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.

Map showing the location of Americana, São Paulo, Brazil

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. These larger farms had depended heavily on slave labor. 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 228,000 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.”

Cemetery in Americana, Brazil where many of the original Confederados are buried.

In 1972, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter visited Brazil and remarked on the similarity between American Southerners and Confederados, descendants of Confederates who immigrated to Brazil after the Civil War. The youngsters with him are fifth-generation Confederados.

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 Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederados as well as in a number of books available on Amazon and elsewhere. You can search by starting at https://amzn.to/2YUrnS0. You also might want to watch a YouTube video about the Confederados at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aoGLcExOJM (also available below).

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

 

10 Comments

About 15 years back I had a couple of emails from a genetic cousin living in Brazil – our common ancestor moved to Georgia at the time of the Georgia Land Lottery, and my “cousin” had a common variant of the ancestral last name but a Portuguese language first name. We shared trees, and I told him the few stories I knew of our pre-Revolutionary War ancestor. Not too much difference that what I tell my USA genetic cousins.

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I enjoyed this article! I have many cousins in Brazil from this move south. My GG GMs brother Rev. Robert Porter Thomas who had served from Arkansas, moved his family there after the war. One daughter was married and stayed here. I have communicated with them over many years and had some come to Texas to visit me. One cousin did a small book on the cemetery there, and I kept copies to mail for her. Some fine family records traveled with them that have been shared with me.

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I failed to mention that Rev. Robert Porter Thomas was named for his grandfather Capt. Robert Thomas who was killed during the Revolutionary War in a South Carolina skirmish at Mudlick Creek in 1781.

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In reference to the article about the Southerners who moved to Brazil, Colonel William Hutchinson Norris was my great-great-grandfather. His son, Dr. Robert Norris, my great-grandfather. His daughter Julia was my grandmother. She was born in the American community in the state of São Paulo and married Dr. Leonard Yancey Jones from Troy, Alabama who joined the community in the 1890s. Their son, Dr. Cicero Jones, was my father and married my mother, Mary Margaret O’Laughlin, from Pennsylvania. My two sisters and I were born and grew up in the city of São Paulo, not in the town of Americana.

Although I have lived most of my life in the United States, I’ve maintained close contact with my many relatives in Brazil whom I visit once or twice each year. The article states that descendants of the Cofederados speak in a “strong Southern drawl.” This is not correct. My father’s generation spoke only English at home but were completely fluent in Portuguese. Their accent was unique and influenced by the complex phonology of Brazilian Portuguese, not by a Southern accent. This type of speech has pretty much disappeared. Due to intermarriage and other influences, today’s descendants speak English as a second language learned in school. Some of my relatives who attended schools in which most subjects were taught in English speak the language in a very “General American” way, not in a Southern drawl. Others who learned English later in life speak it with a very definite Brazilian Portuguese accent. Americans who may visit the descendants in Brazil and expect to hear them speak in a Southern drawl are going to be very disappointed!

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    Edward: am excited to see your post. Norris is my husband’s 4x great uncle. William’s sister Serena (m. Sam Clark) is his 3x great grandmother. I’d like to chat w/you. My email address is: gbkinard@sc.rr.com.

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If the family stories are correct, members who went to Brazil must have returned to the U.S. as I found them back in the U.S. I think many didn’t stay. I have found no proof they went so don’t know if the story is fact.

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There were many former confederates that emigrated to Bath, England, as well.

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Charles Bumgardner July 6, 2020 at 5:04 pm

I visited northern Brazil about 15 years ago. There was southern influence in that area as well. We were surprised to say the least when we saw a confederate flag hanging for a balcony. We also saw Methodist Churches just like you would find in many small southern towns. These may have come from a later “missionary” wave. I am from SC.

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“The town was settled by disgruntled American Confederates after their side lost the Civil War….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.”

Disgruntled? Landless and destitute? Are we supposed to sympathize with people who tore apart the United States to defend a way of life that was based on subjugating other human beings, forcing them to spend their entire lives in far worse conditions than landless and destitute, being treated like animals to be bred for their labor?

“Today Americana is a city of 228,000 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.”

The Confederados in uniform are celebrating “the old South” of a traitorous government willing to destroy our country in order to perpetuate an economy based on slavery and a society ruled by white supremacy. At Festa Confederada, who plays the role of the enslaved people whose families were torn apart, whose women were raped on demand, and all of whom were whipped and beaten into submission? Banjos and Confederate songs–to glorify treason and racism. Gone With the Wind indeed.

During a time when Black Lives Matter has become a national rallying cry, this article is tone deaf to both American history and current events. It’s time to recognize and accept that “the old South” of the Confederacy is a heritage to be condemned, not celebrated.

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can anyone tell me if there is a book listing the people that fled to Brazil after the civil war?

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