where they had lived prior to emigration. My ancestor and his son-in-law, Frank Emerson, both wrote letters to the newspaper in Meridian, Mississippi, describing the conditions they had found in Brazil. Richard Wiggins was so unhappy that in his letter he asked for $400.00 in gold to secure passage for his family to return to the states. One additional book on the subject that I can recommend is The Lost Colony by Eugene C. Harter who was born in Brazil as a descendant of Confederates who had settled in Americana. http://www.amazon.com/Confederacy-Williams-Ford-University-Military-History-ebook/dp/B005GOSF7U/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415235589&sr=1-1&keywords=Eugene+C.+Harter

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I am going to have to go back and research a CW veteran again, now, with this new information. I have one I researched to Brazil, but I thought I had found another with the same name. Now to figure which one it was…

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This explains much. I didn’t understand why I kept on tripping up on several “english”-sounding surnames (as well as ones I was looking for) in São Paulo, Minas Gerais and other mid-southern Brazilian states, while researching my (British) ancestors in the north-east of the country. How did they get there, why, and who were they related to? The answer, I now see, is that they have NO connection to me and mine as they are all American (I have no American ancestry at all). So, thanks for that!

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I laughed Dick at your comment, “They probably hated living under a conquering army of Yankees.” I’d say that’s the understatement of the year. Many of my New Orleans ancestors went to France for the war years, returning only to find Reconstruction lasting many more years. Not a happy group!

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My Curley surname DNA project discovered a relationship between a Brazilian Curley family and a group of Curley families in Alabama, all descended from the same family of Ulster Scots who came to America in the early 1700’s. It looks like we may have a Confederado on our hands.

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My maternal grandfather, Roger Monroe Sanderford, and a cousin made a trip to Brazil before he married my grandmother in the early 1900’s, to visit an bachelor uncle who had a gold claim there, to try to get him to pass it on to the family, since in Brazil if one died intestate the government inherited it. However he and his cousin were unsuccessful, and the uncle died later without a will. My grandfather was born in Texas, but his parents were from Meridian, Mississippi. They were married just before the Civil War, and my great-grandfather fought in that war, losing the sight of one eye later in life due to the migration of a bullet lodged in his face.

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As you stated there were many that left the Confederate States for Brazil. My first Cousin 4X removed , Green Ferguson, went there soon after the war along with a Captain J A Thomas from the Chester County South Carolina Area. Green later sent for his family and they settled in the Americana area and became a well established farmer. He and his wife Minerva Rowell raised they American and Brazilian family there. Captain J A Thomas did not stay as he could not agree with the inter racial marriages that were allowed there. He returned to the USA and died in Chester County South Carolina.
Green and Minerva Ferguson, along with several of their children, are buried in the Campo cemetery you mentioned. One of Green and Minerva Ferguson’s Great Granddaughter still lives in the Sao Palo area. She is 95+ years old and I communicate with her children often. Her name is Betty Antunes de Oliveira and she is still playing the piano and organ almost daily.

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Excellent post and story, I’m from nearby Americana, but had no idea about it all. I’d just like to remark that the correct name for the celebration mentioned is FEsta Confederada (FIEsta is Spanish, not Portuguese): http://festaconfederada.com.br/. Thanks!

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