Re: Why did so many immigrate from Ustica to New Orleans

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Posted by Marilyn Barbera on 04 MAY 2004 05:52:23

It has to do with what was happening politically in both places and the fact that there were a significant number of men in Ustica who were Mariners (listed as sailors, however, not military.) We have been told by descendents that some from Ustica worked on English ships that came to New Orleans on a regular basis.(Some were my ancestors, "Ingargiola" and "Gumina." (There are many more names list ed as sailors on this web site, a subject for future research. Occupations of Ustichesi are mentioned in the documentation section of family names)
Political unrest and battles began years before 1860 in what is now called Italy. Sicily and Southern Italy's capital was in Naples under the Bourbon King. It was called "The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies." It was detached from the rest of the Ital ian States that were divided into small kingdoms. These areas were not a unified Republic until the end of the war for the Unification of Italy.
In studying the passenger lists of ships in the 18 50's that arrived at the Port of New Orleans, prior to the Unification of Italy, (which began with the invasion of Sicily in May, 1860 by Garibaldi with 1000 men), rarely was there a passenger from Ustica. An exception was a ship that arrived in New Orleans from Palermo in 1855 with 12 male passengers and all 12 were listed as Traders and Mariners. Just prior to Garibaldi's invasion of Sicily, th ere was an unusual occurrence. A Sicilian ship arrived in New Orleans Feb. 24, 1860 with 26 young Ustichesi men, some in their late teens whose occupations were listed as Mariners. A similar ship arrived March 7, 1861 with 28 young men from Ustica, one of which was my grandfather Giuseppe Barbera, age 16 and his brother Gaetano Barbera age 15. These two ships are of special significance, having n o women on board. The story that I have heard from 3 different sources is that their parents secretly sent them to New Orleans to avoid being killed in the war of Unification of Italy. Unlike much of S outhern Italy, they supported the desire of the revolutionaries to unite the states into one country.The boys and men risked their lives because the naval ships were guarding the area. According to several different sources, some of the boys were dressed as girls.
Why did they choose New Orleans? It was a port that they were well aquainted with.Since there were many Ustichesi Mariners trav elling back and forth, (husbands and fathers of Ustica families)the social and economic conditions were familiar to them which made it easy for these young men to find their way around. There were a few middle aged men from Ustica travelling with them, who were probably guiding the younger ones until they became settled. It seems that they were organized, the husbands would find a home and then t he wife and children would come. Sometimes the husbands would return to Ustica and accompany the family to New Orleans. Sometimes hildren were sent with aunts and uncles. Later the parents would join t hem.
The 1861 ship was the last to enter the port of New Orleans before it was closed to passenger vessels a couple of months later due to the War between the States (Civil War). The irony is that many of these boys and young men were drafted into the Confederate army. The records show that they were in the Italian foreign brigade that successfully defended the city of New Orleans during the war.
After the Civil War, the native Plantation owners were forced to sell portions of their land due to declining economic conditions. Some of the young boys had worked on the plantations for the owners, and were able to purchase portions for their own use. It seems logical to assume that the word got back to Ustica of these opportunities. When the New Orleans Port repoened after the Ci vil War, the first large shipload (86 passengers)of Ustichesi arrived on April 10, 1866 followed by two shiploads totalling 139 in 1867. In the following years, even larger numbers arrived, including t he wives and families of the Mariners.The land was fertile, and the Italian farmers were experts in cultivation. The Mississippi River made it possible to ship produce up north. The areas that were converted from cotton and sugarcane plantations into truck farms lined both sides of the Mississippi River,such as, St. Rose, Violet, Mereau, Marrero, Nine Mile Point, Westwego, Whitecastle, Destraha n, Jefferson, and Chalmette, Several families actually lived in the original Plantation Homes. Unfortunately, some were destroyed by fire, hurricane or were demolished. The Barbera's bought part of the Arnoult Plantation that extended from the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchatrain, and lived in the original Cleary Plantation home on the river road in Jefferson Parish. Kenner became the shipping hub for the truck farmers who also sold their produce locally at the French Market, and the Dryades and Poydras Markets. The majority of those who chose to sell retail in New Orleans lived near the Dry ades Market. Other Ustichesi became restauranteurs, grocers, draymen, peddelers, streetcar motormen, excavating contractors, saloon owners, and some had jobs with city or state agencies building the infrastructure of New Orleans and environs, such as the construction of canals, streets and state roadways.
In summary, the political conditions in Sicily and Italy were life threatening for youn g men. After Garibaldi successfully overturned the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and gave it to King Victor Emmanuel of the Piedmont/Sardinia Kingdom, the citizens began a civil war against the Unification. Here in the States, the aftermath of the Civil war opened up opportunities that would have never been possible on the tiny island of Ustica. And their plight would have not be better at that tim e in history if they would have chosen to immigrate to another part of Italy. Unification was not complete until 1870, the war continued up the peninsula to the northern part of Italy. The economic con ditions worsened for those who lived in the south. You can google information on the "Unification of Italy." It was providential that the war in Italy coinsided with the Civil war in New Orleans.
If anyone has heard these or other charming and interesting stories please follow up.

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