by Beth Hansen, President of the Long Beach Historical Society
Soon after the Civil War ended, it became apparent that many Southerners were planning to leave the United States. The intense thoughts and feelings which brought this on is very hard to describe. Many Southerners felt their financial situations were too bleak to remain in the country and their general outlooks had also changed.
The Union army had burned many homes which included coveted possessions. Even the children were severely embittered. Years later as an adult, a Meridian man recalled his feelings about it by saying that in the absence of his father, he and his siblings, along with their mother, were left to starve after the Union army destroyed everything they had. However, even the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, along with Generals G T Beauregard and Robert E Lee were doing their best to discourage the moves while dealing with their own bleak circumstances. The Daily Clarion in Jackson and the Daily Picayune in New Orleans were also very vocal with criticism about those wishing to leave their homeland.
It was a trying time for all and to add to it, other countries were actively seeking out these new residents and the Confederates were ready for a fresh start.
Ships were sailing from New Orleans to Mexico, Cuba, British Honduras (now Belize), Guatemala, Brazil and other locations, laden with the disgruntled Southerners. British Honduras was very attractive not only for its close proximity but most people there spoke English which helped in the transition.
Exact numbers of those who left are sketchy at best due to faulty record keeping or from records being lost through the years but the estimates are in the thousands. Those who had not been burned out took along whatever material possessions they had along with any American farming tools which were far superior to those in the new chosen countries.
Louisiana and Mississippi residents were included in the exodus and residents from about twenty counties in each state contributed to the numbers. It should be mentioned that many families did change their minds and moved back but large numbers stayed and carved out new lives. Often times, the children were sent back to relatives in the U S for a certain amount of American schooling After a lifetime some of the families moved back and it was thought that some just wanted to die on American soil. They all had different reasons and a few of them settled here in Long Beach and also in Pass Christian.
The Watrous family of Monroe county, Mississippi, who were the ancestors of Mary Ellen Watrous Alexander, were among the group. Mary Ellen’s father, Geoffrey Steele Watrous and all of his siblings were born in Punta Gorda, British Honduras, as were his cousins and other family members. The family had a successful life in Central America, operating a sugar and banana plantation and were involved in the exportation of Honduran mahogany. Geoffrey came ahead of his parents and siblings and attended college at Mississippi State. After his graduation, the whole family settled here in Long Beach in 1908. They bought a home on the beach near Jeff Davis Avenue. Some of the family members also lived for a short time in Jackson county.
Eight years earlier, in 1900, Charles P Littlepage and his family had moved to Long Beach. Perhaps he suggested this area to the Watrous family in correspondence as it would appear they knew each other. Charles was born in Virginia but his family moved to Missouri when he was very young. After the war, he was still single when he moved to Guatemala where he met and married Jeanne Anaise Perret, a French girl from Louisiana, whose family also made the move down there. Their six children were all born in Cobán, Guatemala. Mr. Littlepage was a successful coffee grower. There are Watrous and Perret family members buried in the same cemetery in Belize, formerly British Honduras.
Charles Littlepage bought the Jordy home, Oakleigh, just east of Beach Park Place, on the beach. Sadly, he died the following year but his widow and children enjoyed the home for many years. His oldest daughter, who never married, and was known as Miss Louise, was in the home the longest, until her death in 1965. She had a great love for plants and her beautifully landscaped gardens were envied by many. She and the family were always assisted by Matias, (Mah teese) an Indian man, who was a young adult when he came here, along with the family, to work for them. At that time, the Littlepage property went all the way back to the railroad and Matias had a home some distance back from the main house. A twelve year old Indian girl, Lucy, also made the trip and was employed by the family.
It is thought, however, that the largest number of Southerners had moved to Brazil. Those who wanted to move had formed organizations for the express purpose of finding suitable land on which to settle and make their new homes.
One of the earliest to scout out that area was Mississippian, General William W Wood, a lawyer and the editor of the Natchez Free Trader. General Wood was royally entertained on his search with parades and celebrations while bands even played “Dixie”. After the searching was finished and the decisions made to move to Brazil, ships were leaving from New Orleans, Baltimore, New York, Galveston and Mobile.
The first ship to leave New Orleans was chartered by the Brazilian government and contained 350 refugees, all formerly families of above average means. After leaving the delta of the Mississippi river and reaching the Gulf of Mexico, they were on the lookout for pirates, or as they were called then, wreckers. Times were tough. They had to bypass St Thomas because of an outbreak of cholera and yellow fever on the island. The voyage was 5600 miles long.
Upon reaching Rio de Janeiro, it was a sight to behold. It’s a magnificent city in a lush tropical setting dotted with mountains. As time went on, some of the Southerners would return to the United States. However, large numbers stayed and learned to speak Portuguese and assimilated themselves into the local culture, while still retaining their southern accents and ways. They became known as the Confederados.
President Jimmy Carter made a trip to Brazil while he was the Governor of Georgia, in 1972, and the dignitaries thought it fitting that he should meet some of the residents, in a colony there, whose ancestors had been born in Georgia. Gov Carter, who saw the flags of Brazil, America, and the Confederacy, flying side by side, admitted to not knowing that such a colony even existed and tears rolled down his cheeks when he came face to face with the descendants.
Sources used for this story were Confederate Settlements in British Honduras by Donald C Simmons, Jr, The Lost Colony of the Confederacy by Eugene C Harter, and U S Federal Census and Immigration Records.