Silvio Pellico and the Italian Risorgimento: An ancestral connection

Sepia Saturday 581. Seventh in a photo blog series on my maternal Italian ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

A blog series featuring photos of my maternal Italian ancestors from the Laurence-di Lorenzo-Curcio family album. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Among the photos of my Italian ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y., I discovered a fascinating group photo of my maternal great-grandfather Peter Laurence (née Pietro di Lorenzo), his brother Antonio and other family members at a September 4, 1910 gathering of the Societa Silvio Pellico.

This got me wondering about the society. Who was Silvio Pellico, the namesake of their fraternal group? And what role did the organization play in my ancestors’ lives?

The fraternal society era

The Gloversville gathering of the Societa Silvio Pellico took place toward the end of a 50-year period when U.S. social life centered around such clubs — according to a 2015 Detroit News article titled “Clubbing in days past: When fraternal societies ruled.”

Societa Silvio Pellico gathering in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. (4 Sep. 1910). Front row, at left in apron, Peter D. Laurence (nee Pietro di Lorenzo) and, center in vest, his brother Antonio di Lorenzo. Photo: Charboneau-Laurence Family Collection

The article sums up the sweep of these clubs from the 1870s-1920s.

In the 1870s men began founding and joining new clubs by the thousands from all levels of society. Immigrants organized clubs, as did African-Americans. Women would not be left out either and created auxiliaries of men’s clubs or founded major new sisterhoods. From 1870 to the end of the 1920s Americans’ social life centered on these clubs.

Silvio Pellico fraternal groups

A newspaper search did not turn up any stories about the Gloversville society — but a general online search returned a reference to a  Societa Silvio Pellico cemetery in Roslyn, Kittitas County, Washington, which shed some light on its namesake.

Named in honor of a northern Italian patriot. Pellico was a carbonari, a member of a secret revolutionary society that influenced the development of Italian nationalism and contributed to Italian Unification in 1861. Roslyn Italians founded this lodge, Societa’ Silvio Pellico and its cemetery in the early 1900s.”

A walking tour brochure places the Silvio Pellico Cemetery in a cluster of fraternal group cemeteries in Roslyn, Wash. — including one for the Ancient Order of Foresters, which my maternal great-grandaunt Rose Curcio (Peter’s sister-in-law) was affiliated with in Gloversville. Clearly my Italian ancestors embraced the social connections offered by the fraternal club movement.

The arrest of Silvio Pellico and Piero Maroncelli (by Carlo Felice Biscarra). The painting depicts their nighttime transfer, on 26 March 1822, to prison in Austria’s Spielberg fortress in Moravia. Source: Wikimedia/Museo Civico, Casa Cavassa, Saluzzo

Silvio Pellico and the Italian Risorgimento

As for the social club’s namesake, a full history of the life of poet, writer, dramatist and revolutionary Silvio Pellico, who fought for Italian unification (aka the Resorgimento) in the early 1800s, is beyond the scope of this blog.

Suffice to say that — at the end of the Napoleanic era in Europe, when what is now Italy was placed under Austrian rule — Pellico became a voice for Italian independence and unity, for which he was arrested in 1820 and served 10 years in Austria’s Spielberg fortress in Moravia.

Pellico’s chronicle of his life in prison Le mie prigioni (My Prisons), published in 1832, was translated and widely read — perhaps even by my Italian ancestors, since there are numerous references to it in historic U.S.newspapers. Pellico’s prison diary stands as his lasting contribution to Italy’s 1861 unification..

New country, new pride

Today’s Italy was only 12 years old when my great-grandfather Peter Laurence (nee Pietro di Lorenzo) was born in 1873. When he and his brother Antonio attended the 1910 Gloversville gathering of the Societa Silvio Pellico, Italy had not yet celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary.

As Italians like Peter and Antonio went abroad to seek a better life, they carried a sense of social and cultural unity with them — along with pride in the relatively new Italy that they left behind.

That pride is memorialized in the name of their Societa Silvio Pellico — and seems to glow in the members’ faces as they raise their beer steins in this remarkable photo.

Up next: Peter D. Laurence takes a bride. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

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15 thoughts on “Silvio Pellico and the Italian Risorgimento: An ancestral connection”

  1. Great story! I love researching more about the history of our families, it gives a much better insight into their lives! So great they could be part of a society here, that kept their culture and traditions alive!

    1. Thanks, Diane. Of course we now connect so much online, but it sure seems like more fun to be gathered outdoors enjoying cultural camaraderie like our ancestors did in their societies.

  2. Molly,

    It would be interesting to dig around in my family roots and I did briefly but it wasn’t anything like this, though. It was mostly name finding, nothing about who the people were really. You do an excellent job putting stories with your ancestors. Incidentally, I mentioned you in today’s post, if you’re curious. 😉

    1. Thanks, Cathy. You should give it another go. You will undoubtedly find some intriguing stories of your ancestors, too. And thanks so much for including Molly’s Canopy in your A2Z Road Trip post. I am already thinking of ideas for next year’s A to Z Blogging Challenge 🙂

  3. What an intriguing story. I think we often forget the value these clubs had in our ancestors’ lives and show a lot about them and their experiences and beliefs.

    1. Thanks, Linda. Sometimes too much focus on our family tree keeps us from examining its environment, which — as you point out — also had a great impact on our ancestors.

  4. Last week when your post inspired to look up Silvio Pellico, I was surprised to learn of his history as a writer and political prisoner. His timeline follows the early 19th century independence movements, like the Greeks with the Ottoman empire, or the struggle of South American people with Spain. I also wondered if the date of your photo might line up with some anniversary relating to the unification of Italy. For many immigrants like Peter and Antonio it would be a time for celebration and remembrance too.

    The political history of Italy was (and still is) very complicated. It has elements of royalists, anarchists, fascists, socialists, communists, and of course the Catholic Church too, which is way too many divisions for Americans to comprehend. In 1910, most Americans viewed Italians as dangerous radical anarchists rather than Mafi gangsters. One of the best books about ethnic discrimination and Italian immigrants is “Dark Tide, The Great Molasses Flood of 1919” by Stephen Puleo (2010). It’s an account of a terrible industrial accident in a working class district of Boston.

    1. I looked up some dates, but none seemed to coincide with any Italian landmarks. Perhaps they were celebrating the 50th anniversary early, since it took place in March 1861 — perhaps a bit cold in Gloversville, N.Y., for an outdoor fete. And yes, Italian history is complex — so I had to keep to the basics in this post. Will have to check out that book.

  5. With so many people from different nations flocking to the U.S., I imagine the clubs were a way to support each other in their new chosen land among so many others from so many other places.

    1. Yes, they must have been a way to connect in their new and strange land — a bit of home once in awhile to fill the gaps of family left behind.

    1. I know, it’s amazing what a single photo can elicit if you study it long enough. So glad the Sepia Saturday prompts us to do this!

  6. I’m fascinated by all the clubs in the 19th century. I wish we had more organizations like this, but our era’s more individualistic and people don’t understand the value of them.

    1. We do so much more on line these days — especially during the pandemic. But I agree, in-person festive confabs like this would benefit us all.

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