November 15, 2010
Hopedale in November
Work at the Freedom Street dam
The World War I Honor Roll The World War II Honor Roll
Mother Mendon and her Children
The Unitarian Church choir, 196?
The Union Church Dedication program, early members, etc.
Parklands Forestry Project
Yesterday’s hero – Tom Liberatore – Milford Daily News
In No. 167, I said that I didn’t know who wrote the article about Ballou, Tolstoy and Gandhi. This week I
found another copy of it in the Bancroft Library; this time with the name. It was written by Rachel Day.
Ferdinando Sacco (he later took the name Nicola when he returned from exile in Mexico, to avoid being
discovered as a draft registration evader) was one of many thousands of Italians who left their homes near
the turn of the century to come to America. Like so many others, he formed a link in a “chain migration,”
moving to a place where friends, paisanos, and relatives had already established a community. In Sacco’s
case, the community was in Milford, Massachusetts. His father’s friend, Antonio Calzone, who worked at
the Draper Company, had urged the elder Sacco to send his sons to America, and when Ferdinando and
his older brother arrived in April 1908, they were taken in by Calzone.
Fernando worked as a manual laborer in several different jobs during his first months in Milford before
Calzone helped him obtain employment at Draper, where he had worked for a year. Then another neighbor
helped the young man enter a training program to learn edge trimming, a skilled craft in shoemaking.
Sacco’s first job as an edge trimmer was in Webster, but he soon returned to Milford, where he obtained
employment at the Milford Shoe Company. He remained at this job from 1910 until 1917, when he left the
United States for a period of exile in Mexico. “To this day, Sacco is remembered with affection by the older
residents of the town, for whom he was a hardworking young man and a credit to the community, incapable
of committing the crimes of which he was charged,” writes his biographer.
In Milford, Sacco was exposed to a vibrant radical community of Italian anarchists and socialists. He began
to read I Proletario, an IWW weekly, and he soon subscribed to Cronaca Sovversiva, an “Anarchist Weekly
of Revolutionary Propaganda.” When the textile workers of Lawrence went on strike in 1912, Sacco was
among their Milford supporters who worked to collect money both for the strikers and for the defense fund
of Giovannitti and Joseph Ettor when they were arrested in connection with their activities in the strike.
In 1913 Sacco began attending meetings of the Milford anarchist group Circolo di Studi Sociali, joining a
number of his neighbors. “Sacco found these men, all of them about his own age, more sympathetic than
other radicals he had met: more militant, more eager to learn, more willing to dedicate their energies to the
cause of their fellow workers. He soon “threw himself body and soul into the anarchist cause.”
When Draper’s workers went on strike in the spring of 1913, Sacco and the other anarchists of the Circolo
were quick to come to their support. “He was not an orator,” the strike leader Joseph Coldwell later said of
Sacco, “or even a fluent speaker, but he was a mighty good worker in detail matters and never hesitated to
do his share of the appointed work"
Saccos’ first contribution to the Cronaca Sovversiva was in August 1913, when the journal published a brief
account that he wrote of the Draper strike and the campaign to raise money for the defense of strikers who
had been jailed. Over the next few years Sacco became a frequent contributor to the journal, documenting
the fabric of anarchist social and political life in Milford. His contributions described, “attending picnics and
conferences, acting in social dramas, continually raising money to aid political prisoners and jailed
strikers, always collecting money for “the propaganda.”
A friend and fellow Foggian immigrant anarchist described some of these activities: “We put on plays in
Milford, like Rasputin and Tempeste Sociali, and organized picnics to raise money for the
movement…There were two radical circles in Milford, an IWW group on East Main Street and an anarchist
group on Plains Street. Each had about twenty-five members, all Italians…Some of its members had been
involved in the 1913 strike in Hopedale, when the IWW tried to organize the workers and a striker…was
killed. Sacco also took part in it. In 1916 Sacco, my brother Saverio, and Luigi Paradiso were speaking at a
meeting and were arrested by the Milford police chief.”
Sacco’s 1916 arrest occurred when Milford’s anarchists mobilized in support of striking IWW iron workers
in the Mesabi Range in Minnesota. They faced the usual obstacle: in December the Milford police banned
all open-air meetings. When the group defied the order and met on December 3, Ferdinando Sacco was
one of the three arrested and sentenced to three months in jail. (The charges were later dismissed.)
The end of the story of Ferdinando Sacco’s is far better known than the story of his Milford years. He was
arrested along with Vanzetti, with whom he had shared his Mexico exile, for a robbery and murder in South
Braintree, Massachusetts, in spring of 1920; the two were convicted on flimsy evidence and sentenced to
death. The case became a national and international cause célèbre, and the two were executed in the
electric chair in August 1927. On the fiftieth anniversary of their deaths, Massachusetts Governor Michael
Dukakis proclaimed August 23, 1977, “Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Day.” Linked Labor
Histories, pp. 44-47, Aviva Chomsky, Duke University Press, 2008. Click here for Chomsky’s complete
account of Sacco’s time in the Milford area, including footnotes for sources of the quotes.
There’s another Hopedale connection to the Sacco-Vanzetti case, in addition to the fact that Sacco had
worked at Drapers for a while. Draper executive Hamilton “Ham” Thayer was the son of the judge in the
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Vanzetti (left) and Sacco