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AGNONE CHRONOLOGY
 
This statue is a memorial to all the Agnone  emigrants in the world

A Chronology

The chronology in the following chart was assembled from 

 "Emigration in a South Italian Town"   An Anthropological History by William A. Douglas.

1753

Church Holdings Comparison

A comparison of church holding in the 1753 "Onciario" with those listed in an 1815 cadastre shows a marked decline in land ownership...

1786

Abbot Longano

The abbot Longano journeyed through the Molise in 1786 and confirmed Galanti's dismal portrayal of the area. Longano notes that robbery, homicide, and mendicity were all increasing sharply and that some families were resettling in Naples to escape what was tantamount to a life of servitude under the barons.  The situation of the poor people was deteriorating rapidly owing to runaway inflation.  The peasants generally lacked ownership of the land and were prey to short-term lease arrangements.   Because they could be easily evicted they possessed little leverage in their dealings with the owners.  Given their fragile tenureship they were unwilling to make substantial capital investments, which in turn perpetuated poor yields.  The circle of debt in which the contadino found himself could easily lead to bankruptcy, during which even his hand tools were seized and sold to satisfy his obligations.
Finally, Longano denounces the general state of corruption in the province whereby a few wealthy people manipulated the municipalities to their personal advantage.  The barons regularly bribed the royal officials and usurped lands.   The church was run as a business enterprise (at times a corrupt one at that), with gross insensitivity to social injustices.
Such was the situation in the last decade of the eighteenth century, or the waning years of the feudal era.

1805 & 1808

Agnone Clergy

Parish finances in desperate straits

1806

Feudalism

Is abolished

1807

Agnone

All monasteries and convents not used for teaching purposes were closed.

1809


Agnone’s Celestine Monastery

In 1809 there was an unsuccessful attempt to convert Agnone’s Celestine monastery into a diocesan seminary. Shortly thereafter, the physical plant collapsed into ruins.

1809

Bishops of Trivente

noted that his bishopric was impoverished owing to recent civil legislation e laws prevented town councils from appropriating municipal funds to pay the customary tithes to the diocese. Civil marriage had also been instituted, thereby depriving the church of another of its former sources of revenue.

1810

Murat

Issued a decree in Naples establishing an agricultural society in each province, and within two years one was functioning in the Molise.

1811


Church in Agnone

The mense, or parish funds, of Agnone’s seven parishes collected a total of only 182 ducats, 30 grane, an amount insufficient to cover their expenses. By the end of the decade the physical plant of San Marco had all but collapsed. Its organ had been transferred to the ex-monastery of San Francesco. The altars, choir loft, and art objects were removed to other churches in Agnone and throughout the diocese. San Marco’s bell had been commandeered by the government (probably for its scrap-metal value).

1812

Clergy of Agnone

as a body, petitioned the local administrations unsuccessfully for payment of certain tithes that had been in arrears since 1805 and 1808, respectively

1815

Poor Harvest

In 1815 the harvest was poor.  Bread prices more than doubled, and interest rates soared to 40 percent.  Agnone's poor were reduced to eating boiled grass and became so weakened that many died of fever. 

1816

Troops

In 1816 troops had to be sent to the town to restore public order after an abortive attempt of the millers to alter the traditional weights and measures in their favor. . . .

1816

Baron

Viewed from the perspective of Agnone, in 1816 (ten years after the abolition of feudalism) the heirs of the baron Gigliani still owned 4,011 tomoli of land, or fully 15 percent of the total land base of the municipality

1816


Possidente

The possidente (landowner) Camillo Cocucci acquired thirteen parcels belonging to the Convent of Santa Chiara, while Nicola Cocucci bought thirty-eight parcels, two houses, and a house site.

1817

Agnone’s Peasants

. . .According to one early-nineteenth-century (circa 1817) account, Agnone's peasants could no longer afford to eat wheat bread and had to substitute cornmeal in its stead.  Their wine consumption was reserved for festive occasions and for the hardest work periods of the year.  Salt pork was their only meat, and few had more than a single change of clothing.  It further notes that "at one time all of the peasants cooked their vegetable minestra in a small copper vessel. . .but at present the majority are not privy to such an aid and substitute for the copper vessel a clay pot."  This is a particularly graphic indicator of rural poverty in a town that housed one of south Italy's most flourishing copper industries.
Sanitary conditions were deplorable.  The contadino "always shares his room with the chickens, and his bed is over the pig sty and donkey stall; for this reason throughout the night he breathes an unsanitary air."   Furthermore, few peasant dwellings were equipped with proper chimneys, so their inhabitants were constantly inhaling smoke. . .

1817

Celestine Monastary

In 1817 he rented, for a period of six years, the lands pertaining to the former Celestine monastery

1820


Town Counsel

There were constant efforts to place taxes on basic necessities, hence exacerbating the already precarious circumstances of the poor.
In 1820 the town council reduced assessments on merchants and increased them on meat, bread, and pasturage.

1821

An electoral list

provides a measure of the extent of the liberals’ control over municipal affairs

1834

Cantalupo

A report by Cantalupo, authored in 1834, notes that two-thirds of the peasants in the Molise were landless. . .

1835

San Nicola

was in a lamentable state of disrepair. The parish priest petitioned the intendente for assistance because the parish’s patrimony was so reduced that it produced less than four ducats annually. . . .

1844

Nicola de Luca, describing the situation

Since the abolition of feudalism the majority of peasant holdings had passed into the hands of the galantuomini.

Referring to the contadino, de Luca writes,

Everything sold, he is covered with rags, he nourishes himself with acorns roasted on a fire, with roots and grasses, and in the dreariness of winter in swarms he presents himself in the public piazzas extending his honorable hand in order not to die of hunger. . . .He who actually cultivates the soil in the Molise does not own even his hoe.

Between 1846 and 1860, this peasant and his married son fathered twelve infants, all of whom died within two years of birth. . . .

. . .once the critical childhood years were traversed, the peasants enjoyed a somewhat higher life expectance.  Thus the mean age at death for peasant males in the sample was 49.19; for peasant women, 48.42 years.
The denigration of the contadini by the other Agnonesi is blatant.

Peasants are ignored, ridiculed, or patronized, depending on the situation.   When the nonpeasant Agnonese enters the peasant's realm, it is more as a superior intruder or visitor than as a fellow citizen. 

There is a furtiveness and deference in the contadino's dealings with others.  He is distinguished as much by his uneasiness as by the cut of his clothes, his speech, his etched physical features and gnarled hands.   He waits in line patiently as others are served before him.   He never frequents the town's bars, preferring the more rustic cantine that specialize in the peasant trade.  He does not join voluntary associations; if he subscribes to a political party, he assumes a passive role.  He is particularly deferential and ill at ease when dealing with officials.  His children receive less attention in the schools and have less chance of advancement and less of a future if they conclude their education.

Even contacts with the supernatural are class particular.   Although the agro of Agnone is divided among the seven parish churches, the parish priests, with one exception, rarely visit the peasants, preferring to deal with them exclusively within the confines of the cittadina.  When a priest is seen in the agro the common question is Who is dying?  Not surprisingly, the peasantry constitutes a strong repository of folk religious beliefs.


The Galantuomini
...the powerful aristocracy and traditionalist clergy remained royalist and in support of the Bourbon king.  The emerging middle-class bourgeoisie, with allies in a segment of the clergy, seized upon the French invasion as an opportunity to overturn the old social order.   The reaction of the contadini is more difficult to fathom; the peasants sided with the aristocracy in support of the king.  

...again, the peasants organized, seized control of particular towns, and committed many atrocities against the Jacobins.

. . .Subsequent events were to confirm the peasants' suspicions, for the liberal sought to translate their victory into an elite social status.    Designated by the newly coined term galantuomini ("gallant men"), they effectively replaced the baroni at the apex of the social pyramid.
It may also be argued that, by the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the middle class was a greater symbol of exploitation to the peasantry than was the aristocracy.  In the later years of the feudal period, the power of the università vis-à-vis the nobles had increased steadily, and control of the università was usually in the hands of a limited circle of local businessmen, professionals, and petty gentry. 

To the peasant, the local merchants, administrators, moneylenders, and commodities speculators were more visibly the cause of his misery than were the absentee barons.  This was particularly the case given that feudal obligations such as tithes remained fixed, whereas the rampant economic inflation of the eighteenth century made renewable mortgages and contracts all the more onerous.

A perennial raw issue between the liberals and the peasantry was the question of land reform.  The abolition of feudalism, with the prospect of the dismemberment of the feudal estates, sparked a strong strain of hope among the land-starved peasants.   Their disillusionment turned to fury, as the promised land reform became a usurpation by the galantuomini.  The middle class possessed the capital to purchase lands as they became available on the open market. . . .  

The galantuomini, because they were in control of municipal government, were in a position to manipulate these resources or steal them outright. . . .

Population pressure, inadequate agricultural yields, lack of capital, foreclosures, usury, price increases through commodities speculation, consumer taxes, and natural disasters all conspired to harsher the life circumstances of Agnone's lower classes. . .


The Emigrants
. . .In 1884 the local newspaper L'Aquilonia reviewed the causes of emigration of peasants from Agnone and concluded that the two main factors were excessive taxes on consumers' goods and usurious interest rates that at times surpassed 20 percent in the town. . . .

. . .The peasant was a shadowy figure in the pages of Agnone's newspapers.   When he is mentioned at all, it is usually either as a social problem or as the victim of natural disaster.  From such articles it is possible to catch a brief glimpse of a world characterized by considerable violence and tragedy.  Robbery, homicide, assaults, and infanticides were not unusual for rural Agnone.  On occasion, peasants were arrested for stealing the crops of the galantuomini, and a particularly frequent crime was the illegal cutting of timber on the town commons.
In 1863, for example, the authorities actually prosecuted 624 cases of illegal felling of trees, many of which involved several defendants.

Consequently, when by the 1870s, owing to improvements in sea travel, a lowering of fares, and the expansive nature of the economies of both the United States and the Rio de la Plata region of southern South America, transatlantic emigration became a viable alternative, the lower classes of Agnone were, out of a sense of desperation, prime candidates. 

Politically alienated by decades of unfulfilled promises of land reform, mired in endemic poverty, dependent on a rapacious class of galatuomini for what was, by any yardstick, a meager existence, the peasantry was further squeezed by relentless population increase throughout the first seven decades of the nineteenth century.  

For Agnone's contadino, then, the act of emigration, even though to an uncertain destination and destiny, could scarcely be regarded as extravagant risk taking.   By concentrating its efforts, a peasant family, sometimes seeking aid from its extended kin network, pooled its resources to provide one or two of its young adult male members with passage. 

The whole process was quickly facilitated by agents and agencies, some operating for private gain and others commissioned by the Argentine government, who recruited emigrants with the promise of loans and other forms of assistance.  For Agnone's poor, emigration held at least the prospect of escape from misery.

Emigration, then, was a tremendously complex social question. In the main, its driving force was youthful imagination fueled by the success stories of a few. For many a person, unbridled enthusiasm and energy seemed more than a match for any adversity, and so they departed in droves, and their departures touched upon practically every aspect of life in communities like Agnone.

Families were deprived of members, fields of their tillers, workshops of their artisans, patrons of their clients, priests of their parishioners, towns of their taxpayers. Consequently, the merits and demerits of emigration were debated incessantly.

Gamberale, in a public discourse delivered in Agnone in 1902, phrased the question eloquently:  Some say that emigration is the cause [of the town's decline]. Possibly so, at least in part.  But consider that emigration, clearly the cause of many ills, is itself an effect.

It began . . .in malaise. . .in hardship. . .  Therefore, don't condemn our emigration; don't question whether it was and is a blessing or a handicap. It was a necessity, and a necessity is not and cannot be said to be a voluntary.

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