Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Textual Reference at the National Archives at College Park, MD.
The following is an example of the odd requests made to the Department of State.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, numerous Confederates fled the United States. They had many reasons to leave – economic devastation, bleak economic prospects, loss of political power, unwillingness to live in a multi-racial society or under what they saw as Yankee rule, all were reasons. Brazil was a popular and welcoming landing place for many of the expatriates. Slavery remained legal there in 1865. Emigrants to Brazil settled in many places. A large colony developed in southern Brazil. While many of those who left eventually returned to the United States, others remained.
In April 1908, Thomas Owen, of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, wrote to Secretary of State Elihu Root. He referred to press accounts of Root’s travel to Brazil and his ensuing encounter with descendants of American emigrants to that country. Owen noted than many came from Alabama immediately after the Civil War and requested more information about them. In response, in early May, the Department of State tasked the U.S. embassy in Brazil with providing “as full an account as practicable of the details of this movement and of the history of the emigrants up to the present time.” The embassy responded in late June, forwarding the following copies of letters from two local residents with the requested information. Dr. H.C. Tucker was for many years the representative of the American Bible Society in Brazil; William Pyles was a resident of Villa Americana, one of the centers of emigrant settlement.
Upon receipt, the Department forwarded copies of the letters to Owen in Alabama.
Descendants of those emigrants who stayed live in Brazil today. As the Washington Post reported in July 2020, some continue to celebrate their Confederate connection and still fly the Confederate battle flag on occasion.
- Thomas Owen to Secretary of State Elihu Root, April 25, 1908, file 4611/2
- Department of State to U.S. Embassy Brazil, Serial No. 73, May 5, 1908, file 4611/2
- U.S. Embassy Brazil to Department of State, Despatch 208 (enclosing the Tucker and Pyles letters), June 29, 1908, file 4611/4-6, image 681-694
- Acting Secretary of State Robert Bacon to Thomas Owen, August 3, 1908, file 4611/4-6, image 695
Washington Post, “They lost the Civil War and fled to Brazil. Their descendants refuse to take down the Confederate flag,” July 11, 2020