Anthony Vermandois’ research on the families of Agropoli provides the basis of this exploration into our ancestors. He has compiled vital statistics of many families from Agropoli and the nearby towns which are available at his site, Imagines Maiorum-Ancestors from Campania.
Readings from other sources were also used in the preparation of this posting. A list of the titles and URLs is provided at the end.
This posting highlights events during the lifetimes of:
Maria Giovanna di Giaimo
-born in Agropoli, 1845
-died Jan. 7, 1915 Agropoli
-born in Agropoli, 1846
-no date of death available yet
Carmine and Maria Giovanna (nee di Giamo) Scotti were:
–Sammy’s maternal Great Grandparents
–EmilyAnn’s maternal 2nd Great Grandparents
The Fisherman and his family: A Bittersweet Life
“A Neopolitan Fisherman” by Dominique-Louis-Fereol Papety.
Today we often see the phrase “Bella Italia” describing the natural and cultural beauties of the country. Artists of the past such as Dominique-Louis-Fereol Papety were inspired to leave their home countries to live in Italy. Papety’s painting “A Neopolitan Fisherman” depicts a muscular, barefoot man dressed in the attire of a Neopolitan fisherman playing his mandolin on the beach while a woman with gold earrings and colorful headscarf looks on. When I first saw this painting I thought it was too romantic to convey any truth about what life was like during the time Carmine and Maria Giovanna lived. Having looked at the painting each day for the past two weeks I can now say it conveys a message.
The message speaks of a bittersweet life. It is a life filled with the rough beauty of nature. The lives of those living amidst this nature are held captive by its unpredictability. The fisherman and the peasant woman have a look of care and concern on their faces even though the moment when they hear the music gives them a chance to pause from their labors. The rocks that dominate the foreground of the painting speak of a hard life. No soft meadows or flowers adorn the landscape. The sky is filled with many clouds. The sun might or might not break through.
As a fisherman, Carmine depended on good weather and favorable conditions to yield the bounties of the sea when he spread the nets to make a catch. The families of Agropoli could also grow figs, olives or other fruits and vegetables if they had a even a small patch of land or a garden as a means to supplement their diet. Even then nature held the upper hand and could provide abundance or devastation depending on forces that were out of a person’s control.
Maria and Carmine came of age during a period of great change as Italy united into one kingdom. Despite the natural beauty of their environment and the unification of the country the impression we have received is that very little change came into the lives of the poor in Southern Italy to make life better, easier or more hopeful for the future.
After the unification of Italy in 1861, Southern Italians now paid higher taxes to the northern part of the country rather than to local overlords. The new parliament located in Turin, in Northern Italy, had no interest or connection to the hardships of the Southern Italians. Equally distant, the Southern Italians did not grasp the concept of a unified country having only the understanding of loyalty to their townsmen and locality.
Cholera Epidemics in Naples and Agropoli
Carmine and Maria Giovanna were married on May 27, 1869. Three years earlier, in 1866, two events happened in Salerno that changed the lives of the inhabitants. First, the Napoli Central Railway station was built. Second, Agropoli was hit by a cholera epidemic. Although the building of the railway station was hailed as an advance for Naples, the conditions which created the epidemics told another story of the poor sanitation and the lack of preventive measures taken by authorities.
There were many outbreaks of cholera all through the 19th century which occurred at close intervals to each other. Different parts of the world were hit at different times. An understanding of the conditions that favored the growth and spread of the disease were not known until 1883. So until that time inadequate means for the disposal and treatment of human waste were major factors in the spread of cholera. The bacteria which caused the disease also grew and thrived in estuaries. The bacteria could enter the food chain through seafood, especially shellfish. Given that many families lived by means of the sea and the daily catch of fish the impact would be high. The lack of adequate clean drinking water and sewer systems also speaks of a poverty that even the beauty of nature could not alleviate.
Outbreaks of cholera were met with great hysteria in Naples. Peasants thought the government was out to poison and kill them. Priests led processions through the streets. Responses were all based on fear and emotion. In an environment where daily life was such a struggle it is hard to conceive of people being able to sort their responses out.
During the cholera outbreak of 1866 those lost in our direct line were Maria’s father, Francesco di Giaimo (66 years of age) and Antonio Pappalardo (6 years of age). Antonio was the brother of Emilia Pappalardo who was Sammy’s paternal Grandmother and EmilyAnn’s Great Grandmother. Two women in our Serrapede line were also lost.
In 1884 another outbreak of cholera in Naples was downplayed by the government. Instead, great emphasis was made to the international community about how the town was being rebuilt and outfitted to prevent future outbreaks. The Neopolitan officials did not want to discourage tourism to the area since it was a major source of revenue.
Mount Vesuvius Erupts in Naples, 1906
In 1906 Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying many towns in the immediate vicinity. Ash and dust spread for miles affecting weather. Tremors were felt as well.
A newspaper report from the April 7, 1906 edition of “The New York Tribune” vividly describes the death and destruction the eruption caused. Naples became a center for refugees from nearby towns that were destroyed. The railway and telegraph offices could not function due to the overload the disaster caused.
Towns as far as Castellamare were affected but no reports we’ve researched so far mention if Agropoli was directly affected by tremors. However, the volcanic ash would have affected the weather which in turn would impact crops and fishing.
Life goes on
Life in Agropoli for Maria and Carmine went on. We are grateful that of their 10 children we know of 7 who survived and lived into the 20th century.
We do not have a date of death for Carmine. Maria lived until 1915. During the years preceding her death her daughter Letizia married Nicola Muro. Letizia became Grandmother to their daughter Giuseppa, born in 1909. By 1911 Letizia, Nicola and Giuseppa had left Agropoli to make a new life for themselves in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania. With Letizia established in the United States her twin sister Concetta and youngest sister Elisa soon immigrated to Wilmerding as well.
We have not found any ship manifests that show a return trip to Italy by Letizia or her sisters prior to their mother’s death. It might be that the last time she saw her daughters were on the days they left for the United States.
Discussion with Uncle Sammy on April 12, 2015 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Knowing now the hardships the Scotti sisters endured while growing up has opened our minds and hearts more than ever. When they came to Wilmerding they set up beautiful homes as the family grew and experienced an improved standard of living. They valued education and maintained a network of relatives and friends who helped each other in times of need. The raw material was there prior to coming to America. Once they arrived the opportunities to develop were sought and used. To consider their lives this way provides a link to the past. It speaks most favorably of Carmine and Maria Giovanna that they could raise responsible and hardworking children despite the many hardships the family experienced in Agropoli.
Our immigrant ancestors from Italy may have been poor when they arrived but they had all the fundamentals needed to succeed. America gave them the opportunity. Their parents and extended family in Agropoli taught them the values and provided the examples of strength, forebearance and patience. These qualities helped our ancestors take the opportunities offered to them and actualize the potential each of them had within.
Uncle Sammy asked me to go through all the charts of descent for our family lines which Anthony has created at ImaginesMaiorum. He wanted a separate posting dedicated to our family members who died in the Cholera Epidemic of 1866. I agreed that this brings to mind the loss and also offers a way to ask others to join us in prayer for their spirits.
“A Neopolitan Fisherman”
by Dominique-Louis-Fereol Papety
1854-55 outbreak of cholera in Naples
Cholera outbreaks and pandemics
What is cholera? What causes Cholera?
Medical News Today
What is cholera?
Doctors Without Borders
Illustrations about cholera epidemics
New England Journal of Medicine
Italy and other countries-19th Century
If the work was published before 1923, it is in the public domain and free to use.
Reportage on eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, April 7, 1906 edition of “The New York Tribune”
I apologize for not providing this link. While I was researching my laptop froze and I had to reboot. I did not save the link before that happened. A preview is available through Newspapers.com However, since this is a fee paid site they may block you if you try to go there a second time.
The Major Immigration Years
Italian Women Immigrants
Why Did Italians Immigrate to the US Between 1880 & 1900?