Nicola Sacco

    Ferdinando Sacco (later known as Nicola Sacco) 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, a town of some fifteen thousand about thirty miles southwest of Boston. The
    Plains section of Milford was home to dozens of families from several towns in the north of
    the Italian province of Foggia, including Casalvecchio, and Torremaggiore, where Sacco was
    born 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, the 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 Casalvecchio neighbor helped the young man enter a training program to
    learn edge trimming, a skilled craft in the shoemaking process. Sacco’s first job as an edge
    trimmer was in the town of Webster, but he soon returned to Milford, where he obtained
    steady employment at the Milford Shoe Company (where he had trained.) 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. 1

    In Milford, Sacco was exposed to a vibrant radical community of Italian anarchists and
    socialists. He began to read I Proletario, an IWW weekly edited by Arturo Giovannitti, and he
    soon subscribed to Cronaca Sovversiva, an “Anarchist Weekly of Revolutionary Propaganda”
    published by Luigi Galleani in Lynn. 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. 2

    In 1913 Sacco began attending meetings of the Milford anarchist group Circolo di Studi
    Sociali, joining a number of his neighbors who were also immigrants from Foggia. “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 He soon “threw himself body and soul into the anarchist cause.” 3

    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…Never in
    the limelight during the strike…he was one of the silent, active, sincere workers, giving of his
    time and money to help his fellow men.” 4

    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.” 5  He later told a biographer that while in Milford, he
    and his wife, Rosina, “used to arrange for dramatic performances and to raise money for all
    sorts of causes.” 6

    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.” 7

    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.) 8

    When the U.S. Congress passed its military conscription act in May 1917, shortly after the U.
    S. entrance into World War I, the Cronaca Sovversiva urged its readers to refuse to register.
    (The act required non-citizens to register even though in theory there were not liable for
    military service.) Many of its readers went underground or fled the country. Sacco, along with
    Bartolomeo Vanzetti and some sixty others from around the country, decided to leave for
    Mexico. 9

    When Sacco returned to the United States several months later his family had moved to
    Cambridge, and he joined them there. He obtained a job in Stoughton through a former
    superintendent from the Milford Shoe Company, Michael Kelley, who had since opened his
    own business there, and remained there until his arrest in May 1920. 10

    Kelley’s grandson later recalled, “Grandmother was extremely fond of him. She always stood
    up for him and couldn’t believe that he could do those nefarious things…They were aware of
    his radicalism but didn’t know what to make of it. They saw him as a good worker, a family
    man, a kind person. Grandmother asked him to kill a chicken now and then and he was very
    squeamish about it. He didn’t like killing chickens. It was an odd relationship between an
    Irish business family and an Italian worker. ‘Give up the radical crap. Be an American,’
    Grandfather would tell him. Dad said that, apart from everything else that was said against
    them, Italian immigrants were regarded as bomb-throwers.” 11

    The end of the story of Ferdinando Sacco’s life (he took the name Nicola when he returned
    from exile in Mexico, to avoid being discovered as a draft registration evader) 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.

    Separate from the paragraphs above, Chomsky tells more of Sacco's arrival in the U.S.

    When Fernando (later Nicola) Sacco left Italy in 1908 at age 17, he sailed with his brother
    from Naples to Boston. They continued directly on to Milford, where they stayed with a friend
    of their father's who had settled there, "amid a colony of Foggian immigrants, including a
    barber, a baker and an undertaker, in addition to shoe workers, laborers, and mill hands.” 12  
    He first found work as a water boy working for a Draper contractor, then in the Draper foundry
    itself. Sacco left Draper after a year to train in a small shoe factory in Milford, and after a brief
    hiatus when he worked in a shoe factory in Webster, he returned to Milford to the Milford Shoe
    Company, where he worked from 1910 to 1917. 13

    As in many Italian and other immigrant communities, radical newspapers, ideas, and
    organizations formed a strong component of working class life in Milford. Two radical
    newspapers, Il Proletario, edited by the IWW activist Arturo Giovannitti, and Cronaca
    Sovversiva, edited in Lynn, Massachusetts, by the anarchist Luigi Galleani, circulated in the
    community. Many workers joined or attended events sponsored by the anarchist Circolo di
    Studi Sociali or Milford Socialist Club, founded by the Rhode Island Socialist Party activist
    Joseph M. Coldwell. 14  A Milford resident recalled, "The radicals--mostly socialists and
    IWWs--had a club on East Main Street, directly across from our house. All the radicals met
    there and called themselves socialists." A member of an anarchist group in nearby Franklin
    explained, "We went to Milford quite often for picnics and plays." 15  Chomsky, pp. 23 - 24.


    1.        Avrich, Paul, Sacco and Vanzetti, The Anarchist Background, Princeton University
    Press, 1991, 21 – 23, 25.
    2.        Ibid, 26 – 27.
    3.        Ibid, 27.
    4.        Coldwell to Eugene Lyons, in Lyons, The Life and Death of Sacco and Vanzetti, 33,
    cited in Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti, 29.
    5.        Robert D’Attillio, “La Salute e in Voi:  The Anarchist Dimension (Historical Context of the
    Sacco-Vanzetti Case),” The Sacco-Vanzetti Project,
    6.        Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti, 55.
    7.        Ralph Piesco, in Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 98.
    8.        Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti, 29 – 30.
    9.        Ibid, 58 – 60.
    10.      Ibid. 66 – 67.
    11.       George T. Kelly in Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 100.         
    13.      According to his trial testimony. For a detailed description of Sacco’s voyage to Milford
    and its context, see Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti.
    14.      Avrich, Sacco and Vanzetti, 27.
    15      Jennie Paglia in Avrich, Anarchist Voices, 97.

    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 case.

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Vanzetti (left) and Sacco