Confederados Forge New Cultural Identity; Southerners Flee Postwar Woes to Build Lives in Brazil

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 17, 2009 | Go to article overview

Confederados Forge New Cultural Identity; Southerners Flee Postwar Woes to Build Lives in Brazil


Byline: Paul N. Herbert, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Plagued with economic ruin, psychological terror and personal tragedy at the end of the Civil War, many Southerners began to dis-

cuss packing up their war-torn lives and emigrating to foreign lands as an antidote for their suffering.

Southern diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote about Confederate officers going to Mexico and Brazil, and Scarlett O'Hara twice considered the idea of fleeing to Latin America in the epic novel Gone With the Wind.

One Southern girl confided in her diary: The men are all talking about going to Mexico and Brazil. Another addressed the same theme: There is complete revulsion in public feeling. No more talk about help from France or England, but all about emigration to Mexico or Brazil. We are irretrievably ruined.

One man summed it up for many: You folks made our lives so impossible in the United States that we had to leave.

In 1868, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution made it illegal for former Confederate officers to hold any state or federal position in the United States. It is no wonder so many felt like exiles and strangers in their own homes.

Lives of seemingly endless despair motivated many to relocate. An estimated 3 million Southerners abandoned their homes in the former Confederate States. They moved all over - to Texas, out West and even to Northern states. Many left the United States altogether despite language difficulties, distance and expense, never to return.

Many migrated to Mexico, Canada, England (pro-Confederacy during the war), Venezuela or numerous other foreign locations. But the most popular country of Southern emigration was Brazil. Southerners were energized with the favorable news that Brazil rolled out welcome mats for them, provided cheap land and, for good measure, threw in cheering crowds, parties and serenades.

It was almost too good to be true, but adventurers such as the scientist Matthew Fontaine Maury had already scouted out Latin America years earlier and had written extensively about its benefits. The Amazon, Maury wrote, reminds us of the Mississippi. .. Its climate an everlasting summer and its harvest perennial

A popular ditty at the time went:

Oh, give me a ship with a sail and with wheel,

And let me be off to happy Brazil!

Home of the sunbeam - great kingdom of Heat,

With woods ever green and snakes forty feet!

Land of the diamond - bright nation of pearls,

With monkeys aplenty, and Portuguese girls!

I yearn to feel her perpetual spring,

And shake by the hand Dom Pedro her king,

Kneel at his feet - call him, My Royal Boss!

And receive in return, Welcome, Old Hoss!

Brazil had been officially neutral during the war but had made no secret that it sympathized with the Confederacy. Brazilians had harbored and supplied Southern ships (including those running Yankee blockades) and had refused Union demands to treat Southern ships as pirate vessels.

With an open border, Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro II welcomed the Southerners' technical expertise and determination. He hoped to make Brazil the major cotton supplier to Britain. His agents met with prospective colonists at offices in New York and Washington. He subsidized passage, made land available very cheap, provided free temporary housing and accelerated and simplified the naturalization process.

In 1866, a group of Brazilians established the International Society of Immigration to encourage legislation for new and beneficial immigration programs. …

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Confederados Forge New Cultural Identity; Southerners Flee Postwar Woes to Build Lives in Brazil
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