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