Marco Antonelli: First Italian in Mahoning County to Attain U.S. Citizenship

I primi italiani ad insediarsi nella valle del Mahoning arrivarono durante la guerra del carbone del 1873, quando 7.500 minatori in sciopero furono rimpazziati da immigrati italiani e afroamericani della Virginia portati dai proprietari delle miniere per sostituire  la forza lavoro prevalentemente gallese che lottava per chiedere migliori condizioni di lavoro. Questi primi italiani rimasero a vivere nella contea di Trumbull dopo la fine dello sciopero, ben presto trovando lavoro nella costruzione della linea ferroviaria. Nel 1930, a seguito di un’ulteriore immigrazione, la valle di Mahoning contava 30.000 residenti italiani e italiani americani. Questa breve serie intende presentare  quei primi pionieri che si sono distinti come leader all’interno della crescente comunità di cui conquistarono rispetto e elogi. Tra di essi Marco Antonelli, il primo italiano nella Contea di Mahoning a divenire cittadino statunitense.  

The first Italians to settle in the Mahoning Valley arrived as a ragtag army of strikebreakers during the 1873 coal war. Seventy-five hundred miners were on strike when owners imported immigrants from Italy and African Americans from Virginia to replace the mostly Welsh workforce. These early Italians continued living in Trumbull County after the end of the strike. Soon they found jobs on the railroad and migrated to nearby towns and cities in the tri-county area. By 1930, with further immigration, the Mahoning Valley counted 30,000 Italian and Italian American residents.

This short series focuses on those early pioneers who became prominenti, respected leaders within the growing Italian community and who achieved recognition among the general public. Last month we traced the rise of Alfonso Saulino. This month we share the story of Marco Antonelli.

The decade was the 1870s and the United States was entering the glittering Gilded Age. Youngstown would not find itself an outlier in the era’s rapid growth in production and amassed wealth. In fact, the town was a national leader in the coal and iron trade, industries that produced the area’s first millionaires. Not a hundred years had passed since John Young surveyed and purchased an unnamed township on the banks of the Mahoning River. By the end of the decade, non-English-speaking immigrants would furnish much of the labor and enterprise to make Young’s town, or Youngstown, the beating heart of an industrial giant. Italians would contribute mightily in brawn and brains.

Marco Antonelli, born in Agnone in 1857, arrived in the United States as a 16-year-old. The youngster found work as a water boy just as the miners’ strike in Coalburg, Hubbard Township, was failing. Though not a strikebreaker himself, he joined the throng of Italians who had been delivered to the Coalburg mines during the contentious 1873 labor dispute. Many years later, Antonelli was the informant in Charles Carr’s January 5, 1925 Youngstown Vindicator article listing the names of over 30 Italians who had arrived in 1873 to work the mines in Trumbull County. Subsequently, Antonelli dug coal in Buena Vista, Pennsylvania and was present when three Italian strikebreakers were killed during the infamous shootout across the Youghiogheny River. From there, the young immigrant made his way to the Brown-Bonnell iron mill in Youngstown. Soon after, he worked as a construction foreman for the railroads and for private contractors, all the while building wealth and connections. With his savings he opened a grocery, a bakery and, later, a foreign exchange bank, all in Youngstown. In a related endeavor Antonelli sold transatlantic tickets as the agent for 12 passenger steamship lines.

Marco Antonelli returned to Italy in 1881 where he married Giovanna Di Camillo. The couple had 10 children, several of whom became well-known professionals. She died in 1897 and the following year he married Gabriella (Barbara) Ferrando, a widow from Coalburg. On this return trip to the U.S., Antonelli brought almost 400 Italians in tow. The couple eventually retired to Antonelli’s estate in Youngstown, but they retained ownership of Gabriella’s Coalburg properties. The widely known and respected Marco Antonelli passed away in 1930.

Newcomers to the U.S. arrived with the goal of not only landing employment but of sending remittances to “the old country.” In 1907, Italians in the U.S. sent over $52 million to their families in Italy. Many men, like Antonelli, wanted to return temporarily to Europe to find a bride or to help family members immigrate. The constant back and forth of immigrants created huge needs and many business opportunities.

Before the Great Depression, many Italian-run establishments, even small groceries, were engaged in selling financial services. (See photo of Vitullo’s storefront with window ad.) With so much trade in foods like olive oil and cheeses imported from Italy and elsewhere, grocers often made payments in Italian lire and other foreign currencies. Moreover, newly arrived immigrants often had to pay mortgages and other debts still owed in Italy. At a time when many of these faced language and other barriers at mainstream banks, the newcomers turned to their own countrymen to exchange money, borrow funds, pay off loans, and even purchase life insurance and bonds. Banking and travel services like Antonelli’s filled an important need for many in Youngstown. In addition, the large amounts of money entering and leaving Youngstown fueled the economic vitality of the city.

While Alfonso Saulino was the first to raise the Italian flag in Youngstown, Marco Antonelli led his countrymen in Mahoning County to become its first naturalized citizen. This is only one of his many achievements. Like other early prominent Italians, Antonelli helped finance the building of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Summit Avenue in Youngstown. In 1895, he and Andrew Serafino founded the Loggia Colombo (Columbus Lodge), one of the first benefit societies in the Youngstown Italian immigrant community. He and other prominenti lobbied for Ohio to declare October 12 a state holiday in honor of Columbus. Notably, he even rose to leadership in the local Republican Party.

Perhaps no other event than the Grand Ball of 1911 signaled the social success of the early Italian community in Youngstown, as well as the role of Marco Antonelli. The occasion, marking the 16th anniversary of the Loggia Colombo, was held at the Knights of Columbus hall. Fifty couples, outfitted in all their finery, stepped to the music of Fleming’s orchestra. The grand march was led by Andrew and wife Carolina Serafina. He and Antonelli had governed the Loggia since its inception and were now feted as the organizers of the season’s finest ball. From humble water boy in a Coalburg mine to Youngstown’s most distinguished immigrant– recorded in Joseph Butler’s “History of Youngstown and the Mahoning County”– Marco Antonelli not only attained remarkable success for himself, but also created financial services and benefits that would make Youngstown a magnet for increased immigration from Italy.