The Quilietti Family

The story of a Scots Italian family

The Padrone System

The roots of the padrone system lay in the situation of peasants in Italy, where a host of problems followed the 1861 unification of the country. One of these concerned the lack of land and jobs for the growing population. To make matters worse, the new Kingdom of Italy was in the control of politicians from the north who enacted high taxes and rents on the southern portion of the country.

It is easy to forget that in the 1850s when the first of the Italian immigrant travelled to Rhode Island, they came to a new land that was just beginning to expand from the Large Ports.  With its vast lands most of their outlying regions had little electricity, no telephones or cars yet.  There was no radio or t.v. and no Italian newspapers.   The few churches would be mostly baptist and Irish Catholic.   There were no government agencies that they could ask for help during their adjustment period.   They were on their own.

This new world proved a great disappointment to many immigrants;   the number who returned back home to Italy was great.   Those who remained faced monumental social and economic problems due to the lack of facilities.   There were few rental houses available, a fact which resulted in the development of The Padrone System.   This was a monopoly of banking and housing services controlled by a single individual, the neighbourhood saviour to these immigrants.  He might be known as a ticket agent but he became better known as the Padrone.

He would be one of their own and was the original ‘Don’.   This steamship ticket agent was a key person in the community.   He could provide the tickets for the trip to or from Italy, but very few had the money for this expensive fare.  So the travel agents opened small banks or loan companies to finance the purchase of the tickets.  The immigrants took pride in sending packages to family members at home, so the ticket agent opened an adjunct postal station in his office.   The agent translated and wrote letters for many in the community.

There were no homes available for the immigrants, so the ticket agent built six/eight and twelve-unit tenement buildings, with only cold water and the bare necessities.   There were no baths and only one gas outlet in each room to provide lighting at night.   The tenants had to use their own oil lamps for additional lighting.

The Padrone also found jobs for the immigrants and supplied them with money for clothing, food, coal and simple weddings and burials.   The money they had initially borrowed was repaid weekly.  This new Padrone had the new immigrants in the palm of his hands and they in turn existed in bondage until their debts were repaid.  Some of these men worked multiple jobs and by pooling all family income they were able to repay the debt off earlier than expected.  The whole experience of the Padrone and the new immigrant made the individuals stronger and in turn the family bonds stronger.

The padrone system was an indentured labor system that preyed upon Italian immigrants to the United States.

Many thousands of Italian immigrants found themselves prisoners of the padrone, or patron, system of labor. The padroni were labor brokers, sometimes immigrants themselves, who recruited Italian immigrants for large employers and then acted as overseers on the work site. In practice, many padroni acted more like slave holders than managers. A padrone often controlled the wages, contracts, and food supply of the immigrants under his authority, and could keep workers on the job for weeks or months beyond their contracts. Some padroni built vast labor empires, keeping thousands of workers confined in locked camps, behind barbed wire fences patrolled by armed guards. The padrone system, despite its many injustices, was not eradicated until the middle of the 20th century.

These families became the new Italian Americans.   Amongst them were the Italians who became great Bakers, Restraunteurs, Grocers and craftsmen who worked in the Granite Industry in Rhode Island.

Amongst these men were our own ancestors Ermenia Quilietti Dante, Giuseppe Quilietti and Adolfo Quilietti.

Giuseppe and Adolfo quickly established themselves in the grocery and butcher businesses and ran a ‘Peddlarshouse’ in Pawtucket.

Leave a Reply