Book review

Confederate Settlements in British Honduras

176 pages, McFarlands, Jefferson NC and London £26.15, paperback

Review by: Allan Paterson Milne

 

This is a fascinating little study of a little-known aspect of Confederate history. Confederate émigrés began arriving in British Honduras even before the end of the war, but it was not until Radical Reconstruction, with its insistence on Black suffrage got underway in 1867, that a significant number left the horrors of Yankee rule behind them and headed for British Honduras. Simmons estimates that as many as 7,000 may have set out for Belize during and after the war.


The majority came from Louisiana and Mississippi, and they came with the aim of reconstituting the social and economic order that had been so violently overthrown in the war. Things began promisingly when the Crown agreed to confer large land grants on the would-be immigrants. In fact, appearances were deceptive. There was much local resentment of the grants.

 

And the new settlers found the liberal local attitudes to race hard to take. As Simmons says "Men of color owned property, and in theory could rise without hindrance to prominent positions in society". When the settlers tried to deal with insolent blacks in the traditional cotton kingdom way, they provoked intense hostility. Ironically, most of their descendants in present-day Belize are of mixed race.

 

Their attempts to reproduce the cotton plantation generally failed, as cotton succumbed to worms and rains. Sugarcane became the preferred crop for southern immigrants. "The Old South" as the author puts it "could not be recreated or recovered". As homesickness grew, and difficulties mounted, the temptation to return home proved irresistible to most. Ex-Confederates in Brazil were to some extent stuck there. In British Honduras, the steamer could take you to New Orleans quite easily in a few days. Five years after the end of the war, less than one hundred Ex-Confederates remained. Some of these would prosper in their new home, but the dream of a new Southland was over.