The Confederados

Norris, William The Confederados were individuals from the U.S. Confederate states who left the American South and resettled in São Paulo, Brazil, immediately after the Civil War. Although the exact number of individuals is difficult to determine, between 2,000 and 4,000 emigrants are estimated to have participated in the movement between 1865 and 1875. Leading researchers of the topic have identified 154 families that arrived in Brazil during this time, with 37 families being from Alabama. About half the total number eventually returned to the United States, whereas the remainder established themselves in their new homeland and went on to have a significant influence on local society. The immigrants and their descendants are referred to as the Confederados, which is Portuguese for “Confederates.”

Georgia-born Col. William Norris, a former Alabama state senator and representative from Dallas County, was one of the principal participants and leaders of the movement. Norris arrived in 1866 and purchased between 400 and 600 acres and most likely planted cotton. His farm in the central São Paulo state became the focal point of the dominant settlement area. In 1870, the local railroad reached the vicinity, and the terminus became known as the “Village of the Americans.” It would evolve into the city of Americana.

The Norris family consisted of William, his wife Mary, and their 11 children. Son Robert, who was a Confederate veteran, later returned to the United States to study medicine and then went back to Americana, where he followed in his father’s footsteps as a community leader. Among other early families said to have originated in Alabama were the Moores, Daniels, Whitakers, Townsends, Broadnaxes, Prestridges, Andersons, Brownlows, Ezells, and Provosts. Later arrivals included the Northrups, Capps, Bentleys, Campbells, and Kennerlys. In addition, Benjamin and Dalton Yancey, two sons of secessionist leader William Lowndes Yancey, immigrated to Brazil and spent some time there, perhaps 13 or 14 years in the case of Benjamin.

Charles Gunter In 1891, physician Cicero Jones moved from Troy, Pike County, to the Americana settlement, where he married a descendant of the Norris clan. His daughter, Judith MacKnight Jones, became a historian and the author of Soldado Descansa: Uma epopeia norte americana sob os céus do Brasil (Soldier, Rest: A North American Saga beneath the Skies of Brazil) the most comprehensive description of the Confederados in the Portuguese language. Immediately after the Civil War, Texan Frank McMullan, physician James Gaston of Montgomery, former Alabama state representative Charles G. Gunter, and others also gathered together groups of emigrants and took them to new settlements along the coast of southeast Brazil. Lansford Hastings, an early explorer of California, established a colony in Santarem along the Amazon River in the north. Although some of the settlers remained in Brazil, all of the early colonies, except for Norris’s, failed. Inadequate transportation, poor soil, floods, and a general unfamiliarity with tropical agricultural conditions were among the causes of the failures. Many settlers returned to the United States, but those who stayed gravitated to the interior of the state of São Paulo, where the Norris family had relocated.

According to cultural geographers, human migration, or the permanent relocation of people, results from a combination of “push” and “pull” conditions. A major incentive driving the Confederados, including the Norrises, from their homes was animosity toward the North and the uncertain future of the South after the war. Another element was the significant participation of group of families from Madison County, who were part of a faction known as the “Broad River Group” because they originally hailed from the Broad River region of Georgia. Family and personal connections played an important role as well.

Norris, William Though some disgruntled southerners emigrated to other countries, such as Mexico, several factors drew the majority to Brazil. During the previous decade, Reverends Daniel P. Kidder and James C. Fletcher had visited Brazil and wrote a popular book, Brazil and the Brazilians (1857), extolling the wonders of what they perceived to be a tropical paradise. During the 1860s, adventurers such as Rev. Ballard Dunn, a Louisiana native, chaplain, and ordnance officer of the Confederate army, and Maj. Robert Meriwether and physician Hugh Shaw, who were working on behalf of the Southern Emigration Society of Edgefield, South Carolina, explored the country and returned with positive accounts of the climate, soil, and society in general. Most of the emigrants were not wealthy and thus did not own slaves, Brazil’s plantation economy, which also depended upon an enslaved workforce (Brazil would not abolish slavery until 1888), was viewed by the Confederados as a stable and familiar economic system in which to relocate their families.

The government of Brazil also provided direct incentives. Emperor Dom Pedro II wanted to establish cotton plantations to supply textile mills in England and viewed the North Americans as potential agricultural innovators. He offered them a hotel as a temporary residence upon their arrival, paid half of their travel costs, and provided discounts on land purchases in several areas. Once early settlers such as the Norris family were established, they in turn attracted other families with whom they corresponded back in the United States.

Most of the Confederado settlers near the town of Americana earned livings as farmers. They introduced new crops, including Rattlesnake watermelons and pecans, and brought new agricultural technology to Brazil, including the moldboard plow to cut through and turn the soil, improved carts, and better techniques for managing draft animals. Many settlers, including the elder Norris, soon became adept at instructing neighboring Brazilians in farming methods. Although initially focused on cotton, their fields soon became devoted to the locally ubiquitous cash crops: coffee and sugar cane. Descendants of the group founded schools focused on practical technical education. These institutions contrasted from the majority of schools in Brazil, which emphasized a classical education. The Confederados also attracted Protestant missionaries who preached in the local community chapel. The origins of the Baptist and Methodist churches in Brazil can be attributed largely to the arrival of the group. The chapel, known as the Campo, in Americana has been maintained to the present day as a religious and social gathering center for the descendants.

Confederados Memorial Although most of the Confederados largely assimilated into the surrounding Brazilian culture, elements of their American heritage, including the use of the English language, food preferences, and religion, have persisted for well over 100 years. Periodic reunions are held at the Campo chapel, and artifacts and documents associated with the history of the Confederados are preserved at a museum in the town of Santa Bárbara. The local Fraternidade Descendência Americana (Fraternity of American Descendants) includes members who work to preserve their history and publicize special events. Its annual festival attracts participants from throughout the region, and many wear Confederate uniforms or antebellum women’s clothing such as hoop skirts and display the Confederate flag. The flag is still featured prominently on the emblem of the city of Americana. In the wake of worldwide protests about memorials to slave-owners and, in the United States, the legacy of the Confederacy in the summer of 2020, members of the community have begun to grapple with their history and how to commemorate it. Americans often visit Americana and the Campo and on rare occasions discover common ancestry. The migration of the Confederados was a significant event during the turmoil immediately following the Civil War, and it affected personal histories and general society in the United States as well as Brazil.

Additional Resources

Dawsey, Cyrus B., and James M. Dawsey, eds. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

Griggs, William Clark. The Elusive Eden: Frank McMullan’s Confederate Colony in Brazil. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987.

Harter, Eugene C. The Lost Colony of the Confederacy. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1985.

Jones, Judith MacKnight. Soldado Descansa! Uma epopéia norte americana sob os céus do Brasil. São Paulo: Jarde, 1967.

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