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Philadelphia History

Italians have been a part of the scene in Philadelphia since colonial times. In 1665 a group of Waldensians (Italian protestants) came to New Sweden (New Castle Delaware) seeking religious asylum.  Deleware and Philadelphia were all part of the same New Sweden.  When the English took over Philadelphia,  it is believed that many from the original group of 150 came to live in Philadelphia.  William  Penn had visited Italy and as a.  Quakers he believed in freedom of religion.  Later with the Establishment of Old St. Josephs Church in 1733 many early Italians were able to worship along with French and other Eurpoean Catholics. The first Italian baptized at Old St. Joseph’s was in 1758.  Later their basement would serve as the meeting place for Italian Catholics before the formation of  the First Italian Catholic Church

In the 1700s Philadelphia was the largest English speaking city outside of London.  It grew  to become the capital of colonial America. There were nearly 100 Italians that either lived in  Philadelphia or passed through in the 1700s.  In 1753 Italian was offered by Ben Franklin at the Philadelphia College.  In 1779 Filippo Mazzei came to Philadelphia and made a presentation to the American Philosophical society.  He is also the man responsible for writing:" All men are by nature equally free and independent", which went on to be part of the Declaration of Independence.   Vito Vigo was a merchant and Vincent Pelosi an ice cream vendor and owner of the First Italian Restaurant in 1786.  There were also the Italian Surgeon  Doctor. Battachi and the Italian Sausage vendor from Milan, Antonio Vitali.

In the early 1800s there were still a smattering of Italians in the city. Vito Viti was Consul of the Two Sicilies.  From 1800-1819 over 150 Italians are recorded as coming into the port of Philadelphia. In the 1830s Joseph Bonaparte sought political asylum in Philadelphia and lived off 9th & Spruce.   By 1853 there were enough Italians to form the First Italian Catholic Church, Mary Magdelan de Pazzi. During this period many well to do Italians left Italy for political reasons and came to Philadelphia as artisans, bankers, merchants and musicians. They organized the first society, "L'unione di fratellanza"  2 years after the Civil War.  They were based at Columbus Hall on 8th Street, Mama Yolanda's today.   Most of these immigrants were from the Northern cities of Genoa and Pisa.  There was only a small group from port cities of Palermo and Napoli.  By 1880 the number of Italian born in Philadelphia had risen to 1600.  During this time we see the rise of mass migration and many laborers came to the US looking for work.  Their love of music.  more > 


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