October 8, 1999 – February 20, 2000: The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement
Philip V. Cannistraro, Editor (2000)
Italian immigrants made their homes in New York long before the Great Migration. Sometime in the 1640s a Venetian sailor named Cesare Alberti settled at the corner of Broad Street and Exchange Place in Manhattan and was perhaps the earliest Italian homeowner in the city. During the era of the American Revolution, farmers, merchants and musical artists followed Alberti’s example, creating a small but noticeable Italian presence in the city.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Italian refugees fleeing political repression settled in New York. One early exile was the artist Nicolino Calyo, who painted street scenes. Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, also settled here in 1830, helped to found the Italian Opera House and became the first Professor of Italian at Columbia University.
Perhaps the most prominent political exile to come to New York was Giuseppe Garibaldi, the military hero responsible for the unification of Italy. When the American Civil War broke out, Italians and other immigrants in New York formed the Garibaldi Guard, a volunteer group officially known as the 39th New York Regiment. Immigrant Luigi Palma di Cesnola fought in the Union army and received a Congressional Medal of Honor. After the conflict, di Cesnola served as United States Consul to Crete and in 1880 became the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.