The following post was written by Fred Salvucci and presented at the Salvucci Family Reunion on March 27, 2004
The Salvucci family lived in San Gimignano, near Florence, Tuscany, in the 14th century. They were involved in a major feud with a rival family, the Ardinghelli, that was part of the civic strife in Italian cities at that time between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. The Salvucci family aligned with the Emperor (Ghibelline party). Eventually the Guelph faction (pro-Pope won), and the Salvucci’s were banished.
The Salvucci Towers in San Gimignano, Italy, 14th century home of the Salvucci family, and one of that medieval city’s major tourist attractions.
Major concentrations of Salvuccis are now found in San Donato (our branch), and a city called Macerata in the Marche region, further north and closer to Tuscany. Our family knew nothing of this history when they came to the United States. (The history was uncovered by Anthony Salvucci, who found an old history book in a store in Boston, and Frank Salvucci (“Giosco”) who visited the town and the Salvucci Towers with his wife Bessie). The one slight hint of this history that I remember hearing in the 1940s, is that when my grandfather Pietro was working in Rome, before he went to the United States, a letter came for Pietro Salvucci, but when he opened it, he realized it wasn’t for him. It turned out another Pietro Salvucci from “northern Italy’ was working on the same job. So he always said there were other Salvuccis. I suspect that the other Pietro was from Macerata, as the Marche region would have been considered “north” in comparison with Rome. It had been part of the Papal States and it was common for people from that region to migrate to Rome temporarily to find work, as people from San Donato did.
A modern overview of the historic center of San Donato val di Comino, the home town of the Salvucci family. San Donato dates from the 8th century. Its most distinctive feature is a truncated medieval tower similar to those found in San Gimignano.
The San Donato which our people migrated from in the late 1890s was characterized by poor living conditions for workers, especially the sharecroppers, who might own a small piece of land of their own, but needed to supplement their income by tending the crops of wealthier families who owned more land. Carmine Salvucci was a sharecropper for Signor Modesto Musilli, but I believe the land he worked and tended sheep on actually belonged to the Sipari family from neighboring Pescasseroli, in the Abruzzi (the mother of Benedetto Croce, the famous philosopher and historian was a Sipari).
Benedetto Croce, Italy’s leading 19th century historian, whose mother’s family, the Sipari, owned the land that Carmine Salvucci and his family farmed prior to 1905 just outside of the village of San Donato.
People from San Donato would also work away from San Donato, building stone walls in the Abruzzi region or working as farm laborers as far away as Naples or Rome (about 100 miles from San Donato). They would go as “al zappone” to hoe or to harvest wheat with a sickle. Sometimes the men would go alone, leaving the women to take care of the little farm and animals. Sometimes the entire family would go on foot, sleeping in church porches along the way. Small babies were bound (“swaddled”) “to make them grow straight.” It also meant they couldn’t move their hands and feet, so the baby would be placed in a cradle and carried on the mother’s head. The family would stay for months at a time working, with the men doing stone masonry, or mixing cement, and the women carrying stones and baskets of cement on their heads up temporary ramps to the walls they were building. Pietro’s wife, Domenica Tocci was born in 1872 in Roccacolga, in the hills outside of Rome, where her family was working on the King’s hunting grounds.
A group of Sandonatese farm laborers, date uncertain, probably the early 20th century
Italy had been unified with a new national government and the capital in Rome in 1871. Previously San Donato had been part of the Kingdom of Naples. The new government began building roads to unify the new country, and the first roads passable by horsecart were built. Previously mule trails and foot were the only transportation. The only drinking water came from cisterns under the country houses, which stored water run off from the roofs, or from 4 springs outside the town (Santa Fele, Capo d’Acqua, and two others). The women would take clothes out to these water springs to wash them, and take little barrels out by donkey to fill with water and take back to their houses for cooking. In the 1890s a water pipe was constructed from neighboring Canneto, a religious sanctuary near the top of a mountain that had a natural spring with a lot of water. The town sold the public chestnut grove to 5 Gentile brothers who had come to America to make money so they could return to buy land. The money from the sale of the Chestnut grove (castagneto) was used to build the pipe to Canneto, and a series of fountains around the town, where women could wash clothes closer to home, or fill copper pans with water which they would carry on their heads into the house for cooking and drinking. There was no plumbing in the houses. Electricity came into the town between 1900 and 1910. Before that the only light in the houses was from oil lamps, or the fireplace where all cooking was done.
Traditional female costume worn by Sandonatese women who carried water from the town’s various fountains to their homes in large brass containers like that pictured here
Poor people ate mostly polenta (cornmeal mush with oil and garlic or tomato sauce) and corn bread. Macaroni and beans was a luxury, and home made egg noodles with tomato sauce and bread from wheat flour were luxuries for Sunday. Most people had no schooling. My grandfather Pietro learned to read and write from a stone mason named Cugini who he worked with in Rome. His wife Domenica never learned to read.
Pietro was drafted into the army about 1895, leaving his wife expecting their first son Loreto (born 1896). When he returned he went to work in Rome with a friend [?] Cugini (nickname “la Vanora”). Then about 1898 he emigrated to Clinton, Massachusetts to work on the Wachusett Dam. “White” workers were paid more than “black” workers, and Italian workers were paid still less, but it was still more than the pay in Italy, and there was the possibility to send money back to Italy to support the family, and maybe to save enough to go back and buy some land or a house.
Donato, Pietro’s younger brother, came to join him and both worked in Clinton with Gerarado Salvucci, according to the 1901 Clinton registry. When the dam was finished they moved to Brighton, and Donato sent for his wife Giovanella (Rufo) and son Antonio (born in 1898) and established his family in the United States, with Pietro as a boarder, while Pietro occasionally returned to his family in Italy, where Donato (1906), Guido (1910), and Teodolindo (1914) were all born.
Another brother, Carlo, joined them around 1906, and sent for his wife (Anna Tocci, Domenica’s sister) and his son Giuseppe (born 1907) a few years later.
Pietro’s youngest sibling Carlo, who emigrated to America in 1906, is seen here with his son Giuseppe. Carlo married Domenica’s younger sister, Anna, which made his ten children double first cousins to Pietro and Dominica’s sons.
Brother Costanzo had an inflammation of the eyes and would not be allowed into the United States, so he remained in San Donato where he married “Angelella” Rufo and had twin sons, Lucio and Antonio.
Brother Cesidio was deaf, and therefore ineligible to emigrate, so he married Lucia and moved to the outskirts of Rome where he worked as a farm laborer and shepherd. Their son died after falling from a stone wall in the town. Their daughter Irene still lives near Rome with her daughter Lucia and granddaughter Paula.
Pietro’s sister Anna was deaf and likewise wouldn’t be allowed into the United States. She married a widower, Luigi Salvucci and had one daughter Marietta, who emigrated to Germany. Her daughter “Marietella” Cedrone lives in Italy with her children.
Pietro’s only sister, Anna (or Annucia) appears here with her mother and father, Maria (Leone) Salvucci and Carmine Salvucci, at some point before her mother’s death in 1914. Anna who was deaf remained in Italy, as did her brothers Costanzo and Cesidio.
Life in the United States wasn’t easy, with wooden houses without central heating and cold winters, but there was water in the house, and higher wages to support a family. There were also lots of people from San Donato in Leominster, Brighton, Newton and Quincy, as well as on 69th Street in New York, West Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and people stayed in touch. Giovanella had a nephew Pasquale in New York, and Antonio worked there, marrying Nelly and eventually settling in Brighton.
Carlo’s son Frankie married in New York. When his wife died his son Donato lived in Brighton with Carlo and Anna. Frankie remarried and his son lives on Long Island. Pietro’s son Donato married Katie Caruso of 68th Street, and eventually settled in Brighton.
Pietro lived as a boarder with either Donato and Giovanella or Carlo and Anna most of the years up to 1924, when he unified the family in Brighton. After living apart from his wife almost thirty years, for the rest of his life he seemed inseparable from his wife Domenica.
To get a glimpse of life in the United States in that time, when my father Guido arrived at Ellis Island he caught a cold on the ship. The officials (who didn’t speak Italian) separated him from his family and sent him to the hospital, to determine if he had a serious disease and would be sent back. His parents waited in barracks on the battery. In the hospital they took his new suit and washed it causing it to shrink. They washed him in hot water (he didn’t shrink but he did get angry at the memory of the hot water. He had only used cold water to wash in Italy). When he got better he was released to his family, and his big cousin Antonio who was living on 69th Street, took him and bought him a new suit, and tossed out the shrunken one. My father still remembers that first act of welcome and kindness from Antonio, who he had never met before.
Fifteen year old Guido Salvucci, the third of Pietro’s four sons, born in 1908, caught cold on board the Colombo on his way to America and was thus denied admission while his parents waited for a week in barracks on the battery for him to recover.
When Pietro and Domenica, Guido and Teodolindo got to Brighton, they moved in with Uncle Dan and Giovenalla, and stayed several months at 10 Shepard Street. Uncle Dan had Lucy, Jennie, Laura, Mary, Connie, and Helen, plus Patsy still at home, expecting Duchie who was born that fall, living in five rooms, including the kitchen, and they made room for Pietro and his family. My father always remembers how good and generous they were.
Uncle Carlo and Zia Annuccia lived on Shannon Street, with double first cousins Joe and Frankie, Mary, Antonetta, Donata, Geraldine, and Lucy, who my father met first when he arrived here.
My grandfather Carmine came soon after, rotating among the houses of the three sons here, until he died in 1934. Separated in Italy were Costanzo, Anna, Cesidio and their families, whom he never saw again. Emigration to unite part of the family here, meant separation from half of the family there.
Today if you visit San Donato, it is a very beautiful, picturesque town. The houses have electricity and modern plumbing, the people are friendly and welcoming and have a very good standard of living. Carmelo, Costanzo’s grandson (and father of Donatello who lives in Newon) has retired from his position as Principal of the High School in Sora, and his sisters Donata, Maria, and Rita all live in town.
It is only if you go out in the countryside to visit the now abandoned house that Carmine lived in with his family that you get some idea of the marginal standard of living of the 1890s that drove people to leave their homes and cross an ocean to a cold, tough country where they couldn’t understand the language, to make a better life for their children.
Pietro and Domenica Salvucci in their old age, c. 1957