Mar 3, 2014
The American Civil War ended in the Spring of 1865 with a crippling defeat of the Confederacy. Suddenly, 9 million residents of the Southern United States found themselves as people without a country. Many families had had their homes looted and burned. Southern railroads and riverboats had been destroyed. Northern military governors had been installed to administer Southern states until they could be reintegrated into the Union. Tens of thousands died of starvation. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Northern carpetbaggers would move in and buy Southern homes, farms, & businesses for bargain basement prices. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Southerners fled the South.
Dom Pedro II, Emperor of Brazil, saw an opportunity. The emperor knew that cotton was a hot commodity, and he wanted it grown in Brazil. Where could he find experienced cotton growers, though?
Dom Pedro sent agents throughout the South to enlist farmers to come to Brazil. He offered all types of incentives, including tax breaks and cheap land, to entice Southerners to immigrate to Brazil. General Robert E. Lee begged Southerners to stay, but starving, impoverished, and living under a Yankee occupation, 20,000 former Confederates moved to Brazil.
The majority of the immigrants were not what you might suspect: businessmen, lawyers, doctors, & teachers. The voyage by ocean was often a difficult & hazardous one. Leaving from Charleston, New York & Galveston, it could take over 30 days to arrive in Rio de Janeriro. The cramped ships and rough seas weren’t the only dangers the refugees faced, though. In 1866, the captain of one ship leaving New York was bribed by Northerners to wreck his ship of the coast of Cuba. As he neared the island, he tied down the wheel and hid in his quarters. When the passengers found out what the captain had done, several men kicked open the captain’s door and forced him to free the helm at gunpoint. They were too late, and the ship crashed into a clutch of sunken rocks. Fortunately the passengers managed to get off before the boat sank.
The immigrants that arrived in Brazil settled a bit North of Sao Paulo. They named their community ‘Americana.’ Americana was a little slice of Dixie in the rain forest. The Confederados, as they came to be called, kept much of their identities and culture alive. They introduced the first Baptist churches in Brazil, as well as new crops such as watermelons and pecans. The Confederados also educated slaves, freedmen, and women in their new public schools.
Aside from the occasional kidnapping of Confederados by natives, the immigration program proved to be a success for both the Confederados and the emperor. The immigrants worked hard and had a reputation for discipline, honesty, & self-sufficiency. Soon, more immigrants arrived.
For decades, Americana remained the last bastion of the Confederacy – holding onto their Southern values and traditions in their near isolation. By the second generation, however, Confederados began intermarrying with Brazilians, began speaking Portuguese, and gave up growing cotton for more lucrative cash crops such as sugar cane & coffee.
Today’s descendants, which make up about a tenth of Americana residents, still celebrate their heritage. Every year they celebrate the Festa Confederada – an annual festival with Confederate flags, Southern food, antebellum clothes, and Southern music and dances.
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