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
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.
Vanzetti (left) and Sacco