By David A. Carrino, Roundtable Historian
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2017-2018, All Rights Reserved
Editor’s note: This article was the history brief for the April 2018 meeting of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable.
America, love it or leave it. People who lived during the 1960s are familiar with this expression, because it became popular during the Vietnam War as a way of declaring unwavering, even unquestioning support for the United States in the face of strong anti-war protests. But this expression can, in a sense, also be applied to those who joined the secessionist movement that culminated in the Civil War. The secessionists of the mid-19th Century were dissatisfied with America, and they chose to leave it, but in a way that involved taking some of the country’s territory with them. The secessionists no longer loved America, and their goal was to leave America by forming a separate country from land that was part of the United States. With the defeat of the secessionists, their attempt to separate from the U.S. ended in failure, and shortly thereafter some former Confederates decided that their hatred of America was still so intense that they would leave America in the more typical sense, that is, by departing from the United States without taking any U.S. territory with them. Of all the former Confederates who chose this course, the most successful ones were those who followed the example of William Hutchinson Norris.
Norris was born on September 25, 1800 in Georgia, but he later lived in Alabama, where he served in the 1830s and 1840s as a member of the state legislature, both as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Norris also served in the Mexican-American War. In late 1866 Norris, who had become embittered with the reunified United States, left the state of Alabama and emigrated to the state of São Paulo in Brazil. Norris purchased several hundred acres of land located 80 miles northwest of the city of São Paulo, and a short time later his family joined him in Brazil. The settlement that was begun by the disgruntled former Confederate grew into a thriving community, due to the fact that other former citizens of the Confederate States of America followed Norris to the place that he chose as his post-Civil War residence. Estimates of the number of former Confederates who migrated to the area range from a few thousand to 20,000. Eventually the community that Norris established came to be known as Americana, and its residents were called Confederados.
Americana was not the only destination for former Confederates, but it was the most successful. Former Confederates migrated to other countries in addition to Brazil, such as Mexico, and to other locations in Brazil, including along the Amazon River. But for the most part, none of these settlements met with success. Moreover, a large number of former Confederates who left the post-war U.S., including some who settled in Americana, became so disenchanted with their new places of residence that they returned to the U.S. However, Americana not only survived, but thrived, and it became the only settlement that persisted as a separate community of former Confederates. As such, William Norris and those who followed him to Americana chose their post-war home well. One factor that may have led them to Brazil was the fact that slavery still existed in Brazil after the Civil War, and it was not until over 20 years later that slavery was abolished in Brazil.
A major factor that drew former Confederates to Brazil was the incentives that Brazil’s leader, Emperor Dom Pedro II, put in place to attract Americans to his country. Dom Pedro actively sought migration of former Confederates to Brazil, because he felt that they would bring superior agricultural techniques and better crops, including cotton, which the Brazilian emperor hoped to use to make his country a major supplier for textile mills in England. To induce former Confederates to move to Brazil, ads were placed in newspapers across the South, agents were sent to the states of the former Confederacy to recruit people to move to Brazil, the cost of travel to Brazil was subsidized by the Brazilian government, and land was sold at an inexpensive price to the new immigrants from the southern U.S. There were some in Brazil who were wary of attracting a large number of American settlers, because they recalled what had happened to Mexico after Americans were allowed to settle in Texas and California. But perhaps Brazil’s greater distance from the U.S. allayed those fears, and as it turned out Dom Pedro received much of what he had hoped for. Although cotton did not do well in Brazil, the former Confederates established some important crops, such as pecans, peaches, watermelons, and some better strains of rice, and also introduced some technological advances, such as better plows and improved methods for managing draft animals.
The village of Americana remained quite insular for a few generations. One reason for this was the religious difference of the Protestant Confederates and the Catholic Brazilians. This resulted in the residents of Americana constructing their own cemetery, because burial of their deceased in Catholic cemeteries was not permitted. The Americana cemetery still exists, and in the middle of that cemetery is an obelisk monument containing plaques of the Confederate battle flag and the surnames of the original inhabitants of Americana. One grave in the Americana cemetery is that of a person named W.S. Wise, who is the great-uncle of Rosalynn Carter. In 1972 Rosalynn Carter visited Americana with her husband, Jimmy, who was governor of Georgia at the time. Visitors to Americana as recently as the 1970s wrote about residents speaking in English with a southern drawl.
More recently the city of Americana, which has a population of over 220,000, has become almost fully integrated into Brazil. Where residents of Americana used to marry almost exclusively among themselves, many if not most current residents are of mixed ethnicity, and for the most part Americana has been assimilated almost entirely into Brazilian culture. In spite of this, there is one trace of the Confederacy that can still be found in Americana, and that is the annual Festa Confederada, a celebration of the Confederate origin of Americana in which the men dress in Confederate uniforms and the women dress in hoop skirts. Confederate battle flags are displayed throughout the festival, including on the large dance floor. The residents of Americana insist that there is nothing political associated with the Confederate battle flag, nor does it have any significance with regard to slavery or racism. According to the residents of Americana, the Confederate battle flag represents only the city’s heritage of its founding by former Confederates, but the prominent displaying of the battle flag at the Festa Confederada would be problematic nowadays in the U.S.
Shelby Foote ends his three-volume narrative of the Civil War with a quote from Jefferson Davis. According to this anecdote, Jefferson Davis was being interviewed many years after the Civil War, and he was asked why he had led the movement that had as its goal the dissolution of the United States. Davis’ reply was simply, “Tell the world that I only loved America.” Although the expression “America, love it or leave it” did not come into vogue until more than three-quarters of a century after Davis’ death, Jefferson Davis, by his own words, was on the love-it side of that expression. Perhaps this explains why Davis did not do like many of his former C.S.A. countrymen and leave the reunified U.S. to live elsewhere, although for the first two years after the Civil War, Davis had some help in selecting his post-war residence, because he received mandatory input from the U.S. government regarding any inclination he may have had to depart from the United States. In fact, visitors to Fort Monroe can see the petite lodgings where Davis spent part of the all-expenses-paid sojourn that he received courtesy of the U.S. government. In contrast to Jefferson Davis, there were many former Confederates who opted for the leave-it side of the love-it-or-leave-it expression, and these include William Hutchinson Norris and all those who followed him to Americana in Brazil. Fortunately for these former Confederates, they chose a South American location that they found desirable, unlike Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who ended up in Bolivia, which reputedly was fatally unpleasant for them. The former Confederates who went to Americana decided to leave the country that they no longer loved, and they were able to establish a life for themselves and for their descendants in which they did not have to live under the rule of their Yankee conquerors. Although these former Confederates did not achieve the Confederacy’s goal of leaving the U.S. by forming a separate country, they nevertheless were able to set up a community outside the U.S. that still exists today.