In the face of humiliation, military defeat and economic devastation, thousands of former Confederates from the American South resolved to “reconstruct” themselves in often distant parts of the world, forcing a wave of emigration without precedent in the history of the United States. Brazil rapidly established itself as one of the main destinations, offering cheap land, a climate suited to familiar crops, political and economic stability, religious freedom and – more sinisterly – the possibility of continued slave ownership. Just how many Confederates came is unclear; suggested numbers vary between 2000 and 20,000, and they settled all over Brazil, though it was in São Paulo that they had the greatest impact. While Iguape, on the state’s southern stretch of coast, had a large Confederate population, the most concentrated area of settlement was the Santa Bárbara colony, in the area around present-day Santa Bárbara d’Oeste.
The region’s climate and soil were ideally suited to the growing of cotton and the Confederates’ expertise soon made Santa Bárbara d’Oeste one of Brazil’s biggest producers of the crop. As demand for Brazilian cotton gradually declined, many of the immigrants switched to sugar cane, which remains the area’s staple crop, though others, unable to adapt, moved into São Paulo city or returned to the United States. Today as many as 100,000 people claim descent from these Confederate exiles.