At the close of the American Civil War, many southerners were left in ruins. For the most loyal of Confederates, the war left their wills shattered, their land occupied, and their trust in their government worse than it was when the war began. As many as three million Southerners left their homes with the vast majority remaining in the U.S., typically settling points west, where federal policy encouraged economic development. But for some, the hatred of the North was too great, and emigration was, in their minds, the only option.
At the same time, Brazil’s emperor, Dom Pedro II, wished to encourage cotton cultivation and offered this bumper crop of experts an attractive bundle of subsidies. A relatively large group of Confederate soldiers and sympathizers — between 10,000 and 20,000 of them — accepted. While the first generation of Confederados, as the group was known in Brazil, remained insular, subsequent generations have intermarried and melted into Brazilian culture.
The Confederado culture is not lost, however; in fact, many antebellum traditions and cultural demarcations are preserved in Brazil, specifically because of the Confederados. Each year, the descendants of this group hold Festa Confederada, a celebration of their assimilating culture which doubles as a fundraiser for a descendant organization. The festival is replete with all things Confederate: flags, military uniforms, cuisine, and music. (Note that in Brazil, the Confederate flag does not contain the same negative connotation it does in the States. Indeed, Confederados are known to hold the flag in high esteem and display it fondly without any political implications.)
But perhaps the biggest impact of the Confederatos is on Brazilian religion. The Confederatos set up the first Baptist churches in the nation, aimed to serve their population of ten to twenty thousand. Skip forward a century or so: As of the 2000 Brazilian census, nearly 3 million Brazilians (1.8% of the total population) identify as Baptist.
Bonus fact: Brazil, a nation of nearly 200 million people (as of 2008), is mostly a Catholic nation (74% as of its 2000 census) with a sizable Protestant minority (15%). There is virtually no Jewish (85,000 people), Islamic (25,000), or Hindu (3,000) population. By comparison, over 125,000 people — more than all of the previous three, combined – practice Candomblé, a polytheistic religion of African descent.
From the Archives: McLeaned Him Out: The most unlucky Confederate? Perhaps.
Related: “The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil” by Cyrus B. Dawsey. 3 reviews, 4.5 stars.