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"The Italian On The Land"


Long before Margaret Meade built a worldwide reputation as a sociologist and author, the people of Hammonton, New Jersey, were well acquainted with a renowned sociologist named Meade--Emily fogg Meade, Margaret's mother, who in 1907 came here to conduct a study of the Italian immigrant.

Emily Fogg Meade was a pioneer in sociology, and a crusader against injustice who at various times battled the likes of Standard Oil, the Telephone Company, and the Tammany Hall and Vare political machines in New York and Philadelphia.

Born and raised in Chicago, where she attended the University, Mrs. Meade came to Hammonton to conduct a study, on behalf of the U.S. department of Labor, entitled: "The Italian on the Land: A Study in Immigration."  Eighty-five years later, the Hammonton Historical Society, with the support of many local civic and business groups, has reproduced the study in its entirety in order to preserve forever the story that it told about the immigration experience of the Italians who settled here.

It is a story that Emily Fogg Meade thought well worth the writing, and the Society hopes that you find the reading equally informative.

This volume printed May, 1992.





The present agitation for the further restriction of immigration is especially directed against the Greeks, Poles, Austro-Hungarians, and Italians from Southern Italy and Sicily, who have been coming in ever-increasing numbers since 1870, until in 1905 our immigrants numbered 1,026,499, the Italians ranking second in number with 221,479. Gen. Francis A. Walker was one of the early opponents to the reception of immigrants of these nationalities.  He said: "They have none of the inherited instincts and tendencies which make it comparatively easy to deal with the immigration of the older times.  They are beaten men from beaten races, the worst failures in the struggle for existence."  Recent issues of newspapers and magazines teem with articles on the danger of admitting these people.  It is alleged that they are underfed, ill grown, often diseased, unskilled, illiterate, quiescent, lacking in responsibility, with a keen sense of inferiority and the lack of ability to take advantage of new circumstances; that their standard of living is low, and that they do not improve it when they prosper; above all, that they are likely to become public charges in hospitals, insane asylums, or almshouses.  It is furthermore stated that it is no longer the strong and independent who come, but the weak and incompetent, for whom immigration is made easy by the inducements offered by steamship companies.  These people huddle together in our large cities, complicating the problems of municipal authorities.

In the earlier days the "digging"--the rough work distasteful to Americans-- was done by Germans.  As the Germans moved up in the scale of living they were succeeded by the Irish, and they in turn by Poles and Hungarians, and the latter finally by the Italians.  The Italians have been especially stigmatized by the nature of their work.  Americans regard them only as dirty, undersized foreigners, who trundle hand organs, tend fruit stands, sweep the streets, or work in mines, in tunnels, on railroads, or in construction work.  The newspapers are full of lurid tales of fights in which the stiletto is in evidence- , of cowardly stabbing in the back, of organized gangs of Italian criminals, and there is frequently an expression of doubt as to whether the Italians can rise in the social scale as the immigrants of other nationalities have done.  In the meantime the demand for rough and heavy work increases, and the Italians come in large numbers, settling in the seaboard cities, where they are often without work in the winter time.  Only within the last few years has anyone had a good word to say for them.  The salient points of the different articles on the subject of Italian immigration have been recently summarized in "The Italian in America."  The southern Italians constitute a simple peasant class, who live in extreme poverty and give the largest portion of what they produce to taxes, rent, and tithes.  They are hard-working farmers, whose efforts have met with meager returns; they look toward America as the "land of the dollar." and in their desire to make money mortgage their little properties, their live stock, and their tools at high rates of interest to get money enough to send a father or son to New York.   Explanation of their crowding into the large cities is very simple.  These people do not come from isolated farms but from crowded villages; they are naturally gregarious and seek their own people who can speak their language.  They are ignorant of our farming conditions; the years of unremunerative toil in Italy often make them dislike farming, and then, too, they have no money with which to locate in the South or West.  In New York or other cities they find work and friends, and as a result their training in agriculture goes for nothing, and they are counted as the lowest kind of unskilled laborers.

Americans generally, unfamiliar with the underlying causes of the congestion if Italians in large cities, believe them to be unfit for farm life.  In 1896 a Government commissioner requested the officials of the different States to express their wishes in regard to immigration.  Only two states desired Italians.  The various State immigration officers in the South show a similar prejudice even now.   Evidence is abundant that the Italians in our large cities, in spite of the dangerous influence of the slums, are advancing socially and are becoming Americanized.   Nevertheless, the menace of congested conditions, the continued physical deterioration of these people in cities, and the need of developing large areas of southern lands would seem to be reasons for trying to direct this immigration to that section of the country.

As a contribution to the growing movement to attract immigration to the land, a minute study has been made of the economic, social and moral condition of the Italians of a typical rural settlement, in order to show what the southern Italian - the lowest class of immigrant - can do to advance himself in the midst of an American farming community, and to answer the question, Can the Italian immigrant become a good American?  The town of Hammonton, in Atlantic County, N.J., has been selected for the investigation, because the increase of the Italian population in that section has been natural, it has not been stimulated or assisted in any way by Americans, and the immigrant has been thrown upon his own resources and has been left to follow his own bent.   Other significant features of the Hammonton settlement are as follows: (1) The immigration has in no way been stimulated except by the Italian farmers themselves; (2) the large number of permanent residents; (3) the annual migration of city Italians to Hammonton during the picking season, which keeps Hammonton Italians in close touch with their fellow-countrymen and diffuses a knowledge of the colony among Italians in Philadelphia and New York, and (4) the Italian farmers with few exceptions come from southern Italy and from Sicily.  Hammonton, in other words, is one of a very few Italian settlements in the United States where an American and an Italian population have grown up together, moved by the same impulses to come to the town, following the same occupations, and living side by side as neighbors.  In Hammonton are found the results of twenty years contact of a typical American population with the lowest class of Sicilian immigrants.  It is a safe conclusion that what the Italian has been able to accomplish in Hammonton he can achieve elsewhere under similar circumstances.


It has been more than thirty years since Italians first came to Hammonton, and sufficient time has elapsed for a second generation to grow up and to demonstrate what kind of an American citizen can be made out of an Italian born and reared in the country and associated with Americans as neighbors, in school, or in business.   The Italian pioneers came to southern new Jersey for the same reasons that settlers came from new York and New England.  They were looking for homes not too far from the seaboard, where the climate was congenial and the land cheap.  Southern New Jersey was new territory.  Up to 1850 the pine barrens were looked upon as waste land, and they were indeed barren from the standpoint of the dairyman or the grain grower.  The climate and the forest, however, attracted a few settlers prior to 1860, when the land was first offered for sale.  The civil war stimulated a demand for fruits and vegetables, for which the sandy soil is specially adapted, and after 1865 the opening of wholesale markets in the large cities made fruit growing a profitable industry.  In spite of this inducement the develo0pment of southern New Jersey has been comparatively slow, for great labor and expense have been required to clear the land, the appearance of the soil is unpromising, and immigrants who were attracted to farming have preferred the more fertile western lands.  If it had not been for the Italian settlers the vicinity of Hammonton might still be a wilderness.  The Italians have picked the berries for market; they have cleared the land and prepared it for cultivation; they have saved their earnings from their labor on the land or on the railroads and bought the farms of retiring owners whose sons had gone to the city or farther west.  What the Swedes and Germans have been to Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota these Italian farmers have been to Hammonton, one of the most attractive spots in the pine region of southern New Jersey.

How this Italian community arose can best be told in the brief biographies of some of the pioneers.  probably the first Italians to come to Hammonton were the La Grassos, a family of musicians, who settled in a section now largely built up by Italians.  Soon after Matteo Calabrase, who was born in Palermo and was a gardener by trade, came to Hammonton after working in a nursery in Flushing, N.Y.  He and La Grasso worked together on farms, and it is of interest to know that when the war broke out they joined a regiment in which were many Italians.  When Calabrase returned to Hammonton he bought 10 acres of land and soon after married a German girl.   His taste and training led him to improve his place by planting fine trees, a hedge, bushes, and flowers; shade trees were planted in front of all his land, and he frequently worked for others, laying out their places.  Later he added 50 acres to his farm and built a substantial stone house, such as he had been accustomed to in Italy.   He was a Mason and a member of the Grand Army, and was on friendly terms with many Americans.

Isaac Nicolai and Michael Rubertone were attracted by the country environment.  The former was a northern Italian, who came to this country from Tuscany in 1859 and first settled in San Francisco.  When in Philadelphia in 1861 he met Judge Byrnes, one of the founders of Hammonton, who induced him to buy land there.   Mr. Nicolai was a man of superior intelligence, and his son has become a substantial citizen.  Michael Rubertone with his four sons left Pastena, near Naples, in 1877, wandered with their violins through France, and finally reached Liverpool, whence they sailed to New York.  At the suggestion of Mr. Nicolai that a home in the country would be better for his children,  Mr. Rubertone bought 20 acres of forest land in Hammonton, and he now owns 80 acres of ground.

John Berri was something of a wanderer, who came early to the United States and married an Italian woman who had spent most of her life in St. Louis.   He bought 10 acres in Hammonton and employed several Italians, but did not remain many years.  His son married and American and has accumulated considerable property.

Up to the coming of the two Campanella brothers only a few Italians had settled in Hammonton.  The Campanellas were the forerunners of a direct immigration.  In 1866 Matteo Campanella, a native of Gesso, in Sicily, ran away from home to avoid military service and hid for seven months in Messina, finally escaping to the United States.  For about a year he worked for Germans on a farm at Trappe, Pa.   He heard of Mr. Berri, came to Hammonton to work for him, and purchased 5 acres and a small house near Mr. Calabrase.  About 1870 he sent for his brother, and the two prospered, purchased more land, and married two English girls.  The Campanellas soon encouraged the coming of relatives, who in turn induced others to come, until, as a result of a continuous migration from Gesso, more than one-half the inhabitants of that town are in the United States, many of them still in Hammonton.

Usually the father, and occasionally a son, came first to earn the money needed to bring the wife and children, all of whom in turn assisted uncles, aunts, and cousins to come later.  Peter Raneri, an uncle of Mr. Campanella, came direct from Gesso and at his death in 1895 had been in Hammonton twenty-one years.  he worked on the farm of Mr. Scott, a well-known writer on oriental topics.  When Mr. Scott left, he said he would be willing to leave his place in charge of Mr. Raneri, as he was the most honest man he knew.  Mr. Raneri finally bought the farm and established upon it a macaroni factory.  At his death the place (20 acres) and factory were valued at $12,000.  His other holdings amounted to 180 acres.  Antonio Capelli, a cousin of the Campanellas, came to Hammonton about 1870, contracted for large tracts of land, and was instrumental in bringing over considerable numbers of his native townsmen to work for him at low wages.  One year he is said to have made $9,000.  However, he was indicted for importing contract laborers and suffered financial ruin when the price of berries fell.  These early comers were Sicilians, scorned by natives of the mainland as a "little black people- not Italians."

Thomas Tell (originally Dominico Tonsola) is the leader of the Neapolitan element, "the real Italians" as they style themselves, who have settled in a different part of the town from the Sicilians.  He came from a small town, Casalvelino, near Naples.  Finding no work in Philadelphia, he journeyed to Hammonton more than thirty years ago to work for an Italian on the place which he now owns.  He was to work for $50 a year and his board, a sample of the hard bargains sometimes made with newcomers by their own countrymen.  Afterwards Tell worked for Americans, within a few years he purchased 10 acres of cleared land for $500, and he now owns 150 acres of land.  He is also a successful ice dealer.  He has been instrumental in bringing the Neapolitan element to Hammonton.  Biazzo Crescenzo came to America in 1872 from Casalveline.  He went from New York to Michigan.  At a later date, when employed in a Philadelphia fruit house, he lent some money to Mr. Capelli in Hammonton and became interested in wine making.  He came to Hammonton about eighteen years ago and four years after his arrival bought 30 acres for $750, which he sold, after development, for $2,500; 20 acres for $1,400 and 10 acres for $1,000 were later purchased.  Joseph Esposito also came to the United States in 1872 from Casalvelino.  He engaged in the fruit, crockery and finally in a hotel business in Philadelphia.  One year he picked berries in Hammonton; later he became interested in Hammonton and bought a farm for $5,000.

Angelo Foglietti came from Monteroduni, near Naples, to Philadelphia in 1875 with but 50 cents in his pocket.  He found work in plowing preparatory to putting up buildings for the Centennial Exposition, and when that work gave out came to Hammonton to pick cranberries.  Only a few Italians were employed at that time.  Mr. Berri, who had gone surety for a neighboring Italian on a feed store bill, induced Foglietti to take the man's farm, 18-3/4 acres, and cancel the debt.  He paid $30 an acre for the land, upon which there was a log cabin.  As he had only his money from the cranberry picking to start with (about $50) he had to make money out of the land and by working on the railroad.  This land, with a better house, recently sold for $1,500.  Before his death Mr. Foglietti owned 90 acres.

The manner of Mr. Foglietti's coming to Hammonton illustrates a third cause by which the Italian population has been increased.  The clearing of land and making of farms was done by the permanent residents, but at an early date (before 1877) the supply of natives and Germans was found inadequate to pick the berries for market, and Italians who had previously settled in cities were obtained from padrones in Philadelphia.  Some of them came year after year, realized the opportunity to buy cheap land, and remained to make homes.  In one case a young Italian, who came over when a boy and had worked largely on railroads, bought some land from his employer.   After a few years he returned, cleared the land, and enlarged his holdings.   The largest number of Italians came from 1885 to 1890; however, some came every year.  On June 5, 1905, for instance, two men, 25 and 30 years old, came to join a brother, and a son of 18 joined his father.  A larger party was expected, but when they landed in new York work was plentiful there, and they came no farther.

At first Americans were suspicious of the Italians, some of whom were very poor and strongly tempted to pilfer from gardens.  Cabbages, potatoes, and other vegetables often disappeared, but as the people prospered the tendency to petty thievery decreased.  All things considered, the Italians have been found to be good citizens, and their presence has proved an obstacle to the increase of Negro labor.   The Americans early learned the value of the Italian as a laborer, and that in some cases he became an excellent farmer.  Not only did he clear much wild land for Americans, but he purchased and cleared many acres for himself, thereby adding materially to the cultivated area of the town.  In fact, the Italians cleared all the southwestern part of the town of pine growth and erected many houses in that section.   They came at a time when the Americans were leaving the farms, when labor was growing scarce, and when the development of the pine lands was in a critical condition.

From 1880 to 1895 many old residents either died or retired, and as their sons were gone the farms were bought by Italians.  A few examples are suggestive: (1) A resident in 1885 sold his outlying farm of 30 acres, one of the best near Hammonton, to one of the early comers among the Italians for $5000 cash and bought a house in town and 150 acres of wild land 3 miles from town.  After he had brought this land under cultivation he sold the most of it in 1904 to other Italians, one of whom had been working as a laborer on the place.  (2) An Englishman came to Hammonton in 1857 and cleared 10 acres of land.  Just before his death he sold it to an Italian for $1,600, mostly cash.  (3) In 1897 an Italian bought 10 acres of land for $1,000 from a man who came in 1865, cleared his land, but did not succeed.  The property is now worth $2,500, and the Italian purchaser has added 16 acres to his farm.  (4) Forty-two years ago a tract of 32 acres was bought for about $550 and afterwards sold to an American for $3,200 when the land was partly cleared.  The land was again resold, and is now in the hands of several Italians.  (5) The sons of an early comer left him, and his land, although well manured, was in bad shape and unproductive.  A poor Italian bought it for $1,400, a low price.  He worked hard, clearing the place of weeds, and paid for it the first year from his crop receipts.

From these typical examples the natural growth of the Italian community in Hammonton is evident.  There has been no stimulation or assistance from Americans.  Friends have helped Friends, one Italian has assisted another, and the immigrant has known that on reaching Hammonton a place would be ready for him, because he would locate among his kindred and his old neighbors.  In this way have the foreign populations of the cities been built up in the United States.  In the same way must the American rural community attract the immigrant.  Immigration of Italians en masse to southern and western farms will be very difficult to promote, because there as elsewhere family connections with Italy must first be established.

To Be Continued by request........
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