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Francis B. Spinola

American politician and Union Army general

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Francis Barretto Spinola
BEP engraved portrait of Francis B. Spinola
Born(1821-03-19)March 19, 1821
Old Field, Long Island, New York
DiedApril 14, 1891(1891-04-14) (aged 70)
Washington, D.C.
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Union Army
Rank Brigadier General
Commands held"Spinola Brigade" (the Second Brigade, Second Division, Third Army Corps)
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Francis Barretto Spinola (March 19, 1821 – April 14, 1891) was an American politician and military lead of Portuguese and Irish ancestry. He is considered by some sources as the first Italian American[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving as a representative from New York from 1887 to 1891. He also served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.


Spinola was born in Old Field,[9] near Stony Brook, Brookhaven, Suffolk County, Long Island, New York.[10] He attended Quaker Hill Academy in Dutchess County and then passed the bar exam before establishing a law practice in Brooklyn. He was elected alderman of the Second Ward in Brooklyn in 1846 and 1847, and was reelected in 1849 and served for four years. By 1854, when he joined a special force known as "Special Police" to keep order in the streets of New York, he was already one of the "most respected and influential citizens" of the city.[11] Politically a Democrat, he was a member of the New York State Assembly (Kings Co., 2nd D.) in 1856. He was a member of the New York State Senate (3rd D.) from 1858 to 1861, sitting in the 81st, 82nd, 83rd and 84th New York State Legislatures. He was a delegate to the 1860 Democratic National Convention.[1]

He was commissioner of New York Harbor when the Civil War erupted. Spinola joined the volunteer army in a New York regiment and was commissioned as an officer. He was appointed brigadier general of Volunteers on October 2, 1862. He commanded two relief efforts to lift the Confederate siege of Washington, North Carolina. In July-October 1862 he recruited and organized a brigade of four regiments, known as Spinola's Empire Brigade.[12]

Spinola assumed command of the New York "Excelsior Brigade" (the Second Brigade, Second Division, Third Army Corps), on July 11, 1863, following the Battle of Gettysburg as the Army of the Potomac strove to fill open command slots created by battle casualties. Spinola's brigade led the Union troops on July 23 at the Battle of Wapping Heights in Linden, Virginia, suffering 18 men killed, including two officers. Spinola was wounded in the fighting, along with dozens of his men. He was honorably discharged from the service in August 1865.[1]

Following the war, Spinola was a banker and insurance agent and became an influential figure among the rapidly growing Italian immigrant community in the New York City area. He was again a member of the State Assembly (New York Co., 16th D.) in 1877, 1881 and 1883. He was a U.S. Representative from New York's 10th District from 1887 to 1891.[1]

He died in office in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1891.[10]

His funeral was held at the Immaculate Conception Church on April 16, 1891, and he was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.[13]

His estate, valued at over $1,000,000 in 1897, was left to his wife (d. 1896), and a nephew, Ferdinand McKee. In 1897 his sister Annie Douglass contested his will.[14]

Francis B. Spinola Biography articles: 32


Spinola had his country seat at Crane Neck, Long Island. It was menaced by a fire in 1887.[15]

Portrait of Mrs. Eliza Spinola, mother of Gen. Spinola, commissioned to William Sidney Mount by her son in 1853

Francis Barretto Spinola was the son of João Leandro Spinola (b. 1782, Madeira Island), later Anglicised as John Leander Spinola,[16] a merchant from Madeira Island, and Elizabeth Phelan (1790, Long Island – 1873),[17] daughter of Captain John Phelan (1747, Waterford, Ireland – September 14, 1827, Baltimore, Maryland), who served in the American Revolutionary War, and his wife Susanna Davis (b. Long Island, d. 1857). João Leandro Spinola married Eliza Phelan on June 18, 1808, at Trinity Church parish, New York.[18]

Frank W. Alduino, in his book Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray: Italians in the American Civil War (p. 180), refers to his father John as a "prosperous farmer and oysterman" who migrated to the United States from Madeira Island, Portugal, whose family had originally hailed from the city of Genoa, Liguria.[9][19][20] The Spinolas, of noble Genoese origin, moved into Madeira Island in the late 15th, early 16th century, as merchants.[21] John Leander Spinola is recorded travelling between Funchal and New York on board of the brig Pomona in 1821. He is also recorded travelling to Havana and Rio Grande. He was buried in the Meadow Avenue of Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York.[22]

His grandfather John Phelan was a lieutenant in Wigglesworth's 13th Massachusetts Regiment, and his grand-uncles Edward and Patrick were respectively captain and lieutenant at the same time.[16] He was a member of the Order of the Cincinnati.[23] His grand uncle Phillip Phelan joined the American forces during the Revolutionary War, where he served as lieutenant, and died at the Battle of Eutaw Springs on May 22, 1781. John Phelan's mother was Mary Heron Phelan, from Waterford, Ireland. One of her descendants, Mrs. Regina M. Knott, was one of the earliest members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.[24]

He had an older brother, John Leander Spinola (b. 1818) who worked as a druggist,[25] a younger brother, Douglas A. Spinola (b. 1830), an older sister, Angelina Spinola, seamstress (b. 1814), and two younger sisters, Louisa (b. 1825) and Ann Eliza (b. 1829).

Gen. Spinola provided for his sister Ann Douglass until his death in 1891. She supported herself teaching music until her eyesight failed, and by 1903, at over seventy years of age, she was living on charity, on an allowance of $120 a year from the Society of the Cincinnati. This motivated a newspaper article, pleading for help and referring her family, the Spinolas, as New York aristocrats, a "distinguished family".[16]

Gen. Francis Spinola married Elizabeth Nancy Glazebrook, from Kings, Saratoga, New York, at May 7, 1855, in New York City. Eliza N. Spinola, as she was known, survived her husband for five years, dying in 1896.

Francis B. Spinola Family articles: 23

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Cummings, Amos J. (March 26, 1892). "Address of Mr. Cummings, of New York, on the Life and Character of Francis B. Spinola.". Memorial addresses on the life and character of Francis B. Spinola, a representative from New York, delivered in the House of representatives and in the Senate, Fifty-second Congress. By 52nd United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office (published 1893). p. 15. LCCN 31035667. Retrieved December 15, 2016. He once told me that he was of Italian lineage.
  2. ^ "ACR 248 Assembly Concurrent Resolution - INTRODUCED". Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 248--Relative to Italian American Heritage Month. Official California Legislative Information. August 22, 2002. Francis B. Spinola, the first Italian American Member of Congress
  3. ^ Burgan, Michael; Robert Asher (2009). Immigration to the United States: Italian Immigrants. Infobase Publishing. p. 90. ISBN 9781438103594.
  4. ^ Alduino, Frank W.; David J. Coles (2007). Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray: Italians in the American Civil War. Cambria Press. p. 179. ISBN 9781934043806.
  5. ^ Eisenstadt, Peter R.; Laura-Eve Moss (2005). The Encyclopedia of New York State. Syracuse University Press. p. 802. ISBN 9780815608080.
  6. ^ Scarpaci, Vincenza (2008). The Journey of the Italians in America. Pelican Publishing Company. p. 19. ISBN 9781589802452.
  7. ^ Moses, Paul (2015). An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians. New York University Press. p. 79. ISBN 9781479871308.
  8. ^ Perlmutter, Philip (2015). Legacy of Hate: A Short History of Ethnic, Religious and Racial Prejudice in America. Routledge. p. 107. ISBN 9781317466222.
  9. ^ a b Alduino, Frank W.; David J. Coles (2007). Sons of Garibaldi in Blue and Gray: Italians in the American Civil War. Cambria Press. p. 180. ISBN 9781934043806.
  10. ^ a b "Gen. F. B. Spinola Dead. End Of The Tammany Congressman's Career. After Several Days Of Improvement Death Came At 1:25 O'clock This Morning. A Long Career In Politics". The New York Times. April 14, 1891. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2011. Gen. F.B. Spinola died at 1:25 o'clock this morning after an illness which had lasted several weeks. His condition had so improved during the last few days that his friends had begun to entertain some hope of his recovery. ...
  11. ^ "The Street-Preaching Excitement. Street-Preaching In New-York. The Angel Gabriel And Mrs. Bishop". The New York Times. June 12, 1854. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  12. ^ "The New Call For Troops. Recruiting In The City. The United States Mustering Office. The Quartermaster's Office. Filling Up The Old Regiments. The Halleck Guard. The Staton Legion. The Metropolitan Guard. The Spinola Brigade. The Fifth New-York Zouaves". The New York Times. July 22, 1862. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  13. ^ "Gen. Spinola's Funeral. The Body In New-York And Services To Be Held This Morning". The New York Times. April 16, 1891. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2011. The body of Congressman Francis B. Spinola arrived in New-York yesterday afternoon in charge of Deputy Sergeant at Arms of the House Kavanaugh and two or three assistants. It was taken at once to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Fourteenth Street and Avenue A, where funeral services will be held at 10:30 o'clock this morning. ...
  14. ^ "Francis B. Spinola's Will. Contest Begun by His Sister. Alleged Letters of His Which Speak of Undue Influence". The New York Times. October 23, 1897. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  15. ^ "Gen. Spinola Fights Fire". The New York Times. April 11, 1887. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  16. ^ a b c A Poor Aristocrat, Reno Evening Gazette, January 21, 1903
  17. ^ Early New York Naturalization Records, p. 278
  18. ^ Early New York Naturalizations, p. 444
  19. ^ Jiménez, Miriam (2013). Inventive Politicians and Ethnic Ascent in American Politics: The Uphill Elections of Italians and Mexicans to the U.S. Congress. Routledge. p. 44. ISBN 9780415818490.
  20. ^ LaGumina, Salvatore J.; Cavaioli, Frank J.; Primeggia, Salvatore; Varacalli, Joseph A., eds. (2003). The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 83. ISBN 9781135583330.
  21. ^ Noronha, Henrique Henriques de (1700), Nobiliário Genealógico das Famílias aparentadas com Henrique Henriques de Noronha, III, Câmara Municipal do Funchal
  22. ^ Green-wood, a directory for visitors, Nehemiah Cleaveland, Pudney & Russell, printers, 1857, p. 116
  23. ^ "Read the ebook Ceremonies at the planting of the liberty tree in Golden Gate Park by Sequoia chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. April 19, 1894, the one hundred and nineteenth anniversary of the Battle of Lexington by California) Daughters of the A". ebooksread.com. 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2011. Phelan
  24. ^ "Full text of 'Lineage book of the charter members of the Daughters of the American Revolution'". archive.org. 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2011.
  25. ^ "1877 Court News". bklyn-genealogy-info.com. 2011. Retrieved May 26, 2011.

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New York State Assembly
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