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