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Why Defeated Southerners Fled to Brazil

By Jack EpsteinSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 4, 1995



AMERICANA, BRAZIL

AFTER the Civil War, several million Southerners migrated to the northern and western United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. There would have been more if Gen. Robert E. Lee and former Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis had not appealed for Confederate veterans to stay home and rebuild the South.

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Brazil became a popular destination after several widely read novels of the day extolled the virtues of a tropical nation then twice the size of the US with only 9 million inhabitants. Some 70 years later, Margaret Mitchell wrote in ''Gone With The Wind'' that the O'Hara family thought seriously about fleeing to Latin America.

The main push, however, did not come from books but from Brazilian Emperor Pedro II. A sympathizer with the Confederates, he knew that US Southerners had supplied practically the entire world with raw cotton before the Civil War, and he wanted to profit from their expertise.

When the war ended, the emperor sent recruiters to Southern clubs, church gatherings, and town hall meetings. He opened immigration offices in New York and Washington, offering subsidized passage, free land in undeveloped areas, land for 22 cents an acre in developed areas, citizenship in two years, exemptions from military conscription, and freedom of religion.

Some expatriates attempted to recreate the grandiose riverfront plantations of the Mississippi River along the Amazon River. According to one historian, Brazilian jungle tribes were soon decorating pottery with the Confederate flag.

But diseases, giant ants that devoured cotton, and vicious gnats ended most jungle colonies. For many other immigrants, isolation and homesickness proved greater than any hatred for Yankee rule. The majority returned to the US.

Yet the settlement at Americana prospered.

Col. William Hutchinson Norris, an Alabama state senator, founded the settlement after he bought a large farm and began successfully growing cotton and watermelons. He then wrote to friends, telling them to come.