Kenzer on Dawsey and Dawsey, 'The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil Conniff'

Cyrus B. Dawsey, James M. Dawsey, eds.
Robert Kenzer

Cyrus B. Dawsey, James M. Dawsey, eds. The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil Conniff. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995. xiii + 273 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8173-0753-0.

Reviewed by Robert Kenzer (Department of History, University of Richmond) Published on H-CivWar (July, 1995)

Next to a sidewalk that leads up to a church can be found an obelisk-shaped monument that is marked with the stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag. Though this site sounds as if it could be found in any Southern community in the United States, this marker, in fact, stands near the town of Santa Barbara in the province of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

While most historians of the South and the Civil War era have heard something about the Confederados, the estimated 2,000 to 4,000 Southerners who left the United States just after the Civil War and settled in Brazil, few are aware of the extensive scholarly literature on these emigrants that has been published since the 1920s. This collection of ten essays, emerging out of a 1992 conference sponsored by Auburn University's Institute for Latin American Studies and the Alabama Humanities Foundation, focuses on three aspects of the Confederados: the Norris Colony near Santa Barbara -- the "only colony to persist, for many years keeping its identity as a settlement of Confederate Southerners" (p. 21); the ways these emigrants influenced Brazilian culture; and how the descendants of the settlers live in the twentieth century.

The book's first four essays, two by Cyrus B. Dawsey and James M. Dawsey and one each by William C. Griggs and Laura Jarnigin, concern the creation of the Confederado communities in the years immediately following the Civil War. The two essays by the Dawseys contain a brief overview of the Southern emigration to Brazil as well as an edited 1945 narrative account by Sarah Bellona Smith Ferguson, whose parents were among the first settlers of the Confederado community. William C. Griggs's essay focuses on the McMullen colonists. In one of the book's more interesting essays, Laura Jarnigan argues that the movement of Southerners to Brazil was "essentially the continuation of a logical trajectory within the nineteenth-century Atlantic world economy's periphery" (p. 68).

Three chapters discuss how Brazilian culture was affected by the Confederados. James and Cyrus Dawsey contend that while the Confederado impact on Brazilian agriculture has been somewhat exaggerated, they believe that the Southerners did have a "significant" influence on Brazilian society through their "systems of education and religion" (p. 104). The Confederados' impact on religion is traced in two separate essays by Wayne Flynt and James M. Dawsey. Flynt shows how among the Baptists "the very process of immigration seemed to reinforce the importance of traditional religion on the first generation of emigrants" (p. 114). Dawsey describes the inroads Southern Methodists made in Brazil, largely through the efforts of Junius Newman, J.J. Ransom, and Annie Ayres Newman Ransom.

The three essays that focus on life among the descendants of the Confederados during the twentieth century form the most innovative section of the book. Cyrus B. Dawsey describes the evolution and significance of the campo site near the Santa Barbara settlement as a "social and religious community center" for the Confederados. John C. Dawsey's anthropological examination of the development of Confederado identity contains a particularly interesting discussion of the meaning of the Confederate flag among the descendants of the Confederados. Finally, based on a statistical comparison of "Southern speech" among the descendants of the Confederados and Southerners in the United States, Michael B. Montgomery and Cecil Ataide Melo conclude that Southern English "was closer to other varieties of American English in the nineteenth century than present-day Southern speech is" (p. 185).

One aspect of the entire work that is unusual for a collection of essays by different authors is how each writer makes references to points made in each of the other chapters of the book. Further, Cyrus and James Dawsey's conclusion to the book does a particularly effective job of identifying the common themes of the various essays. A final strength of the book is the excellent annotated bibliography, composed by James M. Gravois and Elizabeth J. Weisbrod, which comments on both primary and secondary sources.

While The Confederados covers a wide variety of topics, there are some issues that it either merely touches on or fails to consider entirely. By far the most interesting trait of the Americans who settled in Brazil after the Civil War is that they were Southerners who had lived in a slaveholding society. Throughout the book, however, we are informed that few of the Confederados "acquired substantial numbers of Brazilian slaves" after settling in Brazil, largely because they could not afford to do so (p. 18). Indeed, it is argued that slaveholding was not the primary explanation for why these Southerners moved to pre-emancipation Brazil. Unfortunately, the essayists never reveal how many and what share of the Confederados owned slaves in Brazil. Perhaps the records in Brazil shed less light on this subject than such sources as the manuscript census and tax lists do in the United States. Still, are there no sources concerning Confederado slave owners? Are there no sets of personal or business papers that would touch on this subject? Further, what position did the Confederados take on the emancipation of slavery in their new nation?

The question of how Confederados felt about the emancipation of slavery in Brazil raises another issue -- the public life of these emigrants and their descendants. Although there seems to be quite an extensive literature on the men who led Southerners to Brazil, who emerged as leaders among the Confederados after their arrival? Were they slaveowners? Were the Confederados allowed to participate at all in local, regional, or national government? If they could vote, did they do so as a bloc? Given the fact that so many of them had served in the Confederate army, did they serve in the military in Brazil?

Finally, the book largely ignores demographic issues. While it is noted that many of the Confederados failed to remain in Brazil for very long, as evidenced by the disappearance of many of their colonies (the estimate is that half of the emigrants returned to the United States within a decade), there is no sense even with the successful colony of Santa Barbara of how many of these people persisted over any given span of time. Again, the sources may not permit such measurements. Further, what about their marriage patterns? Genealogical sources might reveal to what extent the Confederados married within their own group.

A work such as The Confederados should not be faulted for leaving many questions unanswered. The primary purpose of these essays is to assess the state of research on the emigrants and their descendants as well as to stimulate additional investigation. Surely, this book's significance will only grow in the future.

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