Italian immigrants made their homes in New York long before the Great Migration.
Sometime in the 1640s a Venetian sailor named Cesare Alberti settled at
the corner of Broad Street and Exchange Place in Manhattan and was perhaps
the earliest Italian homeowner in the city. During the era of the American
Revolution, farmers, merchants and musical artists followed Alberti's example,
creating a small but noticeable Italian presence in the city.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Italian refugees fleeing political repression
settled in New York. One early exile was the artist Nicolino Calyo, who
painted street scenes. Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's librettist, also settled
here in 1830, helped to found the Italian Opera House and became the first
Professor of Italian at Columbia University.
Perhaps the most prominent political exile to come to New York was Giuseppe
Garibaldi, the military hero responsible for the unification of Italy. When
the American Civil War broke out, Italians and other immigrants in New York
formed the Garibaldi Guard, a volunteer group officially known as the 39th
New York Regiment. Immigrant Luigi Palma di Cesnola fought in the Union
army and received a Congressional Medal of Honor. After the conflict, di
Cesnola served as United States Consul to Crete and in 1880 became the first
director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.