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.”
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. Fiesta 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.