Learning about the American Civil War, it seems amazing that the nation could be as united as it is. If Southerners had wanted to secede before it had begun you would think that a long and bloody conflict would have made them more rather than less resentful, and I am sure there are Yankees who asked themselves why had they wanted to have rebs as their compatriots in the first place. Well, somehow a lot of people transcended their grievances. Not everyone, though. Some took up their sewing kits and formed the Ku Klux Klan. Others packed their bags.
Many Southerners decided not to be a part of the new America. Some were dispersed throughout Mexico, but up to ten thousand went further, accepting an invitation from Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil. The “Confederados” often returned, either displeased with their treatment further south than Alabama or pining for their homeland, but many stayed. Though cultural relics in the United States, they were symbolic of progress in Brazil…
The most important contributions the Americans made to Brazil were in agriculture (the steel plows they brought were superior to what most Brazilian farmers were using at the time), education (they founded schools based on a spirit of free inquiry), and religion (they were the first indigenous Protestant community). So it was that in the 1870s and 1880s republicans who wanted to abolish the Brazilian monarchy, end slavery, and separate church from state took up the cause of the Confederados, promoting them not as refugees from a conservative, slave-owning society but as representatives of advanced, liberal, democratic America.
The Confederados formed a strange little community, in which their traditional Southern attachments were blended with the culture of Brazil.
Passing by the graves of the [Confederado chapel], Nancy Padovesc makes a sweeping motion with her arm and says, “São todos teimosos” (they were all stubborn).
The [chapel], shaded by palm and ficus trees, sits in the middle of rolling fields of sugar cane. [It] is a simple red-brick building. Its spare interior—white walls, wooden pews—has just two adornments, a cross and a large portrait of Robert E. Lee. Religious services are held at the quarterly picnics; according to the Associação bylaws, services must be in one of the faiths of the original settlers—Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist. In front of the church a white stone obelisk rises from a granite base that bears the Confederate battle flag and the names of ninety-six families—names like Bookwalter and Carr, Dumas and Kennedy, Trigg and Yancey—that made the long journey.
One can only imagine what General Lee would have thought of being paid tribute to, in Brazilian, by people with names like De Muzio.
Such hybrid cultures are, of course, becoming common in a globalising world. These Confederates were ahead of their time. There can be sadness in dislocation, and danger in adjacency, but it is fascinating how traditions have been strewn across the globe: cropping up in the oddest of places. Are there Basque separatists in Britain? Irish Republicans in Iceland? Cornish nationalists in Spain?