SAN FELE TO U.S. IMMIGRATION ROSTERS 1862- 1895
BY: TOM FRASCELLA SEPTEMBER 2011
On our recent visit to San Fele in April of this year we had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Pietro Stia who has recently completed a book on the impact on San Fele of emigration between 1862 and 1895. His study focuses on the culture and economic impacts that the emigration caused to the town in the second half of the 19th century. The book is titled “San Fele La Grande Emigrazione” and is available at this point in Italian only. I have found his book very helpful to my own efforts in putting together our website history. From my own research I had become aware that San Fele officials had kept extensive records on townspeople’s emigration from almost its initial start through to the present. As a result of the town’s precise record keeping and early Italian emigration profile, the town became a window on the effects of mass exodus on local culture. Several Italian academic papers were drafted in the early part of the 20th century which used San Fele as a model to project the consequences of the mass emigration which was then taking place between, 1905-1930. So the early San Fele experience became helpful to Italian Social planners as they wrestled with the exodus of millions of southern Italians.
Professor Stia’s work includes lists of San Felesi émigrés for a select number of years (7) and one year which lists the names of returning townspeople. I have found that the lists are most helpful when used in conjunction with known accounts of the experiences of our ancestors upon arrival in the U.S. Using the information in combination allows us to draw a much clearer picture of their experience and the conditions that they encountered upon arrival.
We realize that the lists, as few as there are available, will provide important information to many of our San Felesi community who through the years may have lost this original immigration family history. While it is unfortunate that more yearly lists are not available, nevertheless we are grateful for what is available through the Professor’s research. It is also comforting to know that with additional effort the rest of the records may some day become available.
The years and lists which Professor Stia researched and recorded in his book are as follows;
Emigration to U.S.
Return to San Fele
With regard to the lists and names cited in the Professor’s book the earliest emigration (1862) shows a significant number 2 to 1 of San Felesi were going to South America, in particular Uruguay lesser numbers to Brazil and Argentina. Only a third initially were heading to the U.S. For our purposes I will focus only on the folks heading to the U.S. Starting with the 1866 list most émigrés from San Fele seem to be heading to the U.S.
To properly judge the extent of the emigration from San Fele one only needs to focus on the difference between the census figures for the town in 1860 of roughly 10,000 residents versus the census of 1880 where the town’s population had dropped to 7,000.
Unfortunately, the Professor’s book provides emigration lists of those coming to the U.S. covering only two of those twenty years, 1860-1880. However, even that limited information begins to develop an unexpected picture of what was happening. To appreciate the information that the Professor’s lists provide more fully, one must understand the following U.S. census information. In the U.S. census of 1850 only about 3,500 residents of the U.S. listed Italy as their place of origin. In the census of 1860 approximately 9,500 residents of the U.S. listed Italy as their place of origin. The census of 1870 cites approximately 17,100 U.S. residents listing Italy as place of origin. Italian immigration to the U.S. was clearly beginning to pick up momentum however, the totals were relatively small. U.S. immigration records indicate approximately 10,000 Italians entered the country in the decade 1860-1870. However, this number represents the first time in U.S. history that Italian immigration figures reached five digits. After reviewing the Professor’s half year emigration list for 1862 and the full year 1866 the two lists seem to support that San Fele conservatively supplied between 6 and 8 percent of the total Italian Immigration to the U.S. in that decade of 1860. This is a remarkable statistic coming from such a remote and small town in Southern Italy. It also clearly shows how early in the Italian immigration flow our ancestors arrived in the U.S.
One other thing that the lists are demonstrating is that our ancestor’s emigration was not casual but very organized and purposeful, on both sides of the Atlantic. It appears that they were coming to the U.S. with jobs, primarily construction jobs, already lined up. There is clear and historic evidence that San Fele was an early labor source and later regional recruitment center for cheap labor imported through the “Padrone” system.
While it will take some time to transcribe and comment on the individual lists and what was taking place here in America at the time, it is our intention to eventually provide all of the names and the information contained in the lists on this website. We recognize that the information contained in those lists will be of interest to our entire community. The six and a half years of emigration to the U.S. cited above includes over 1,400 names and other related information, so transcribing the information onto this website will take some time. Some readers may look at the above dates and may know from family documents that their ancestors did not emigrate in those specific years. I would caution that some of our ancestors moved back and forth more than once following job availability and the lists are worth checking for that purpose as well. As a way of getting started on publishing the list information we are including the 1862 list at this time, which at eight individuals is the smallest and easiest list to deal with.
Some San Felesi men were already in the U.S. and working in construction prior to 1862. Among them was Carlo Sisti who by 1862 was employed by a masonry contractor headquartered in Trenton, N.J. However, according to our local records, Carlo spent most of the year, until winter, working for this contractor on a project in Morristown, in Northern New Jersey. As is apparent from the year the American Civil War was fully engaged by this time. Apparently, the Trenton masonry contractor had secured a military contract, beginning in the Spring of 1863, for work constructing fortifications in and around Washington, D.C. which at the time was very much threatened by Confederate Forces. Vito Frascella arrived in the U.S. in mid 1862 and took rooms in Trenton, for the Fall and winter of 1862 where he was joined by Mr. Sisti. Looking at the 1862 Fall list of émigré from San Fele eight men left October 30, 1862 for New York. The voyage would have taken between fifty and sixty-five days from Italy to New York. Among the eight individuals was Gaetano Frascella, Vito’s younger brother who did not arrive in Trenton until 1863. From family records I know that all three San Felesi men spent the next year and a half working for the Trenton masonry contractor in and around Washington. I suspect that some of the other seven San Felesi that left with Gaetano probably provided labor on those fortification projects as well.
The October list as it appears from Professor Stia book is
The only other emigration list for the 1860 decade was the 1866 roster. There again appears a clear pattern of organized labor being exported to the U.S. The 1866 list includes the names of 516 individuals who left San Fele for New York in clusters.
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