The Confederados Become Brazilian, but Honor Their Southern Roots
by Kathy Warnes
In August 1865, Dr. George Scarborough Barnsley gazed at the ruins of his Georgia plantation that he had named “Woodlands,” pondering what to do next. He had served as a doctor in the Eighth Georgia Regiment in the Confederate Army and he had intended to practice medicine and farm at the end of the War, but the Union Army had damaged Woodlands so extensively that he didn’t think he could salvage his plantation.
What would he do now? He needed to provide a home for his wife and he believed that the South that he fought for the four years had disappeared with the cannon smoke. He had to find a new place for his family to live, somewhere outside of the United States welded together by war.
Why Should I Remain to Weep Over War-Torn Graves?
Writing to his father, Dr. Barnsley said: “I have no other hope but emigration. I cannot conscientiously take an oath to the U.S. Govmt. For now I have not the shadow of an excuse. I am utterly ruined – in hopes, in fortune, and all save honor gone – then why should I remain to weep over war-torn graves. No, I must go.”
Although he didn’t know where he was going, Dr. Barnsley wanted to leave the South as quickly as possible. He thought Brazil might be a good place to settle or Brazil didn’t work out he thought he would do well in Mexico, perhaps get an Army position. His letter reflected the bitter resignation that many other Southerners felt. The stark truth that the South had been conquered and in their view, there was nothing left of their Southern homeland to salvage.
Dr. Barnsley joined the stream of Confederates, still clinging to their ideas of Confederate Nationalism to flee from the defeated South to South America and other countries. To them, the Confederacy was an ideal, a way of living, not necessarily a location. An ideal and a culture could be transplanted.
Former Confederates Plan to Emigrate to Mexico and Brazil
Some historians estimate that as many as 10,000 Southerners emigrated to foreign countries after the Civil War and other say 20,000, although the lack of immigration records makes arriving at exact number impossible. As his letter suggests, most of the Confederates went to Mexico and Brazil, but the location and resources of the émigrés usually determined their destination.
In the western war theater of the Civil War, Confederate soldiers fled the advancing Union armies for the relative safety of Mexico. Brazil posed a more challenging destination since a soldier and his family could not simply gallop to South American on horseback. Arriving safely in Brazil took planning. Confederates emigrating to Brazil were usually civilians or non combat soldiers like Dr. Barnsley who didn’t have to worry about Union revenge for being part of a defeated army. Most of them weren’t planters, at least not until they arrived in Brazil. Most of them came from middle class professional families scattered across the war ravaged South. They organized themselves into colonizing groups after the Civil War and prepared to move from the American south to South America.
Saving the South by Transplanting it to South America
To Dr. Barnsley and the other Confederate exiles, Brazil seemed like an ideal place to rebuild their society. In tropical Brazil, planters were free to cultivate their crops and the imperial government still endorsed slavery. The former Confederates believed that colonies in Brazil and Mexico would give them a chance to rebuild the plantation society of the Old South and preserve the Southern culture that Yankee occupation was destroying.
Dr. Barnsley and his fellow Confederates dismissed any idea of rebuilding the South through compromise, accommodation, and further clashes with the North. Why waste years in continuous conflict with the North when the South could rise again in Brazil without a fight? By leaving their defeated homeland, these Confederates – and they were not ex-Confederates, they were CONFEDERATES- practiced their Confederate nationalism in its purest form. Their nationalism was based on the belief that the Southern character could exist only within a society that cherished and protected two critical parts of antebellum Southern identity: plantation agriculture and white supremacy.
Confederates like Dr. Barnsley and his colleagues knew that they would have to pay a heavy price to establish their new South in foreign lands. Inspired by the promise of a Southern culture as they envisioned it away from a defeated South, they ignored the realities in their destination countries, although yet another insurrection tore Mexico apart and a liberal reform movement was sweeping across Brazil. Both countries lacked internal structure and race relations in both were murky and volatile.
Many of the male Confederate émigrés succumbed to the ideal of combining the identities of the planter and the pioneer. Tropical colonies in Brazil and Mexico would give Southern men the opportunity to tame the wilderness and resume the paternal role of plantation owner. The elements of Southern manliness that the Confederate defeat at home could be resurrected in Mexico and Brazil. The horror of Yankee control of their beloved South closed the eyes of the immigrating Confederates to equally unpleasant realities in their chosen new countries as they prepared to travel.
By the late 1860s, these Southern expatriates to Brazil who called themselves Confederados had settled in six locations in Brazil. Most of the Confederados were white Anglo Americans, but their number also included slave owning Cherokee, Choctaw and Muscogee Indians who were invited to settle in Brazil because of their advanced farming skills. The names of their colonies symbolized the meeting of Confederate and South American cultures.
Santarem was located on the Amazon; Linhares on the Rio Doce; New Texas near the port of Iguape; Lizzieland near Iguape; Xiririca near Iguape; and Santa Barbara north of Sao Paulo City. For the Confederados, immigration was a second and perhaps their last chance to reestablish Southern cultural hierarchy. Still fervently believing in their cause and strengthened by their confidence in it, Dr. Barnsley and the rest of the émigrés bravely moved forward in their quest to save the South by transplanting it to South America.
Dr. James McFadden Gaston, a Confederate searching for new homes for his family and other Southern émigrés , arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September 1865. Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil wanted to facilitate producing more cotton because of the high prices it brought and sought experienced cotton farmers to come to Brazil, offering them financial incentives.
Alienated Southerners Decide to Immigrate to Brazil
The Brazilian government helped Dr. Gaston set up a commission to facilitate his search for property. The Liberal Party, which was the political arm of the republican reform movement and a rising power in the imperial parliament, advocated an open immigration policy to alleviate the national labor shortage.
Slaves had historically been the primary labor force in Brazil, but it had been steadily declining for decades. In 1822, slaves made up more than 50 percent of the population, but by the end of the 1860s, only about 20 percent of the population was slaves. Slavery legally ended in Brazil in May 1888, partially as a result of the emancipation movement across the Atlantic World.
The Confederados Arrive in Brazil
In 1865, hundreds of small ships and sailboats arrived in Brazil, carrying depressed, injured, sick and exhausted Confederate men, women and children determined to rebuild their lives. Between 1865 and 1885, between 10,000 and 20,000 of these Confederates arrived, primarily from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. They stepped ashore in ports like Santo, Belem, Vitoria, and Rio de Janeiro.
On board ship they had tried to adjust themselves to the trauma of defeat in war and a lost cause and being uprooted from the only lives they had ever known. On shore, they gathered their scattered energies and prepared to make faraway and hazardous trips around a strange land to reach the Campinas region which contained climate and land similar to the Southern United States. They pressed on, strong in their belief that life in any country was better than life under the Yankees.
A great-granddaughter of the original McKnight family that moved to Brazil from Texas said that the Confederados came to Brazil because they felt they had nothing left in the United States so they came to Brazil to try to regain what they had had before the Civil War. “I grew up listening to their stories. They were angry and bitter. When they talked about it, moving here, the war, leaving their homes, it was always a very sore subject for them,” she said.
Betty Antunes de Oliveira researched in the records of the port of Rio de Janeiro and counted more than 20,000 American entering Brazil from 1865-1885, many of whom renounced their United States citizenship and became citizens of Brazil. The records don’t reveal how many of the Americans returned to the United States as the country recovered from the Civil War.
The emigrants settled in different parts of Brazil, both in the urban areas of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and in northern Amazon regions like Santarem and Parana in the south. Many of the Confederados settled in the region of today’s Santa Barbara d’Oeste and Americana. They especially liked the city of Campinas.
The Confederados Settle the Land
Senator William H. Norris of Alabama, one of the first Confederados to arrive, established the colony at Santa Barbara d’Oeste and it is sometimes called the Norris Colony. The new settlers brought modern agricultural techniques for growing cotton and new crops, including watermelon and pecans. Quickly earning a reputation for honesty and hard work, the Confederados soon were exchanging their expertise with the native Brazilian farmers.
The Southerners also shared some of their traditional foods like chess pie, vinegar pie and southern fried chicken which eventually became assimilated into Brazilian culture. The first organized Protestant group to settle in Brazil, the Confederados established the first Baptist churches in the country. They also started public schools and provided education for girls, an unusual cultural practice in Brazil at that time. In a radical departure from Old South customs, the Confederados also educated slaves and black freedmen in their new schools, a practice that astonished and even scandalized their Brazilian neighbors.
The Confederados Become Brazilian
The first generation Confederado community looked to each other for social practices like marriage, but by the third generation, many of the Confederados had intermarried with native Brazilians or emigrants from other places. The descendants of the Confederados tended to speak Portuguese and call themselves Brazilians. As the region around Santa Barbra d’Oeste and Americana produced more and more sugar cane, and society became more mobile and the Confederados drifted to the cities. In modern times, just a few of the Confederados descendants still live on their ancestral lands.
Most of the original Confederados from Santa Barbara d’Oeste and the region are buried in Campo Cemetery, because they were Protestant and prohibited from local Catholic cemeteries. Campo’s chapel and memorial pay tribute to them. The Confederados descendants are scattered all over Brazil, but they maintain a connection with their history through the Associacao Descendencia Americana-the American Descendants Association- which is dedicated to preserving their unique mixed culture. The descendant’s community has also contributed to an Immigration Museum at Santa Barbra d’Oestre to present the history of their immigration to Brazil. The Confederados also have an annual festival called the Festa Confederada, dedicated to fund the Campo center.
The festival features Confederate flags, participants dressed in Confederate uniforms and hoop skirts, food of the American South cooked with a Brazilian flair, and dances and music that were popular in the American South before the Civil War. The descendants are completely Brazilian, but they have retained their affection for the Confederate flag which doesn’t have the same political symbolism as it does in the United States.
In 1972, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn visited the grave of her great uncle, one of the original Confederados, at Campo. He said that the Confederados sounded and seemed just like Southerners.
Antunes, de Oliveira, Betty. Movimento de Passageiros Norte-Americanos no Porto do Rio de Janeior, 1865-1890. Rio de Janeiro, 1981.
Dawsey, James and Dawsey, Cyrus B. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1998.
Griggs, William Clark. The Elusive Eden: Frank McMullan’s Confederate Colony in Brazil. Austin: University of Texas, 1987.
Harter, Eugene. The Lost Colony of the Confederacy. Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.
Jones, Judith Mac Knight. Soldado Descansa! – Soldier, take your rest. Written in Portuguese, her book lists at least 400 Confederado families.
Rolle, Andrew. The Lost Cause: The Confederate Exodus to Mexico. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1965
Auburn University in Alabama has a special collection of Confederado material, including correspondence, memoirs, genealogies and newspaper clippings.
Edwin S. James Papers, Manuscripts Division, South Carolinian Library, University of south Carolina Columbia.