Italians and their descendants played a key role in the discovery, exploration and settlement of the Americas. Christopher Columbus, the explorer who discovered the Americas, was of Italian origin. Another notable Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, is the source of the name America. The fact that English is the language spoken in the United States can be directly attributed to England's claims in North America, based on the voyages of the Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot). The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to enter New York Bay. The first Italian to reside in America was Pietro Cesare Alberti,[13] a Venetian seaman who, in 1635, settled in what would eventually become New York City. A group of 200Waldensians arrived from Italy in 1640 in search of a more hospitable place to practice their religion. The Taliaferro family, originally from Venice, was one of the first families to settle in Virginia.


These were joined by a small but steady stream of new arrivals, some of whom had been invited to come to America because they possessed much needed skills in agriculture and the making of glass, silk and wine. Others came because of their musical abilities as teachers and performers, such as the group of Italian musicians Thomas Jefferson invited to come to form a military band, which later became the nucleus of the U.S. Marine Band.[14][15] Still others came as adventurers, explorers, military engineers, missionaries and political refugees.


These early arrivals settled in many different areas, but constituted a relatively small part of the American population as a whole. However, their contributions were very significant in the founding and settling of the country. Filippo Mazzei, a physician and promoter of liberty, was a close friend and confidant of Thomas Jefferson. He published a pamphlet containing the phrase: "All men are by nature equally free and independent", which Jefferson incorporated essentially intact into the Declaration of Independence. Italian artists and sculptors were brought to Washington to work on the new Capitol building and to create some of its major monuments. Constantino Brumidi created the frescoed interior of the Capitol dome, and spent the rest of his life executing still other artworks to beautify the Capitol.


Numerous Italians in the employ of Spain and France, whose territorial claims in America were based on the voyages of Italian navigators, were involved in exploring and mapping these territories, and in establishing settlements. Alessandro Malaspinaexplored and mapped much of the west coast of the Americas, from Cape Horn to the Gulf of Alaska. The southwest and California were explored and mapped by Eusebio Kino (Chino), an Italian priest. Henri de Tonti (Enrico de Tonti), together with the French explorer LaSalle, explored the Great Lakes region. De Tonti founded the first European settlement in Illinois in 1679, and in Arkansas in 1683. With LaSalle, he co-founded New Orleans, and was governor of the Louisiana Territory for the next 20 years. His brother Alphonse de Tonty (Alphonso de Tonti), with French explorer Antoine Cadillac, was the co-founder of Detroit, and its colonial governor for 12 years. The headwater region of the Mississippi was explored by Giacomo Beltrami in the territory that was later to become Minnesota, which named a county in his honor.


Since France and Spain were Catholic countries, many missionaries were sent by the Catholic Church to convert the native population to Christianity and to provide for the spiritual needs of the settlers. Among these were numerous Italians. Alessandro Geraldini was the first Catholic bishop in the Americas. Father Francesco Bessani labored among the Algonquin and Huron Indians in the early 17th century. Later, Italian missionaries of the Jesuit and Franciscan orders, were active in many parts of America, and especially in the west. Italian Jesuits founded numerous missions, schools and five colleges in the west, subsequently to become Jesuit universities (San Francisco, Seattle, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and Regis). The Italian Jesuits also laid the foundation for the wine-making industry that would later flourish in California. In the east, the Italian Franciscans founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, and a college that later became St. Bonaventure University. Samuel Mazzuchelli, a missionary and expert in Indian languages, ministered to whites and Indians in Wisconsin and Iowa for 34 years and, after his death, was declared Venerable by the Catholic Church. Joseph Rosati was named the first Catholic bishop of St. Louis in 1824. Father Charles Constantine Pise, a Jesuit, served as Chaplain of the Senate from 1832 to 1833,[16][17] the only Catholic priest ever chosen to serve in this capacity.


Italian Americans served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, both as soldiers and officers. Francesco Vigo aided colonial forces during the American Revolutionary War by being one of the foremost financiers of the Revolution in the Northwest. Later, he was a co-founder of Vincennes University in Indiana. Six Italian Americans received the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War, among whom was Colonel Luigi di Cesnola, later to become the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York.The early arrivals were scattered throughout the country, with the largest concentration of Italian Americans being in the northeast. It was there that recognition of their common Italian roots and culture was the greatest. Filippo Traetta established the nation's first conservatory of music in Boston in 1801.[18] The first opera house in the country opened in 1833 in New York through the efforts of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's former librettist, who had immigrated to America. The first Italian American newspaper, "L'Eco d'Italia" was published in New York in 1849 by Francesco de Casale. The first Columbus Day celebration was organized by Italian Americans in San Francisco in 1869. Italian American involvement in politics was already underway, with John Phinizy (Finizzi) becoming the mayor of Augusta, Georgia in 1837 and Anthony Ghio becoming the mayor ofTexarkana, Texas in 1880. Francis Spinola, the first Italian American to serve in Congress, was elected in 1887 from New York. An immigrant, Antonio Meucci, brought with him in 1845 a concept for the telephone. He is credited by many researchers with being the first to demonstrate the principle of the telephone; however, considerable controversy existed relative to the priority of invention, with Alexander Graham Bell also being accorded this distinction. (In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution (H.R. 269) declaring Antonio Meucci the true inventor of the telephone).



The U.S. States with over 100,000 people of Italian ancestry in 2000:

New York - 2,737,146

New Jersey - 1,503,637

California - 1,450,884

Pennsylvania - 1,418,465

Florida - 1,003,977

Massachusetts - 860,079

Illinois - 744,274

Ohio - 735,980

Connecticut - 634,364

Michigan - 450,952

Texas - 363,354

Maryland - 267,573

Virginia - 257,129

Arizona - 224,795

Colorado - 201,787

Rhode Island - 199,077

Louisiana - 195,561

Washington - 191,442

Missouri - 176,209

Wisconsin - 172,578

Georgia - 163,218

Nevada - 132,515

Indiana - 141,486

Oregon - 111,462

Minnesota - 111,270

New Hampshire - 105,610


Joys of Growing Up Italian

Italian American Cultural Society of New Jersey

PO Box 108

Tennent, NJ  07763

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