Journal of Community Health

, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 1224–1286 | Cite as

The Second World Cholera Pandemic (1826–1849) in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with Special Reference to the Towns of San Prisco and Forio d’Ischia

  • Pascal James Imperato
  • Gavin H. Imperato
  • Austin C. Imperato
Original Paper


The second world cholera pandemic in Europe (1829–1849) was significant because of its geographic extent and the enormous numbers of people who fell ill or died. It was also singularly important because it demonstrated the profound levels of ignorance in both Europe and North America concerning the cause, modes of transmission, and treatment of cholera. This paper discusses the pandemic in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in great detail. Even though medical and public health authorities in this kingdom had several years to prepare for cholera’s eventual arrival in 1836–1837, their elaborate preventive and therapeutic measures proved no more successful than elsewhere. Despite their efforts, it was estimated that there were 32,145 cases of cholera in the city of Naples by July 1837. Some 19,470 people were estimated to have died among the city’s then 357,283 population. This amounted to a cholera-specific mortality rate of 54.5/1000 population. Sicily was also severely affected by the epidemic. It was estimated that 69,000 people died of cholera in Sicily, 24,000 of them in the city of Palermo. Two rural towns in the kingdom, San Prisco and Forio d’Ischia, were selected for in-depth epidemiologic study. The former had a population of 3700 in 1836–1837, while the latter had a population of 5500. The economic basis of both towns was agriculture. However, because Forio is located on an island, fishing and sea transport were then also important industries. Cholera appeared in San Prisco in July 1837 and quickly swept through the population. By August, the epidemic was essentially over. It is estimated that some 109 people died from cholera in San Prisco for a disease-specific mortality rate of 29.5/1000 population. The age range of those who died from cholera was 1 to 90 years. The majority of deaths (60.6 %) were among women. The first cases of cholera appeared in Forio d’Ischia in June 1837. The epidemic then peaked in July. It is estimated that approximately 316 people died from cholera in Forio out of a population of 5500. This resulted in a cholera-specific mortality rate of 57.5/1000 population. Among the first 42 fatal cases in whom the disease was documented on their death certificates, ages ranged from 15 to 88 years. The mean age was 52.4 years. The majority of deaths (57.1 %) were among women. We reached beyond the statistics of this epidemic by presenting an in-depth study of the first person to die from cholera in Forio d’Ischia, Nicola Antonio Insante. By focusing on him, we were able to develop a broad account of the social and economic consequences of his death on his family. At the same time, our research demonstrated the resiliency of his immediate and distant descendants. Similarly, we discuss the D’Ambra and Scola families of Forio d’Ischia, and the Caruso and Valenziano families of San Prisco, among whom a number died from cholera in 1837.


Second world cholera pandemic Cholera in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Cholera in San Prisco Cholera in Forio d’Ischia Nicola Insante Descendants of the 1837 cholera pandemic victims 



The research for this article spanned many years and was made possible by the assistance and support of many people and institutions. We would like to express our thanks to all of them. Eleanor M. Imperato, wife and mother, extensively participated in the research upon which this communication is based. She meticulously translated a number of Latin and Italian language documents into English, researched vital records in Italy at Capua, Forio, Portici and San Prisco, and provided much appreciated encouragement and support, for which we are very grateful. We are also thankful for the support and assistance of Alison M. Imperato, daughter and sibling, during the long period of time that the research for this article was being undertaken. We would like to express our sincere thanks to our relatives in Italy, some of whom are now deceased. These include: the late Carmelina Pescione Maiella, the late Domenico, Giovanni, and Marianna Ulini, the late Dr. Florindo Imparato, the late Dr. Mario Imparato, the late Matrona Imparato Trepiccione, and the late Professor Agostino Stellato, a former Mayor of San Prisco. We are very grateful to our cousin, Giuseppe Imparato, who greatly assisted us with researching the vital records of San Prisco, and for conducting independent research on our behalf. Without his help, this article would not have been possible. We wish to thank our cousins, Anna Maria Ulini, Antonio Ercolano, and Anna Ulini of San Prisco, who have assisted us over many years. In San Prisco, we are grateful to our relatives Avvocato Attilio Imparato and Ida Imparato Stellato, and in the United States to our late cousins, Sister Antoinette Casertano, Sister Martha Casertano, and Mother Lina Trepiccione. We wish to acknowledge the first telling of some of this history by our late father and grandfather, James A. Imperato, and all the information that was provided over the years by his brothers and sisters, all now deceased. These include Freeman P. Imperato, RA, Pasquale Joseph Imperato, BS, MD, Alfred A. Imperato, BS, MA, MD, Joseph P. Imperato, LLD, Louis G. Imperato, LLD, LLM, Carrie Imperato Ragusa, Amelia Imperato Barracca Wise, and Marianne Imperato Smith, BA, MA. Our colleague and friend, Dott. Luigi Russo, made possible the uncovering of very valuable genealogical information in several archival sources. These include ecclesiastical vital records in three churches in San Prisco: Santa Matrona, Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, and Santa Maria Di Loreto. He also extensively researched the baptismal and death records in the Basilica of San Ciro in Portici and those in the Archivio della Diocesi di Caserta. He diligently examined records in the Biblioteca of the Museo Provinciale Campano in Capua and in the Archivio Communale di Capua. Professor Russo also carefully conducted extensive research in the Archivio di Stato in Caserta, and in the Archivio Storico della ex Real Casa Santa dell’Annunziata. Professor Russo, a highly esteemed historian and leading authority on the history of San Prisco, is a meticulous scholar who brought to his research great patience, diligence, and superb analytical insights for which we are deeply appreciative. In San Prisco, we are also grateful to Carlo Artiere for his assistance in researching the archives of the Archivio di Stato in Caserta. For access and help with church vital records, we are thankful to the Reverend Vincenzo Di Lillo, Pastor of the Church of Santa Matrona, and to the Reverend Giuseppe Cappabianca, Pastor of the Church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli. We also wish to thank Professore Francesco Cioccola, Direttore della Biblioteca e Archivio Storico, Arcidiocesi di Capua. In Forio d’Ischia, we were greatly aided by our cousin, Anna Insante Mattera, who arranged for us to examine the town’s civil vital records extending back to 1809. We wish to thank the Municipal officials of Forio d’Ischia who assisted us in researching these records. We are very grateful to the late Reverend Monsignor Michele Romano, Pastor of the Church of San Sebastiano and the Basilica of Santa Maria di Loreto, who greatly assisted us with researching and translating ecclesiastical vital records of the Insante and Scola families from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. We wish to thank Reverend Monsignor Giuseppe Regine, Pastor of the Church of San Vito, who assisted us with nineteenth century vital records on the Scola family. Our late uncle, Giuseppe Insante and his late wife, Concetta Veccia Insante, were of enormous help to us, for which we are very grateful. Their daughter, Anna Insante Mattera, and her husband, Salvatore Mattera, were of enormous help to us in our research. We wish to thank all of our cousins on the island of Ischia who helped us in many ways. These include the late Rosetta Calise Verde and the late Davide Calise. We are grateful to our cousins, Anna Calise Patalano, Paola Calise Tufano, the late Ventura (Regina) Calise Schiano and her late husband, Giovan Giuseppe Schiano, and Vincenzo Calise. We are very grateful to our cousin, Pietro Paolo Calise, who not only hosted us on our visits to Ischia, but who also assisted us in our research. We wish to express our thanks to our cousin, Captain Agostino Mazzella, who greatly assisted us. We are very appreciative of the help and interest of our cousin in Argentina, Ana Maria Insante de Olivan, and her late husband, Feliciano Olivan. In the United States, we wish to express enormous gratitude to the late Maria Libera Insante Verde (1868–1956), who started us on this quest. Her knowledge of both contemporary and previous family history was nothing less than encyclopedic both in terms of scope and depth. What she had not experienced directly was meticulously preserved in a prodigious memory of accounts told to her by members of older generations. She not only knew the names of Insante and Scola ancestors, but also the major events that had taken place in their lives. Her memory greatly impressed everyone who knew her, even her priest, the late Reverend Domenick Adessa, who ministered to her in later years. He continuously marveled that she could recite the entire mass in Latin. We are very grateful to the late Madalynne Marguerite Insante Imperato (1906–1970), mother and grandmother, who throughout her life had an intense interest in her family history. This in part was fostered by her aunt, Maria Libera Insante Verde, who raised her. Both women maintained close contacts with a geographically dispersed group of relatives over many years. Madalynne Marguerite Insante Imperato was extremely knowledgeable about her Insante, Scola, and D’Ambra relatives, and could effortlessly draw genealogic charts which many years later we found to be highly accurate. Our knowledge of the D’Ambra family was enriched by Marianna D’Ambra Insante (1884–1968), grandmother and great-grandmother. Highly observant and also gifted with a prodigious memory, she could recount with great clarity, events that had occurred even before her own birth but which had been handed down to her through oral tradition. Our knowledge of the D’Ambra family was greatly enhanced by the late Emmanuela D’Ambra Sorrentino (1920–2011). She was the daughter of Francesco D’Ambra (1888–1968) and Angela Maria Di Maio (1894–1969). She was also a first cousin and very close friend of Madalynne Marguerite Insante Imperato (1906–1970). Emmanuela D’Ambra Sorrentino’s parents traveled back to Italy in 1922 when she was 18 months of age. She remained in Forio until 1938 when she returned to the United States. As a result of her stay, she became very familiar with Forio and the D’Ambra family in a way that would not have been possible had she remained in the United States. She was very generous with her assistance in our researching details about the D’Ambra family, for which we are very grateful. We wish to sincerely thank her son, Dr. Frank Sorrentino, and her daughter, Lucy Conti, who were very supportive of our research, and who provided us with very valuable information. Researching the Scola family proved especially challenging because their numbers rapidly expanded once they immigrated to the United States. From a core of several cousins who left Italy, this family grew into a large kinship group numbering several hundred and dispersed in Canton, Ohio, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Vineland, New Jersey, Providence, Rhode Island, and New York City. Despite this dispersion, they maintained fairly close contacts for the first half-century following immigration. Thereafter, their contacts diminished as the immigrant generation passed away. While many immigrants from Ischia settled in Brooklyn, and especially in the Coney Island and South Brooklyn areas, others went to San Pedro, California, particularly those who were fishermen. Our cousin, Bernard Vincent Scola, of Providence, Rhode Island, spent many years meticulously tracing our Scola ancestors and their descendants. This was an enormous undertaking at which he was highly successful. We are very grateful to him for generously sharing the results of his research, and for being such a congenial and supportive fellow researcher for close to 30 years. We also wish to sincerely thank him for providing us with valuable family histories which enabled us to create a complete account of the Scola family and its many members. We wish to sincerely thank our cousin, Mary Ann Loreta Sorrentino, who was of great assistance to us in verifying the accuracy of several Scola lineages. She also graciously reviewed a number of the genealogic charts, and made very helpful suggestions about them. Other Scola descendants generously shared their memories of their branches of the family. These include Dolly Massari of Philadelphia, a descendant of Restituta Scola Impagliazzo (1844–1922) and Carmela Scola Sacchetti (1849–1928), and Cira Carmela (Jeanne) Sacchetti Sansalone of Vineland, New Jersey, a descendant of Carmela Scola. We are very grateful to them for all their help. Concetta Scola Di Maio, daughter of Bernardo Scola (1851–1904), and her husband, Vito Di Maio (1899–1986), generously shared their knowledge of their ancestors in Forio. This better enabled us to understand the place of these ancestors in the 1837 cholera epidemic. We are very grateful to Joyce Elaine Imperato Monteleone for her valuable help in researching a number of important facts. Her knowledge of Forio d’Ischia and its population is very extensive. She has frequently traveled there for periods of time beginning in 1959 and as recently as 2014. We are also grateful for the support and help of Josephine Ann Imperato Halper, Elissa Dolores Imperato Meyers, Gerard Anthony Imperato, and Francis Paul Imperato, respectively siblings and aunts and uncles. We would like to express our thanks to the Library, State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center, the Vital Records Office, Comune di Forio d’Ischia, Italy, the Vital Records Office, Comune di San Prisco, Italy, and the Plainview Family History Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At the Plainview Family History Center, special thanks go to genealogist Marie Scalisi, and to fellow researchers, Eileen Holland, Peter Lattanzi, Barbara Murphy, and Armand Tarantelli, for their interest and help. We are very grateful to Lois Hahn, who patiently and expertly prepared several drafts of the paper, and to Dorine Cooper for her assistance with the figures. We wish to thank Frank Fasano of the Department of Biomedical Communications at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center for drawing the map, and Anton Daub for preparing the appendices.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pascal James Imperato
    • 1
  • Gavin H. Imperato
    • 2
  • Austin C. Imperato
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Public HealthState University of New York, Downstate Medical CenterBrooklynUSA
  2. 2.Department of MedicinePenn State Milton S. Hershey Medical CenterHersheyUSA
  3. 3.Georgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

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