Exiled South by Harriet Cannon
Researching one’s roots has become an American obsession. Who isn’t hooked on a search for exciting, even famous ancestors? But digging deeper as Lizbeth Gordon does in Exiled south while hunting answers in her Civil War family mystery brings up surprises; isn’t that cool, and, oh wow, how could I be related to someone who did that?
A quote from historian Alissandro Portelli is helpful; the art of remembering is deeply personal. If all memory were collective, one witness would serve for an entire culture-but we know that is not true.’
Like many with roots in South Carolina, I grew up on stories of the diaspora from Southern States after the Civil War. I knew some of my family farmers and city dwellers abandoned their ruined property, sold whatever they had for a serviceable wagon and a mule and headed west. But it wasn’t until I lived in South America and stumbled on the fascinating story of the Confederados that a kernel of my novel, Exiled South, lodged in my heart and never let go. The story of an estimated 5,000 -8,000 Southerners who immigrated to Brazil between 1864 and the mid 1870’s. was irresistible.
For research on the Civil War era mindset, I poured over mid nineteenth century letters and diaries ripe with diverse points of view. For example, books like High Seas Confederate, by Royce Shingleton, provides letters by John Newland Moffitt, a famous blockade runner who was once a valued United States naval surveyor. Like most officers of his era, Moffitt’s first loyalty was to his home state not his country. The United States was, after all, was only eighty-years old in 1860 while some of former British colonies, now states, had a distinct identity for over 200 years. After succession, Moffitt felt compelled to join the Confederate cause regardless of his personal political view. Another example of conflict between personal view and behavior is the diary of Mary Boynton Chesnut. Chesnut writes of her outrage at misogyny and slaveholding. However, she like most people of her time, publicly tolerated the culture regardless of their innermost thoughts.
To keep the voices of my Civil War era Confederados true to the mindset of the time while supporting twentieth century readers sensitivity about injustice, Exiled South uses fictional epistolary letters and a diary tell the Civil War era story and spark a twenty first century protagonist’s quest to reconnect with descendants of lost ancestors who immigrated to Brazil.
As it happened, Dom Pedro ll, the King of Brazil from 1838-89, was well respected by his constituency for his advocacy of democratic government practices. Eventually he was dethroned by a coup he did not challenge, but before that happened, he put Brazil on the path to join the industrializing world. From the time he became king of Brazil, Dom Pedro recognized the superior farming techniques and equipment used in the American South and wanted them for his country. He enticed immigration by offering free land, and resettlement help to farmers, engineers, and other professionals that could modernize Brazil. For a more than a decade, beginning in 1864, a hodge-podge of individuals; primarily yeoman farmers, some free blacks, and a few organized groups of wealthy gentries, boarded ships from aging mail packets to sleek stolen blockade runners abandoned in river ports at war’s end. Immigrants to Brazil were united by their language and protestant religion. Some had immigrated for adventure and opportunity and others; like former blockade runners and Confederate officers, couldn’t remain in the United States because they’d lost their American citizenship for their role in the Civil War.
Brazilian nationals named Southern State immigrants Confederados. The majority of Confederados, working class farmers who settled in a lush farming area north-east of Sao Paulo prospered. Through hard work and perseverance, a nearby settlement town, became known as Villa Americana. Although a few wealthy Confederados thought to replicate the Southern State slaveholding plantation and lifestyle, most failed and returned to the United States a few years on. Today Americana has over 200.00 inhabitants.
The first generation of Confederados clung tight to their community; a protestant group in an unwelcoming deeply Catholic country. They built a community church in Villa Americana where important celebrations have taken place for over one hundred and fifty years. They built a cemetery adjacent to their church where many in the first generation of Confederados are buried. To Protect their language, spiritual practice, and culture, in the early years, Confederados educated their all their children in English, without regard to social class or race. They also formed an organization to honor their Southern roots and heritage that still exists today.
Eventually Confederado descendants fanned out around Brazil assimilating into the multiethnic fabric of the country while cherishing their Southern roots. To this day, Confederado descendants gather for the annual ‘Festa’ in April. In a grand picnic celebration, fried chicken and watermelon are featured alongside Brazilian dishes. At the ‘Festa’, Descendants of the original Confederados dress in Civil War era costumes and dance to nineteenth century fiddle music. In recent years the community has experienced criticism from some North Americans who think any celebration of Confederate heritage is a support for the institution of slaveholding. The multiethnic Confederado descendants have pushed back, insulted by the assumption by those in the who misunderstand; costumes and music honor their immigrant ancestor’s diaspora. They are very clear, the Confederado descendants are a multiethnic community not sympathetic racism or the institution of slavery.
A Few Selected Resources:
View a teaser- Lizbeth Gordon’s quest for Confederado descendants: www.harrietcannon.com
Dom Pedro ll https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_II_of_Brazil
The Confederados: Old South Immigrants in Brazil by Cyrus Dawsey and James Dawsey
Ladies Indispensable Assistant: Being a Companion for Sister, Mother and Wife, Published at 128 Nassau Street New York 1851
Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Diary Penguin Books 2013
Civil War Letters from Home, Camp and Battlefield, edited by Bob Blaisdell
Lifeline of the Confederacy: Blockade Running During the Civil War by Stephen R. Wise
High Seas Confederate by Royce Shingleton
The unexpected death of her husband pushes Lizbeth Gordon home to South Carolina to start over. She walks the winter beach haunted by memories of half told family stories; a blockade runner hunted as a traitor after the Civil War, his sister and her mixed-race child. A quest for truth takes Lizbeth traveling through the Carolina Lowcountry to Brazil and a reckoning with descendants of her ancestors. Ultimately, like her ancestors, Lizbeth will have to navigate the emotional geography of her own missteps to claim her second chance at life and love.
HARRIET CANNON is a writer with Southern roots and a master’s degree in counseling from Seattle University. She has traveled widely, lived in every region of the contiguous United States, served as a consultant to international schools, and worked for the U.S. State Department in Chile. She is the co-author of Mixed Blessings: A Guide to Multicultural and Multiethnic Relationships. Exiled South is her debut novel.
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