Author Interview--Alan P. Marcus (Confederate Exodus) Part 1

Niels Eichhorn's picture

Hello H-CivWar Readers:

Today we feature Alan P. Marcus to talk about his new book Confederate Exodus: Social and Environmental Forces in the Migration of U.S. Southerners to Brazil, published by the University of Nebraska Press in April 2021.

Alan P. Marcus holds a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in Geoscience and is professor of geography at Towson University. He is the author of Towards Rethinking Brazil: A Thematic and Regional Approach.

To start, Alan, I looked at your Towson profile and you are a trained geographer with an interest in Brazil, how did you come to write about the Confederados?

APM: Yes, I earned my doctoral degree in geography program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  I have been interested in migration processes for almost two decades now -  migration being a quintessential topic in geography since it covers a gamut of themes that deal with spatial inter-relationships (for example, topics about place, movement. mobilities, etc.).  Questions like these had intrigued me: What causes people to leave their home and place of origin to live in another place? How are those people received and perceived after their arrival at those places of destination? What happens to those places of destination/origin after they arrive/left?   I had studied Brazilian immigrants in the Georgia and Massachusetts, 20 years ago, and now I was studying another movement that took place over a century and a half ago, except this time, from the US to Brazil.

What do you argue in Confederate Exodus

APM: I was born and raised in Brazil, and had known about the confederados growing up.  When I began the process of writing this book about ten years ago, I was surprised that the scholarship about this migration of U.S. Southerners to Brazil written by geographers was scant, and that most of the publications available in any discipline on this topic were outdated.  I was even more surprised that most people don't know about North Americans emigrating to another country, and, of "US exiles" and "US refugees" - terms that are usually designated to refer to populations from other countries entering the US.  Notably, this was the largest migration (of emigrants) of white populations to ever leave this country - an estimated 10,000 left (although some have estimated higher), and about half went to Brazil (probably more in the vicinity of 4,000).

It is nice when personal background and scholarly interests intersect so nicely. I want to get back to the dated scholarship in a moment, but first, maybe you can give us a little view of the Confederados, because not all of them stayed and it was not just one large community?

APM: And yes, most of them left Brazil. There were about 5 major confederado settlements (all very small) which I point out in my book. With the exception of the settlement in Santa Bárbara D’Oeste - the most prosperous and successful -most of the settlements eventually failed, or the confederados moved to other cities in Brazil.

You mentioned already the dated scholarship and there are many references in the books, what did you see as the most blatant deficiencies in previous works?

APM: The recent scholarship is excellent, for example, the research by eminent scholars such as Laura Jarnagin, and, Cyrus Dawsey and his brother, James Dawsey, had inspired and motivated me. Moreover, the recent scholarship just coming out now is also compelling and excellent, for example the work of Clair Wolnisty, and of geographer, Jordan Brasher – who bring much-needed fresh perspectives on contemporary topics on confederados.

Among other examples cited in my book, many US newspaper articles about the confederado cemetery almost always confuse Americana with Santa Bárbara D’Oeste – which is where the cemetery is located (they are separate but neighboring municipalities in the interior of the state of São Paulo – about two hours by car from the city of São Paulo). Locals from Santa Bárbara get upset with this confusion! I have often noticed reference that the confederados or that William H. Norris “founded” the city of Americana (which didn’t even exist until the twentieth century) neither did he/they “found” Santa Bárbara either, which was already a small village/hamlet when the confederados first arrived. Nor did they introduce cotton to Brazil - which is indigenous to Brazil, and local Tupi tribes had used it centuries before.

And as you point out, the Confederados were not the only immigrants in some of these communities, which has added to the confusion. Why did not previous scholars realize that? It seems odd and narrowly focused focusing just on one small group of people? How large were the other migrant groups in comparison?

APM: Yes, that’s right, the proportion of US immigrants paled in comparison to the number of immigrants from other countries, mainly Italians, Germans, Belgians, Dutch, and Swiss immigrants. However, these other immigrant communities often intermingled with the confederados (especially since many were also Protestants) and benefited particularly in the context of new agricultural technologies and expertise. Many lived among confederados but are often mistaken or identified as being confederados.

Much later, and throughout the twentieth century, other immigrants flocked to Brazil, for example, Ukrainians, Latvians, Russians, Lebanese, Syrians, Koreans, Chinese (I cite the numbers in my book), and Japanese - today Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.

Also, just for context, one town of Nova Odessa ("New Odessa"), nearby the confederado settlement of Santa Barbara, was first settled by Ukranians and Latvians.  In addition, also for context, there was also a "working farm" ("fazenda" in Portuguese) that an early expedition of US Southerners visited, Ibicaba - from the Vergueiro family (started by senator Nicolau Verguiro) -that began to employ Swiss, Belgian, Italians and Germans workers instead of African slave labor, as they were trying to create a new model to replace the black slavist economy.

It is important to also point out in this context, that more Africans were brought to Brazil during the transatlantic slave trade, that to any other country in the Americas, and black Africans comprised the largest proportion of foreign-born population in Brazil at least until the mid-nineteenth century.