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Way down south: Brazilian Dixieland

The aroma of Southern fried chicken and the strains of Dixie fill the air. A Confederate flag flutters in a warm breeze. Young women in colorful hoop skirts square-dance with partners dressed in the gray uniforms of the Confederacy.

Welcome to Americana, where descendants of Rebels who fled the United States after the Civil War hold an annual picnic to keep some of their traditions alive _ even though most of them don't speak English.

Memories of the Rebel past remain strong in this fertile sugar-cane region 85 miles northwest of Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city.

In a graveyard at nearby Santa Barbara D'Oeste, about 400 Confederate settlers and some of their offspring are buried in the shade of pine, eucalyptus, mango and palm trees.

Among them is the great-uncle of Rosalynn Carter, wife of former President Carter. His epitaph reads:

"To the Memory of W.S. Wise. Born in Edgefield, South Carolina, Oct. 13, 1833. Died in Santa Barbara, Brazil, April 14, 1877."

An inscription on another tombstone captures the defiance of those who came to Brazil:

"Roberto Stell Steagall _ Once a Rebel, Twice a Rebel and Forever a Rebel. Born Sept. 1899. Died Jan. 1985."

Steagall's paternal grandfather, Henry Farrar Steagall, was a Texan who served in Gen. Robert E. Lee's army and arrived in Brazil in 1866.

"Wherever our ancestors settled, they were warmly welcomed, except at the local cemetery," said Judith MacKnight Jones, 75, the community's unofficial historian. She is one of the few who speaks English, complete with a drawl.

"They were not allowed to bury their dead in the Roman Catholic cemeteries because they were all Protestants, so they built this one, which also serves as a monument to our heritage," she said, pointing to a concrete obelisk with four Confederate flags engraved on it.

Sitting at a picnic table watching the square dance was Sydney Mills, a large man in a cowboy hat, boots and leather vest, who carried a riding crop. Mills, 73, is nicknamed "The Texan."

"I've been dressing like this for more than 30 years as a way to pay homage to my Confederate ancestors," Mills said in Portuguese. His grandfather, William Thatcher Mills, came from Dallas in 1866 to plant cotton in Santa Barbara D'Oeste.

Like Mills, most of the descendants know little of their family histories.

About 3,500 Southerners arrived between 1866 and 1890 to settle this southeastern region, where the climate and soil are similar to the southeastern United States. They introduced cotton, the metal plow and the sewing machine.

Many settlers could not adapt, and nearly 3,000 returned to the United States by the turn of the century, Jones said.

Most of the immigrants eventually moved to Americana, which grew up around the region's first railroad station, built in 1875. The city now is known for its textile mills.

Today, Jones said, no more than 300 of the people living in or near this city of 160,000 can trace their ancestry directly to Confederate immigrants.

The total number of descendants in Brazil is difficult to gauge. Some probably are unaware of their Confederate ancestry, others went elsewhere and there is no record of their numbers.

In 1967, Jones chronicled the Confederate immigration in the book, Soldier Rest, A North American Epic Under Brazilian Skies. She wrote it in Portuguese but hopes for an English translation.

Most of the Civil War exiles were plantation owners, she said, but the group included teachers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen and adventurers.

"They came from all over the South: Alabama, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and Mississippi," she said in an interview. "They all felt conditions under Reconstruction would be unbearable, so they decided to leave the old South and head for Brazil."

The first immigrants arrived in 1866, drawn by reports from American Protestant missionaries and the Brazilian government that their knowledge of cotton farming was needed.

Another attraction was the abundant slave labor available in Brazil, Jones said. Slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888.

Initially, the transplanted Americans did not mix with the local residents. Integration and intermarriage with Brazilians was frowned upon.

"They had their own teachers, doctors, preachers and language to protect their values from outside influences," Jones said.

The self-imposed segregation began crumbling in the early 1900s. Grandchildren of the settlers married outside the community and began to mix with Brazilian culture.

Besides the yearly picnic, which occurred Nov. 24, about 60 descendants meet every three months to keep in touch and exchange information on their ancestors.

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