The Americana municipality, in São Paulo, Brazil, is home to a very unique subculture – the Confederados. The members of this culture are the descendants of 10,000 Confederate refugees who chose to leave the United States after they lost the American Civil War. Today, the Confederados make up 10 percent of Americana’s population; they’ve managed to preserve the unique culture and traditions belonging to the Confederate South of the 19th century.
When the war ended in 1865, many former Confederates were unwilling to live under the rule of the Union. They were unhappy with the destruction of their pre-war lifestyle that included slavery. So when Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil sent recruiters to the Southern States of Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas to pick up experienced cotton farmers, many disgruntled Southerners jumped at the opportunity.
Slavery was still in existence in Brazil at the time, which greatly attracted the Southerners. Combined with their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Union, many felt that moving out of America was the only option available to them. Dom Pedro, who wanted to encourage the cultivation of cotton, made an offer they could not refuse – he offered them a package of tax breaks and grants, as well as a section of the Brazilian forest that they could call home. It was more than they could ever ask for – a chance to start over and create a new community with Southern values.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
When Confederate Army leader General Robert E. Lee publicly discouraged the Southerners from giving up on the United States, some of them were dissuaded. But several remained unconvinced, and between 1866 and 1867, 10,000 Confederates emigrated from their home country to a more tolerant foreign one. It was the largest and only recorded exodus in the history of the United States; the people who left are sometimes referred to as the Lost Colony of the Confederacy.
“This is the only moment in the United States history that somebody left the United States,” said present-day Confederado Marcelo Dodson. “Many of them were very poor. They just wanted to leave the country that devastated their lives. And they tried to start a new life here.” Passage to Brazil cost them around $20 to $30, and the voyage lasted several weeks. Families were advised to bring a tent, light-weight furniture, farming supplies, seeds, and provisions to last six months.
Photo: Trip Advisor
Understandably, starting a new life wasn’t as easy as expected – drought, tropical disease and the inability to continue their former lifestyle discouraged many of the Confederates and they fled back home. Eventually, only 40 percent of the original refugees remained in Brazil, consisting of 94 families who became successful after several years of hard work.
Dom Pedro’s program was considered a success; it was a win-win situation for both the Brazilian government as well as the immigrants. The settlers brought with them modern agricultural techniques for cotton, new food-crops, like peaches and pecans and various strains of rice. They also brought in modern devices like kerosene lamps, and interesting sports like baseball. When slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, they quickly switched to poorly-paid native workers who were actually more cost-effective than slaves.
The first generation of immigrants remained loyal to their traditions – they refused to learn Portuguese and insulated their colonies from Brazilian culture. They built Baptist churches and public schools. They flew the Confederate flag and enjoyed traditional meals like biscuits and gravy, black-eyed peas, and grits. They baked pecan pies, sang Southern hymns and had debutante balls. Their names were European – Stonewall, Butler, and Ferguson – unlike the natives.
But, over time, the culture of the Confederate immigrants began to dilute – intermarriage with the locals became common from the third generation on, transforming modern descendants into darker-skinned Brazilians who became proud of their dual lineage. They switched from growing cotton to the native sugar cane and the Confederate flag was removed from the city’s crest. Many of them are well integrated with the rest of Brazil, but some of them do learn and speak English with a Southern drawl.
Today, the 120,000 Confederado descendants continue to celebrate their history with an annual festival and quarterly memorial services. Fiesta Confederada – the annual event – is a celebration that includes Confederate flags, parades of people dressed in Confederate uniforms, pre-war Southern cuisine and elaborare Southern-style dancing. The members of the ‘Fraternity of American Descendents’ gather to honor their ancestors and maintain community ties.
Although they’re proud of their ancestry, the Confederados are quick to point out that they no longer believe in racism or slavery. “We have the confederate parties every year, to symbolize this,” said Robert Lee Ferguson. “The event isn’t to confront or insult anyone. We have no racist ideal connected with the flag. The flag is simply a symbol of the honor of how it was used in the past. We would like to be a part of the current history of the United States.”
Many of his fellow Confederados agree. “We bring people to celebrate the culture that has a lot to do with the origins of rock’n’roll. It has nothing to do with racism,” said one of the participants at the festival.
“I do not agree with any kind of slavery,” added Marcelo.