Friday, May 13, 2016

Ain't just whistlin' Dixie

One would think that Civil War reenactors would be limited to the American states where the war was actually fought. Then again there probably aren't too many members of the SCA from Westeros, and hell, even in my podunk French village there's a Western-style ranch where once or twice a summer they do a rodeo and men with beards show up in American pickups, flying American flags, duded up in shit-kickers and leather vests.  So if the French can play cowboy, why can't the Brazilians play the Song of the South?

To be fair, they actually have a reason: they are descendants of American Southerners who'd been enticed by the Brazilian government to settle the country before the Civil War even began.  Quite a few went, and today the cities of Americana and Santa Barbara d'Oeste are peopled with, um, people, bearing British surnames, including a name in my family tree: Carr (Amos Adkins married one Mary Carr ca. 1801).

I mentioned these Confederados in my post about the "Golden Circle" (Lone Star Republics, July 2013), a long-time dream of a group of slave-owners of creating a slave-holding empire centered on Havana, with a radius reaching up to the Mason-Dixon line and down to the northern tip of South America and everything in between.

After the Civil War, many of the defeated Confederates moved and set up operations in Cuba and Brazil, where slavery was still legal until the 1880's.  In Brazil they and their descendants are known as Confederados.  The dream of the Golden Circle didn't die with the Confederacy.

Brazil was perhaps not the ideal location, but it was sparsely populated, agricultural, and most of all, friendly to slavery.  It was the last holdout in the Americas against abolition.

I have a French friend who's lived in Brazil some years now and we were discussing this yesterday before he pressed on with his European visit and then lo and behold, the New York Times wrote an article about annual celebrations by the descendants of the Confederados.

Critics see the outfits and the romanticism, the Stars and Bars Confederate battle flags being flown, and point out that the whole issue of slavery is being sidestepped.  The celebrants counter that for them, the flag and celebration don't honor slavery or racism, it's all about heritage.  A familiar argument.  I'm sure this is often true.  But I recently saw a segment of Amy Shumer's Chelsea Handler's show about reenactors in the US, and the discourse of the participants was flat-out racist, not in a "hateful" way, but the extremely patronizing and romanticized version of history was pretty jaw-dropping.  Slaves were happy and well-cared for, certainly not ill-treated....why would you treat your property poorly? etc.  Well, even if this is a selective presentation of the participants' attitudes, it was authentic, and something tells me their attitude is less exception than rule.

I don't want to say that anyone proud of their heritage is a racist, but man, I'm from the South, and people who fly the Confederate flag are a dime a dozen and most of them would probably not be among those pushing for say, the recognition of MLK Day.  Knowhutimean, Vern?  A lot of people who fly the Confederate flag tend to casually refer to blacks with epithets.  I'm from Florida and there you hear it often enough that you can draw some conclusions.

The process of "de-Confederatization" was hammered out militarily and politically during Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Era, but the cultural legacy is today's news nearly daily.  It began with getting the Stars and Bars so-called Confederate flag off of state flags, but is now being fought out over the names of schools or buildings, and monuments to specific Confederate Generals.  I wrote about this earlier in the year (The Politics of Removal; Pulling an Oneida).  Whatever misgivings you may have about the destruction of the past in this form, you have to understand at least to some degree why a black guy walking down the street isn't going to feel so good about seeing a monument to Jefferson Davis.  States' Rights, heritage, whatever you want to call it, the Confederacy and the Civil War boil down to slavery.  The flag commonly referred to as the "Confederate flag" was never even the national flag of the CSA at all, and it was never a part of any state's flag until the 50's and 60's, added there in order to defy the Federal gub'ment as a symbol of white supremacy and in defiance of integration.

Interestingly, the coat of arms of Americana includes a shield with the Stars and Bars Confederate battle flag:

Notice also the center is adorned with a beehive, a symbol used by Freemasons and Mormons to symbolize hard work, industry, and a harmonious social order where everyone knows their place and does their job.  I don't know if the beehive is a Masonic reference, nor if the obelisk in the town cemetery was erected by Masons.  The obelisk has become the focal point, however, for Confederado celebrations, bearing an engraved Stars and Bars Confederate battle flag on the socle. I only muse about the possible Masonic connection because the Golden Circle scheme appears to have been the long-standing dream of a group of Freemasons in New Orleans who were involved in the establishment of the short-lived Republic of West Florida, the Republic of Texas, several failed invasions of Cuba, and other filibustering expeditions south of the border.  I know this sounds a little wing-nutty, but I think if you read my Lone Star Republics post and look at the references, you'll find that although it's not a well-known history and corresponds too neatly with the wildest of conspiracy theories, the fact remains that a shadowy group of Freemasons in New Orleans were using the cover of the Lodge to plot the overthrow of the Catholic Spaniards throughout the Americas using rhetoric pulled straight from the degrees of the Scottish Rite.

The descendants are organized into the Fraternidade Descendência Americana and their symbol doesn't do much to disprove the possibility of a Masonic connection.  Triangle logo?  Check.  Masonic symbol of Fraternity?  Check.

Of course, it begins to look as though these things are Masonic in origin after all, when you see that in the cemetery where these present-day Confederados gather every three months there is a monument to pioneering Confederate settler Col. William H. Norris, honored with a triangle/pyramid monument with unmistakable Masonic symbolism:
Norris was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, an Alabama state senator, and the leader of a group of 30 Confederate families who set off for Brazil after the end of the Civil War.  In 1861 he had been elected Grand Master of the Alabama Masonic Lodge.

Norris helped establish the Confederate presence in Americana and Santa Bárbara d'Oeste and began planting cotton.  He served as a Congressman for the State of São Paulo and was commissioned as a Colonel in the National Guard.  It is said that he purchased his land with a cache of gold buried on his farm that his wife had saved from being taken by Union soldiers after flashing some sort of Masonic hailing sign at their commanding officer.

Full disclosure:  I am descended from one Culvin F. Sanders, a lawyer who served in the Army of Tennessee as a cavalry Captain in the Buckner Guards under General P. R. Cleburne.  He participated in all the battles of the Army of Tennessee.  He was also a Freemason, as all his descendants have been.  I loathe what he fought for, and feel no real family fealty, yet I admit, perhaps to my discredit, some ambivalence about that heritage.  As I've said in other posts about Confederate monuments, I would not seek to honor it, but recognize it, and perhaps somehow understand what responsibilities I have regarding my past, and what I can do to ameliorate its legacy.

Info for the following part of this post comes from an article that can be read here.

Now, you might think I'm making too much of this Masonic connection, but dig this, one entrance to Americana is marked by a large Square and Compasses because it was "founded in 1865 by Confederate emigrants, most of them Freemasons...."

At least 154 families began the migration in 1865 and maybe as many as 4000 more joined them in the next ten years (although half eventually headed back).

Why Brazil?  Well, as I discussed in my post on the Golden Circle, Texas, Central America and South America, along with the Caribbean, had long been eyed as having the potential for a Southern slave-holding confederation much like Confederate States of America.  As we saw in that post, many of these efforts were led by Masons. 

As it turns out, the Confederados' emigration was facilitated by prominent Freemasons in Brazil and even the Emperor Dom Pedro I was a Mason.

The Masons founded George Washington Lodge in the village before it had even been named Americana.  They'd been encouraged by Freemason Charles Nathan, a member of a Brazilian immigration society that helped arrange passage to Brazil via New Orleans.  More encouragement came from Freemason Taveres Bastos, founder of the immigration society and friend of the Emperor, who as previously mentioned, was himself a Freemason, like his father before him.

Another Freemason and friend of Bastos was Joachim Maria Saldaña Mariño, co-editor of a liberal newspaper in Rio de Janeiro and Grand Master of the Grande Oriente do Brasil ao Vale dos Beneditinos, the Emperor’s branch of Freemasonry. He was also President of São Paulo, the province where Americana was founded.  Mariño was particularly active in the mid-1860s in the cause of separation of church and state.  Mariño signed one Alabama migrant's Masonic papers, a fellow named Dr. Russell McCord.  These documents not only testify to the Brazilian-Confederate amity; a second signer was José Maria da Silva Paraños, the Visconde do Rio Branco. He was also Grand Master of the Grande Oriente do Brasil, and he was the author of the first emancipation legislation that led to the abolition of slavery in Brazil.  Ironic, no?

As previously stated, half of the Confederates didn't stick it out, but those that stayed are the ancestors of a small but proud minority in Americana.  In the small museum that celebrates the Confederados, Masonry is not given short-shrift, and they hold their quarterly festivals in the cemetery of their ancestors, amid plenty of Confederate flags and people in historical dress, and headstones emblazoned with the Square and Compasses....


Erratum:  In this post I originally referred to the "Confederate battle flag" as the "Stars and Bars."  I was mistaken, as Mr. Dawson points out in a comment below.  The "Stars and Bars" was nickname of the first national flag of the CSA and doesn't resemble the more familiar battle flag with the 13 stars arranged in a saltire cross.  This flag in a square form was used as The Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and in rectangular form as The Second Confederate Navy Jack.  It appears in the canton of the 2nd and 3rd national flags and also in The Second Confederate Navy Ensign.  It also appears in the canton of other battle flags and there are some variations.  It is now certainly more well-known than the Stars and Bars and is used widely as a symbol of the South and the CSA.  It is also widely known as the "Confederate Flag", though strictly speaking, this is inaccurate.  I refer to it as the "Confederate flag" or the "Confederate battle flag" in place of "Stars and Bars"; this is indicated by a strikethrough in the text.  In any event, it is the flag chosen by the Confederados and seems ubiquitous in photos of their celebrations, whereas the national flags aren't pictured at all.  Thanks to Mr. Dawson to pointing out my error.  My apologies.

I also came across these articles looking to see what nomenclature other writers used in connection with Americana.

Vice weighs in with a piece on the Confederados' view of their heritage and writes a parallel narrative about modern slavery in Brazil:  The Brazilian Town Where the American Confederacy Lives On

The Fog of Policy refers to the Vice and NYT articles in The Confederacy Still Lives in the Deep Deep South

Wikipedia: Flags of the Confederate States of America


  1. Excellent paper Bro. Steven! I never realized the connections between these groups! I'll post it to your papers tomorrow at PM!

  2. I am the Great-Great nephew of Charles Nathan. Thanks for mentioning him. He did more than help arrange passages for Confederates. He financed them and even bought a ship to transport them. He lost a fortune, but was a wealthy man. Recent research has come to light which suggests his intentions were to encourage Southerners in Brazil to plant cotton. He would then purchase machinery and set up textile mills to process it. However, he could not get a US manufacturer interested in sending the machinery nor a bank interested in financing the export. Theres are records indicating he approached Lehmann Bros. in NY to no avail. Despite this he was instrumental in getting them there, getting them settled and, as a man of influence with the Emperor, getting them what they needed, namely, land. Bruce Healey

    1. Thanks for sharing Bruce, this is fascinating material. I'm ambivalent about my own Confederate heritage, because I didn't mention that my Sanders ancestors were also slaveholders. I have wills and letters from them, in a safety deposit box, discussing this in some detail. One the one hand, I honor their courage and accomplished lives. On the other, well, slavery.

  3. Throughout this article, the writer refers to the "Stars and Bars." But, he is confused. The flag that he refers to as the "Stars and Bars" is not the Stars and Bars. It is the Confederate battle flag, with the familiar blue saltire cross bearing 13 white stars, all on a red background. This "Battle Flag" was the flag of the Confederate soldier, and was never the "official flag" of the Confederacy. The First National Flag of the Confederacy, on the other hand, is the flag that is most commonly referred to as the "Stars and Bars" (by those who actually know what they are talking about). It was adopted on 4 March 1861, and may be described as having three horizontal bars of equal height, alternating red, white and red, with a blue square two-thirds the height of the flag as the canton (in the upper left hand corner). Inside the canton are 13 white stars arranged in a circle.

  4. You are totally right and I will amend the article quickly with the error noted. I knew the familiar flag was the "Battle Flag" and The Second Confederate Navy Jack, and not the national flag of the CSA (as noted in the post) but I always thought the Battle Flag was called the "Stars and Bars". It was something I so mistakenly took for granted I didn't bother to verify the name, leading to this embarrassing error. I see the Battle Flag only appeared in the canton of the 2nd and 3rd national flags and they weren't called the "Stars and Bars" but the "Stainless Banner" and the "Blood-Stained Banner", respectively. The Battle Flag is commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag, although as Wikipedia points out "It is also known as the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and Southern cross and is often incorrectly referred to as the Stars and Bars."

    I appreciate you taking the time to point out my error. It's embarrassing to be schooled in public, but it's better than perpetuating bad information.


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