The Confederados

Imagine walking through the Brazilian jungle. The lush canopy overhead nearly blocks out the sun and your senses are almost overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of the rain forest. Now imagine that you come to a clearing in the jungle. At the other side of the clearing, you see Tara from Gone With The Wind, complete with Anglo-Saxon owners, African slaves… even a Confederate flag flying proudly in the wind. Although it might sound like a fantasy – and perhaps the image of an exact copy of Tara in the Brazilian jungle is a bit overblown – I assure you that many as 10,000 Southerners packed up at the end of the Civil War and became Confederados in the Brazilian wilderness.

Here’s how it happened: towards the end of the Civil War, Brazil’s Emperor Dom Pedro II – one of only two Brazilian monarchs, and the only native-born monarch in Brazilian history – knew that the Southern cause was lost. He knew that his country needed the expertise of experienced cotton farmers, so he sent recruiters to the American South offering subsidies and tax breaks to unrepentant Confederates as an incentive to move to Brazil. Even though no less a figure than Robert E. Lee cautioned Southerners against such a move, thousands packed up everything and started life anew in the jungles of Brazil.

Although as many as 60% of the Confederados would return to the South as conditions improved back home, at least 4,000 of them became permanent residents of Brazil. The Confederados were quite insular at first, but by the second generation they had intermarried with native Brazilians and began to learn Portuguese. And although Don Pedro’s program might not seem like a smashing success, both the immigrants and the Brazilian government considered it one. The Confederados brought modern agricultural techniques with them, and that knowledge was quickly disseminated throughout the nation. The settlers also brought watermelon, corn and pecans with them, which are still valuable crops in Brazil to this day. Fried chicken became popular in Brazil due to the Confederados, and other dishes like chess pie and vinegar pie – once ubiquitous in the American South, but increasingly hard to find today – are still popular in Brazil. The Confederados also established the first Baptist churches and public schools in Brazil – and they even sent their women and slaves to the schools, which was considered scandalous in Brazilian culture at the time.

The descendants of the Confederados established the Fraternity of American Descendants, which acts much like the Sons of Confederate Veterans here in the US. There is an annual festival called the Festa Confederada where Confederate flags fly, descendants walk around in Confederate uniforms or hoop skirts, people dance to songs popular in the South during the antebellum era, and people of all kinds enjoy Southern food that has increasingly taken on a Brazilian flair. The festival takes place in the city of Americana, which until recently had the stars and bars on the city’s crest. Also in Americana is the Campo Cemetery. Being Protestants in an overwhelmingly Catholic land, the Confederados had to establish their own cemetery. In 1972, future president Jimmy Carter visited the cemetery with his wife Rosalyn, as her great-uncle – one of the original Confederados – is buried in Campo.

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