Confederate Descendants in Brazil, 1908

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.


The following are in Numerical File, 1906-1910 (NAID 654171), File 4611 (NAID 19577771), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State

  • 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

One thought on “Confederate Descendants in Brazil, 1908

  1. From the database project, almost 11 million Africans were enslaved during the trans-Atlantic slave trade between 1514 and 1866. While 300,000 arrived in the U.S. directly, more came to the present-day U.S. via the intra-American slave trade. It is estimated that 4.5 million enslaved Africans arrived in the Caribbean while another 3.2 million disembarked in present-day Brazil. In total, 20 million Africans were forced to leave their continent during the times of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the trans-Saharan, the Red Sea and the Indian slave trade.

    The most active European nation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade was Portugal, which used the forced labor of Africans in their Latin American colonies in present-day Brazil. Almost 3.9 million enslaved Africans were forced to embark on Portuguese ships. Present-day Brazil received around 3.2 of them, making it the country in the Americas where most enslaved people arrived during the period. British ships also carried upwards of 3 million Africans forcefully removed from the continent, mostly to the Caribbean, the United States and the Guyanas. French ships carried 1.3 million enslaved Africans. Although the slave trade was largely global, there was considerable intracontinental slave trade in which 8 million people were enslaved within the African continent.

    The different ethnic groups brought to the Americas closely correspond to those slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa with the heaviest activity in the slave trade. Over 45 distinct ethnic groups were taken to the Americas during the trade. Of the 45, the ten most prominent, according to slave documentation of the era are listed below:

    The BaKongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola
    The Mandé of Upper Guinea
    The Gbe speakers of Togo, Ghana, and Benin (Adja, Mina, Ewe, Fon)
    The Akan of Ghana and Ivory Coast
    The Wolof of Senegal and the Gambia
    The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria
    The Mbundu of Angola (includes both Ambundu and Ovimbundu)
    The Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria
    The Chamba of Cameroon
    The Makua of Mozambique

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