Bronte's history

Bronte's History / The 1860 Facts

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A short history of Bronte

The 1860 Facts

Antefacts - Garibaldi's decrees - Local situation - The Facts from 2 to 5 August - Debates and Reconstruction

The Council Of Bronte and his inhabitants, bound from always to working the earth, have lived for centuries in the shadow of a strange, fraudulent usurpation of their territory: moved in 1494, with papal bubble, in favor of the Greater Hospital Of Palermo and in 1799, with an unprejudiced Bourbon gift, in favor of Nelson.

An unbelievable court-case to regain the territory, lasted in front of the courts and without interruption for over four centuries, had been vain and useless. The contenders (the hospital, the Nelson and the council) had various possibilities of maneuver and the community of Bronte, without adequate supports and protections always kept on losing.
In this perennial state of vassalage and heavy crises, a strong wish for revenge and hope to be able to regain, sooner or later, the lost possessions was growing during the years, felt by everybody, generation after generation.

The popular discontent, rather evident, had the first demonstrations with the revolutionary riots of 1820 and of 1848, but reached the peak of exasperation with the riots of 1860 (better known as "i fatti di Bronte", "the facts of Bronte").

The riot was started by  the decrees issued by Garibaldi. which were promising the dismantling of the large estates and the sharing of the land.

Also because some months earlier, soon after the landing, the dictator had cancelled another Bourbon gift, giving back to the ancient legitimate Sicilian proprietors the "Bisaquino" feud, in the zone of Palermo, which had been given by the king of Naples to a favorite of his (the notorious Maniscalco (blacksmith) police minister).

In the illusion of a regaining besides some state property, also the land usurped twice, in 1494 and 1799, the hopes of the farmers, all poor and living  off some random laborer's work, were suddenly re-lighted. Useless to say that, thirsty of justice after centuries of virtual slavery, took to the letter the words of the neo despot of the island Nelson and thought that, finally, had arrived the moment of the feud division  awaited for so long.

All this did not happen, as everyone was expecting. The people of Bronte, once more, did not take into account history, with the international intrigues, the particular interests and the power of class.

Their aspiration of social justice brought about a dreadful massacre followed by another as much dreadful  summary trial, wanted by heartless, intolerant Nino Bixio that, against his will, had been sent by Garibaldi to put an end to the riot as to avoid possible troubles with the English government represented in the place by the Nelson heirs.

(We report this in the original text almost impossible to translate)

Lamentation of a populace to the Crucified Christ

by Lionardo Vigo

Un servu, tempu fa di chista chiazza,
ccussì priava a Cristu e cci dicia:
"Signuri! U me patruni mi strapazza!
Mi tratta commu ‘n cani ‘nta la via;
tuttu si pigghia ccu la so manazza
macari a vita e dici chi nun è a mia.
Si ppò mi lagnu cchiù peggiu mi minazza,
a bbastunati mi lliscia u pilu e m’impriggiunia.
Quindi, ti pregu, chista mala razza,
distruggila tu, Cristu, ppi mia!

(una tantum), Christ's answer:

"E ttu, forsi, hai ciunchi li brazza?
Oppuri l’hai ‘nchiuvati commu a mia?
Cu voli a giustizzia si la fazza
Né speri c’autru la faria ppi tia.
Si ttu si omu e nun si na testa pazza,
metti a fruttu sta sintenza mia:
iu nun saria supra ‘sta cruciazza
S’avissi fattu quantu dissi a ttia".


The Antefacts

The 11 of May 1860, landing of the Thousand, In the same historic port called by the Arabs, 1033 years earlier, Marsa-Ali. The men (1089 or 1092) were already disembarked when turned up the corvette Stromboli and the two steamships  Capri and Partenone commanded by William Acton, English and to the Bourbon service. In the Marsala roadstead there were also the English  gunboats Argus and Intrepid, sent from Malta to cover the landing.

The Acton, through  binoculars, saw movements of men in red shirts and thinking they were Red Coast of English troupes with their superiors, did not open fire. History is also made of little things: if Acton would have carried out in full his duty the thousand would have failed like Pisacane expedition, and Sicily history maybe would have been written differently.

To the landing followed the various proclamations of Garibaldi, the entry in Palermo, the battle of Milazzo, the surrender of Messina. Having conquered Palermo, according to a consolidated praxis (winners' right), all acts drawn by the old  rulers were considered invalid and the possessions were given back to the previous owners. The same would have happened in Bronte with the Nelson dukedom. But Garibaldi, instead of declaring invalid "illic et immediate" the gift to the Nelson of Bronte's land, preferred not to adapt that same procedure.

At least so believed Bronte folks who didn't know  what was in the secret dispatch sent by the Dukedom administration to the English vice consuls  of Catania (Jeans), and of Messina (Richard), and that these  were forwarded to the General consul of Palermo (Goodwin).

This last one  informed the Foreign Minister  Russel that, in his turn, overwhelmed with dispatches the dictator Garibaldi and the governor of Catania. Is worth remembering also that on the night of 5/6 of May British ships had covered  the departure of Garibaldi from Quarto and that the British ha also financed  the undertaking with a public subscription.

At Catania there had been an agitation the 15 of May; the General Clari, in one of his rapports of the 25/5, indicated  as members of the revolutionary committee  the vice-consul Jeans, together with Poulet,  Casalotto, Marletta and others.

The 31st of May Catania raised up and the Poulet squads, coming down from Mascalucia, were winning over Clari's royals but suddenly, at the arrival of the Gaetano Afan de Rivera's troupes, the situation  was reversed. In spite of this, the 3rd of June arrived to the Catania garrison the order to withdraw to Messina.


Garibaldi's Decrees

To put the  "facts of Bronte" in a better context it is necessary to remember that the success of the thousand was helped also by the rising of the farmers that were joining with them.

Therefore, in order to satisfy  the rural populations, Garibaldi took rapidly some important social measures: abolished the tax on wheat grinding, particularly hated, ordered  the distribution, in favor of poor farmers and soldiers, of land of the Council properties.

Is also opportune to report the loll owing dictatorial decrees:

19 May 1860:
From Passo di Renna Garibaldi decreed that the crimes committed during the war, of any nature, committed by soldiers or civilians, would be judged by a war's council .

28 May 1860:
from Palermo, Garibaldi emanated a decree whose object was: Death punishment for crimes related to robbery, homicide, sack and devastation.
Therefore such crimes were to be punished with death, by being shot in the back; therefore nobody was authorized to take revenge by himself for anything, but had to claim justice from the Government.

So were forbidden, in the most absolute way, all those acts that could cause scenes of  popular fury,  and lynching of supporters of the past Bourbon regime.

The decree established also that whoever with words or writings would excite the people against such citizens would be promptly arrested as guilty of "attempted murder". If the  persecuted person would be  seriously wounded, beaten or killed, the person or persons responsible would be punished with death.

28 June 1860:
Decree called "Electoral Law…" (etc.) that regulated for each Council the composition of the electoral Committee, the choice of the places for the meetings, the compilation of the advises to announce publicly or to post up, the  transcription in  registers of what was deliberated.

The lists had to contain name, surname, paternity, age, profession and domicile of the elector that received a ticket, signed and progressively numbered, to exhibit before voting.
Ultimately, was forbidden the inscription of persons with rights in other quarters or out of the parish.


Giuseppe Garibaldi



The local situation

Bronte, in that year had a population of just over 10.000 inhabitants, many of which were carrying agricultural or pastoral activities, (this information comes from the so-called "riveli", that is self declarations made under oath).

The new English masters, on the territory since 1799, had distorted the previous, precarious, social equilibrium that had caused further tension because of the abolition of the "civic uses", wanted by the Bourbon Government.
The ducal administrators, like true masters, subdued  the majority of workers, shutting the old paths that made easier the access to their fields and asking, with armed guardians, toll rights.

Began cutting down the woods to make charcoal to be sold to the people of Bronte and in the same time prohibited the entry in those woods and in the others, to whoever used to go there for grazing, to pick up wood, fruits or wild vegetables.

So, land before open to grazing, were shut down, cultivated or sown.

The transgressors, caught inside the feuds by servile guardians, (even from Bronte), at the Duke' service, practiced the right to whip, heavily fine, even for the most trivial reasons, (usually for wood picked in the ducal woods), and sometime put in jail.

In few words, on the poor, disinherited  brontese peasants, the Dukedom exercised "rights of  vassalage" resting on injustice and vexations.

Communal administrators, born in Bronte, piloted and devoted to the "foreigners", used the "public authority" in favor of the English interest against that of the poor local population.

The common people then were brooding over ancient feelings of vengeance for having been wronged so much, for the economic stagnation and the constant increasing of prices.

Barely the brontese people hide their rage and dissatisfaction.

Writes Benedetto Radice, (Nino Bixio at Bronte): «Were three hundred and fifty years that Bronte was fighting for its rights, of which the fatal donations of the Pope Innocenzo VII in 1491 and of Ferdinando I in 1799 had deprived it from. Had seen its territory become smaller from day to day, till complete disappearance for new rights, quibbles and  claims…".

"Without saying - continues Leonardo Sciascia in his book preface -, of the sexual liberties  that the gentlemen used to take with the people's girls: and enough to consider that in 1853 there were in Bronte, (on about 10.000 inhabitants), 38 communal wet nurses, to feed the bastards of the ruota (the wheel)».

The occasion of the social redemption and of the end of so many centuries of injustice was given by the arrival of Garibaldi in Sicily, by his swift victories over the Bourbons, by the proclaims of  breaking up civic councils, by the decrees regarding the land division and the abolition of the milling tax.

All this gave to the masses  the cue to join  in  "liberal committees" and try to shake off, all at once, both the ducal masters and also the "cappelli  the hats" that taking advantage of their hegemonic role under the Bourbons, had embezzled state land.

With the breaking up of the Civic Council for dictatorial decree, in Bronte had been also dismissed the Judge; therefore the Governor of Catania, following the usual pressing put on to him  through dispatches from the English General Consul Goodwin, nominated Municipal President the citizen Sebastiano Luca and Judge the lawyer Nunzio Cesare, both of them friendly towards the Dukedom.

Should have kept in the proper count the just expectations of the Communalists and of the turbulent people that saw in the lawyer Nicola Lombardo their chief, dividing the two important offices in a more impartial way.

Not having been able to resist to the English pressing, nor to ponder the delicacy of the situation was a grave political mistake that had to bring, shortly after, disastrous social repercussions. In Bronte, unexplainable for the masses, wasn't abolished the milling tax that encumbered over the poorest, but, above all, was not divided the land of the Dukedom, given that, fallen the Bourbon regime  in Sicily, everybody believed would have fallen also the donation made to the Nelson

La fucilazione (murales)

An ancient drawing of Bronte' landscape: so must have ap­peared, arriving from  Catania, the town,  at the times of the facts (from a drawing in the History of the city of Bronte  by Gesualdo De Luca, Milan 1883).

Two old photos of the city of Bronte during the first years of 1900: can be noted (above) the Colla district without the recent constructions and (high up in the photo below) the railway station isolated then in the town's high part.
At the time of the "facts of  Bronte", the city coun­ted about 10.000 inhabitants.

The people, tired of being subjected to further vexations, identifies in the "cappelli" the land owners "ducal-Bourbons", conservatives and oppressors; while who wants to fight for the interests of the Council and stays with the people is considered "liberal, reactionary, anti-Bourbon".

Frustrated aspirations, thirst for revenge, rage and ancient hatred push the lowest categories to extreme consequences, and the 31st of July arrives the irreparable, even if the prudence and the intervention of liberal citizen (among which the same Nicolo Lombardo), try to restrain the dreadful impetuosity of the people.

Translated by Sam Di BellaITALIAN VERSION

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