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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lost Colony of the Confederacy

The Civil War-garbed dancers in this photo are not on a movie set. They only rarely speak English, but, when they do, it’s with a Southern accent. They are descendants of a group of Confederates who left this country at the end of the Civil War and relocated to southern Brazil.

Between 1866-1867, thousands of Confederates, who believed their country had been invaded and their property confiscated, gave up on the United States and sought a way to continue their lifestyle in a more tolerant foreign country. Estimates range from 3,500 – 20,000. Some historians claim that the numbers would have been even larger had not the revered Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee publicly urged Southerners to remain in the U.S. It was the only recorded political exodus in U.S. history. It is sometimes called the Lost Colony of the Confederacy.

The disenchanted Southerners were drawn by the promise of cheap land, a booming cotton industry and the existence of slavery, which was tolerated in Brazil until 1888.

Research tells us that the cost of passage to Brazil was $20-$30, and the voyage lasted several weeks. Each family was encouraged to bring a tent, light-weight furniture, farming supplies and seeds, and provisions to last six months.

Life as start-up farmers was quite difficult and far different from their previous lives. Many became discouraged. Drought, tropical disease and the inability to support their former lifestyle drove 80 percent of the refugees back to the U.S.

Records state that only the 94 families who settled in the Sao Paulo state near what is now called Americana became successful, despite humbling hard work. Eventually, the farmers turned to sugar cane rather than cotton.

They were called Confederales, Confederados or Confederates by their Brazillian neighbors who appreciated the input of the refugees which included kerosene lamps and more modern plows. Confederates also introduced baseball, peaches,pecans and various strains of rice.

Southern missionaries were hired as teachers by the Confederates and had a lasting impact. The educational tradition they initiated is credited as one reason that Americana has only a 14 percent illiteracy rate in a country where 25 percent of the population can not read or write.

For the first 80 years of settlement, the immigrants declined to learn Portuguese and kept their colonies largely separate from Brazillian culture.Today, however, generations of intermarriage have transformed the modern descendants into darker-skinned Brazillians who are proud of both their Brazillian and Confederate lineage. Many still learn English as their first language and speak English in their homes -- complete with Southern drawls.

In 1972, then-Governor of Georgia and future President Jimmy Carter traveled to the city of Santa Bárbara d'Oeste and visited the grave of his wife Rosalyn's great-uncle who was one of the original Confederados.

Today the descendants still celebrate their Southern history with an annual festival and quarterly memorial services. The annual festival is dedicated to funding the Campo Cemetery. Confederate flags abound at these events and attendees don traditional antebellum costumes of Confederate uniforms and hoop-skirted dresses. Refreshment tables feature corn bread, fried chicken and other Southern staples. Songs, music and dances also reflect the pre-Civil War culture.

Four times a year, more than 200 members of the Fraternidade Descendencia Americana, the Fraternity of American Descendants, gather to honor their ancestors and maintain community ties despite now being scattered throughout the area.

They sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic in Portuguese, say a Protestant prayer, then have a Southern-style picnic mixed with family gossip and stories of their ancestors, most of whom are buried in the nearby cemetery. Also in the vicinity is the Museum of Immigration at Santa Bárbara d'Oeste created to preserve the history of the Confederate immigration to Brazil.

Keeping the faith through these celebrations is one way descendants, particularly the older ones, nurture ancestral memories. "Preserving our heritage helps us hold on to cherished values and pass them on to future generations," said one of the community’s historians.


Vicki said...

This was very interesting! I have gone all my Southern life without knowing this. Thanks ever so much for enlightening me.

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