I’m sure what the heck happened to make that last post black type on grey background. I’m also uncertain why photos in the article this morning aren’t centered properly.
The young man’s passport said he was from the Brazilian Empire, but he didn’t see himself as Brazilian. He was the son of a Confederado planter from the Norris Colony. His father had prospered in Brazil, as had many of the Confederados, and although the family was not as wealthy as Col. Norris family, it was comfortable. James Smith the Third had been educated at the private Confederado university in Sao Paulo, it’s professors drawn from former officers of the Confederate States Army and Navy who themselves had attended or taught at universities across the south or the US Military Academy at West Point before the war. James Senior had developed a business relationship with a firm in Vancouver, and young James (he no longer went by Jimmy) had been dispatched to the rocky western coasts of Canada to help him learn the family business, and also to give him an opportunity to avoid certain obligations to a Brazilian family.
Since the Confederados and their families were still not allowed to legally return to the United States James had decided to travel by ship to the curiously named town of Bluefields on the eastern shore of Nicaragua and take the train across the isthmus. Although the United States had a great deal of influence over the Central Americans it was unable to prevent the flow of commerce. On landing James spent a night in the best hotel in Bluefields and happened across a copy of the city’s newspaper of record, mentioning that James Wilberforce Stratton from Massachusetts was now the consulate chief in Rivas on the far shore of Lake Nicaragua. It was a name that James recognized on instantly. His father had nearly fought a duel in the streets of Washington against the man’s father, 30 years before, just before the start of the war, and had then faced him again, two years later on the battlefield outside Savannah. It was after having been forced to retreat from the battlefield wounded that James Smith the first had taken ship to escape to Brazil, along with his young wife, a great deal of gold, and a desire for vengeance.
Smith woke early the next morning, had the kitchen send up his usual breakfast of ham, toast, and coffee, and began a series of letters. One informed his father of the presence of Straton’s son in Rivas, and another was sent to members of a club he’d been a member of when at the University. The club kept track of political, economic, and engineering development in the Caribbean, along the Central American coast, and the gulf coast of the United States and the Holy Catholic Republic. Known as the Havana Club, it was descended from a dream of their fathers and grandfathers, a slave holding Caribbean basin, first as a part of the United States, and once that dream had failed as in independent nation.
The Havana Club no longer dreamed of a slave holding country in the Caribbean, or at least not in public. Instead its members invested in political capital, and economic development throughout the region. Because even in Brazil, the writing was on the wall. With major international banks and the European powers less and less willing to back bonds issued by the Brazilian Empire the tenability of outright slavery was slowly dying. Peonage perhaps. Contract slavery certainly, but chattel slavery, where a person was enslaved from birth would be gone, almost certainly by the end of the century. The year before the Empire had found itself forced to formally recognize Haiti politically, something it had avoided for nearly a century now.
Smith then walked to the railroad station, and along the way was surprised to run into an old college friend from his time at the University of the South (as the Confederado University in Sao Paulo was known). He turned as his name was called out, just as he passed by the American Consulate. Glancing back, he saw that one of the other men in the street had also turned towards John “Bingo” Baylor, and was looking at the pair curiously, trying to place them in his mind.
James led Bingo away towards the closest café mildly annoyed that Bingo had been so careless, identifying him in clear hearing of the American officials in the town.
“What is wrong with you, yelling out my name in the street directly in front of the American Consulate? You do know my family isn’t allowed to return there, and that they watch us, all of us whenever they can!”
“Jimmy, Jimmy, they’re not as bad as all that. I deal with them on a near daily basis. My father’s shipping company has dealt with them for decades now. Very few of them carry the old grudges, the ones who do don’t travel here, and it’s too hot for them. People from Vermont or Maine collapse in New Orleans, let alone here. They need us, in their own way just as they always have. So few of them come down here willingly, but they still call the shots from Washington. Many of the new young men, our fellow Americans if you will are ready for us to return. There are even Democrats in the House of Representatives from New England again. And THAT may well be a sign for all of us. I even hear rumors that President Bryan may soon propose a bill to allow our families to return. They may not be hurting for capital as they once were, not since they found gold and silver in Colorado, but they see value in our relationships with the Brazilians. They have two rivals as neighbors, and need to find more allies.”
“Bingo, perhaps things have worked out well for your family. Brazil has been good to my family know that, but the consulate officer here is the son of the man who drove my father out of Savannah, and they once nearly fought a duel before the war. I myself cannot abide the idea of making a deal with the Americans. I may not be Brazilian in my heart, but I am damned if I am an American. Now, what can you tell me of the situation here?”
“They will finish the canal in the next four or five years. It is a massive undertaking, the railroad will suffer for it of course, and so will our family business at first, but we’re diversifying. We’ve hired engineers, mechanics, we’re going into the ship business, and reducing our involvement in warehousing. With facilities in Bluefields and on the western shore we’ll become the go to firm for ships that need work after crossing the Atlantic or Pacific. We’ve also gotten involved in power generation. We have secured the contract for all lighting and power along the canal. In all their buildings, the hospital, the schools, their energy is controlled entirely by my family.”
“And steam? Do you work in that as well?”
“Yes of course. Opening and closing the locks can’t be done with electricity, at least not yet. Perhaps in another twenty years, but for now the locks are steam powered.”
Their coffees came, and the two continued to talk for nearly another hour. Bingo introduced James to the strange new roll (or was it a pastry) the “bagel”.
“It goes with anything, cheese, jelly or jam, that funny peanut butter stuff the Americans have become mad about, even fish paste. There’s a family of Jews who make them here. Think of it Jews in Central America! “
“It reminds me of the fried dough the Germans have brought with them to Sao Paulo since you left. They call them ‘Fasnacht’ for one of their Catholic ceremonies, but the rest of the year they call them ‘Tropfkrapfen’. They tend to be sweeter than this, but you don’t spread stuff on them. Speaking of Jews, do you remember Charles Moise? He got out of Savannah on the same ship as my father. His daughter Rebecca is getting married in the spring. The spring in Sao Paulo I mean, not here.”
“Moise? I thought they were from Charleston.”
“Well, they were, but he was serving under my father, he’d brought a company of men with him, he’d already lost his wife and his sons to the war. She’d broken her heart for the boys, they had died somewhere in Virginia, one of the attacks thrown against Lee’s defenses south of the city. This daughter is from his second marriage.”
“I see. So, what brings you to Rivas of all the backward holes of Central America? Travel for family business I imagine?”
“Yes, up to Vancouver of all places. The business is good. We have become their primary supplier of sugar, and to a lesser degree coffee and even cotton, although they can get it cheaper from Egypt and India of course. Even as an English possession they don’t seem to mind the fact that it’s produced by slaves. Profits talk after all, and besides is it really any worse than how they treat people in India?”
“I couldn’t tell you, I’ve never been to India. But they do pay them after all. Put them down with Enfields at the least provocation, but they do pay them. And they even arm some of them, to use against their countrymen of course.”