Saturday, March 2, 2024

Brazilian Fever Part 1: To Go or Not To Go

Author Amber Lemus
Blogger: Amber Lemus

It is in our human nature to fear and avoid change. One of the starkest examples of this is the people of the American South during the Antebellum and Reconstruction eras and brings us to one of the lesser-known chapters of Civil War history.

As the American Civil War came to a close, and the reconstruction began, there were many in the South who could not tolerate the changes that were coming to the country. The Confederates claimed to have fought the war to "preserve their way of life" and that battle had been lost, so many were searching for a way to continue life as they knew it before the war.

The newspapers called it "Brazilian Fever", although Brazil was not the only country that Southerners were considering as an alternative to their homeland. Honduras, Venezuela, and Mexico all offered incentives for planters, especially cotton growers, to immigrate and start plantations or teach cotton growing to others in the country.

Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil
Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil Circa 1865 Public Domain


 It was Brazil, however that had the most enticing offer. Emperor Dom Pedro II offered free transport, cheap or free land, and an easy path to citizenship for cotton planters, because he hoped to capitalize on the downfall of the American South's cotton production and build his economy by exporting cotton to the looms of England and France, who had relied so heavily on Southern production. An even greater draw was that slavery was still legal in Brazil. And as some Southern immigrants noted, slaves were cheap. An important detail for plantation growers who had lost all of their previous workers to emancipation in the United States and couldn't imagine farming successfully without enslaved labor.

This phenomenon was noted in the September 14, 1865 issue of The Times-Picayune Newspaper from New Orleans:

We observe that, in some parts of the country, people are still making preparations to emigrate to Brazil. Immediately after the war, it was supposed that, in consequence of broken fortunes, disappointed hopes, and an 'indisposition to yield placable obedience to the restored authority of the Federal Government' there would be a great exodus from the Southern States...

The article goes on to state:

Moreover, there are other reasons, in the case of Brazil, which ought to check this feeling. Many persons who, from long habit and fondly cherished theories, have become strongly attached to the institution of African slavery, fancy that in Brazil they will find an opportunity for the permanent use of that system of labor Brazil and the Spanish possessions being the only two slaveholding communities remaining in the civilized world. But such hopes would probably be doomed to speedy disappointment. There is not only no guarantee for the continued existence of slave labor in Brazil, but the indications are that emancipation is rapidly approaching in that country. Even the regulations not long since issued and republished by us, which were intended expressly to attract immigration, strongly exhibit the anti-slavery spirit of the Government; and more recently propositions for emancipation have been made and have met with strong support in the Brazilian Parliament. It is almost certain that the time is not distant when that proposition will be carried.

Such persons as might have gone to Brazil with the idea of preserving their association with African slavery, will then find that they have made an exchange in which they lose all and gain nothing.

The article seems an attempt to dissuade readers from embracing the idea of immigration, claiming that the "South needs all her men of thought, of energy, and of intellect, to aid in the great work. of reconstruction." and deeming those who flee to another country "cowards" and the act "censurable" while also emphasizing the risks of such a journey and the uncertainty of the future in other countries, specifically Brazil. This article certainly paints a clear picture of how torn the Southern culture was, and how difficult a decision of this magnitude must have been for those trying to rebuild their lives and fortunes after the war.

Depiction of Slavery in Brazil by Jean-Baptiste Debret
An enslaved person enduring severe punishment in 19th century Brazil
Public Domain

Others, however, were outspoken in their belief that Brazil was the perfect place to rebuild. One such advocate was Colonel Charles Gunter who wrote a letter to a newspaper saying, “Move here (Brazil) and buy land. We have here a beautiful place for our village, in the center of rich land, and on a grand river.”

Historians scoured letters, journals, and property deeds to decide what the main motivation was for these Southerners to make such a drastic move as to uproot their lives and take them to countries like Brazil. Luciana Brito, a historian at the Federal University of RecĂ´ncavo da Bahia told the Washington Post: “They came to continue having slaves. They associated the existence of slavery in Brazil with the maintenance of a system of racial subservience.” Historians such as Brito found that over three-fourths of the families that petitioned Brazil for immigration were slave holders prior to the emancipation. And they purchased slaves as soon as they arrived in Brazil.

Whatever their motivation for doing so, somewhere between ten and twenty thousand people immigrated from southern states to Brazil. The main colony that was formed there became known as the town of Americana, and we will go into more detail on that colony and the family that led them there next month. So be sure to come back on April 2nd to check out that post.

See you next month!


Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Lemus inspires hearts through enthralling tales She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives near the Ozarks in her "casita" with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a boy mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thank you for posting today. I had no idea about this, so am interested in reading next month's installment.