Tuesday, June 26, 2007

E. Steel (in memoriam) - American Confederates

An interesting piece of Brazilian/United States history was the immigration of approximately one-hundred confederate families, who came to Santarém in 1867. These families were part of a larger group of North Americans who were recruited by the Brazilian government in an effort to upgrade agricultural skills in the country. Most went to the State of São Paulo and were quite successful in their economical endeavors. Even today there is still a very large community of American descendants, called Confederados, living in Americana, Campinas, and other cities in São Paulo. In the Santarém region, farming proved to be very difficult and, as today, there was a lack of infrastructure to get produce to market. Thus, many of the original families who came didn't do well and returned to the United States within a few years. There were, nevertheless, several families who persevered in Santarém to become involved in ranching, farming and other enterprises. Family names, some of which still exist today, include Hennington, Jennings, Vaughan (now spelled Waughan/or Von), Riker, Rhome and Steel. This particular post is dedicated to E. Steel, who died on June 24, 2007, by a death of his own choosing. I'd known Steele, as I preferred to call him, for more than 20 years. He used to stop by my tourism office from time to time, hungry to speak English and make contacts with cohort Americans. I need to check with his mother and sister but I think it was his great grandfather who had immigrated to Brazil after the American Civil War. Our encounters were always fast ones. He talked like a cross of a tape recorder and a machine gun. He was so anxious to speak English, he didn't take much time for listening or asking questions. I always loaned him books written in English and I'm positive that he devoured every word in them. In more recent years he took up gardening as a way of earning a meager living, selling flowers and plants. Then he came to create vases sculptured out of solid rock and other natural materials. The rock vase in the attached image is one of his artistic creations. The first time I saw one of these vases was on the back of his bicycle. He'd made a stop in front of our house to talk with me and as I remember it, I bought a plant or two he was selling. I couldn't keep my eyes off the rock vase, it was so beautiful. I wanted to ask him how much he was asking for it but I figured I couldn't afford it and I didn't want to create false expectations. I guess he saw me slobbering at the mouth because when we went to visit him and is wife at their modest home in Nova Republica some weeks later, he gave me the one you see in the attached image. Knowing he wasn't in a stable economic situation, I bought another rock vase. He responded by giving another one to my wife. We bought some plants and he gave us others. So it went, he was a very humble person making the most out of what he knew best, plants and flowers. The last time I saw him alive was about 10 days ago. He'd spent most of the day pedaling the streets of Santarem on his bicycle and made a stop in front of our house to return a book I'd loaned him, Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice by Mark Plotkin. I invited him in but he said he was in a rush to get home. I thought to myself that he seemed extremely burned from the sun and very emaciated. His last words to me were something to the effect that I should stop by his home to pick up roses he's saved for me and that I shouldn't worry about paying for them right now. We were friends. At his funeral yesterday, his body was covered with a blanket of roses and other flowers taken from his yard.

4 comments:

Garrett Reed said...

This is an interesting story. It reminds me of when I was passing through Santarem in 1990, on a backing trip through S. America. In Santarem, I met a man and struck up a conversation with him. He clamied to have been a descendant of the Confederados. I don't rememebr his name or really what he looked like just the strangeness of the encounter.
Related to this, I know a man that has in his possession the diary of one of the Rikers. He's travelled down to Belem many times, and somehow got to know one of the Rikers. She gave him a copy of, O Utimo Confederado na Amazonia, and showed him some of the military artifacts of the first Riker in Santarem.
It's an interesting story. He's trying to get the book translated. If he asks, I'll help him to translate it, but I know it's a huge task that make take a long time.
Anyway, I enjoyed your story. Did Steele leave any memoirs or artifacts from his family?
Take care,
Garrett Reed
greed@houstonisd.org

Anonymous said...

I discovered today that my relatives settled Santarem. Family name of Jennings. Have you heard of William Jennings? He lived in the town and build steam ships to do commerce downstream. I would like to visit if I could know that ancestors were in Santarem today.
Steve Jennings
jenninsr@yahoo.com

Steven Alexander said...

Steve, start packing your bags because you have a lot of Jennings to visit here in Santarem. My private address is: amazonto@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I was looking for some trace of "Henningtons in Brazil" when I found it. Henry Hennington, who was a brother of my great Grandfather took his family there after the Civil War and remained there. My parents wrote a book about the Hennington family and "discovered" Henry. All remembrance of him had been lost. They were able to contact a decendant and found out a little of the history but contact was lost again. C. Carlisle