Full size images and complete transcript of the four page letter follow below the break.
by Jim Toronto
Each month we plan to upload a new and fascinating item on this website that will add to our understanding of the Joseph Toronto family. We begin with a letter from Giuseppe, written in 1876 from Palermo, Sicily during his second mission, to his oldest son Joseph Brigham in Salt Lake City. The letter is in English, obviously dictated to a scribe who writes in a beautiful hand, but retaining the syntax and vocabulary of Giuseppe’s rather broken English. I have transcribed the letter for ease of reading, retaining the original spelling, grammar, and punctuation and adding a few footnotes for clarification. The transcribed text can be found at the end of this post. It is interesting to note how the spelling of the name “Taranto” was in a state of flux, as we see both “Taranto” and “Toronto” in the signatures at the letter’s conclusion. Giuseppe is obviously anxious to unite both his Italian and his American families, as evident in his very Sicilian attitude about matchmaking between his sons in Salt Lake City and his nieces in Palermo. There are other important insights into Giuseppe’s life, times, and character that emerge from a careful reading of this document.
A brief explanation about the provenance of this letter and other new items that we will be sharing on the website each month: Cousins Steve Toronto and Jim Toronto recently visited the home of another more distant cousin, Susan Toronto, to examine a treasure trove of historic documents, letters, photographs, and memorabilia related to Giuseppe Taranto (aka, Joseph Toronto) located in a wooden chest in the basement. See the previous post here for Steve’s account of how these two sides of Giuseppe’s family came together to make these items accessible to more family members.
Here is the transcribed text of Giuseppe’s letter:
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My dear son
After a passage of 21 days with the railways, at last by the mail steamer I arrived here on the 11th inst. It seems me quite a dream how I am here, 8000 miles off from you. It has been a frighten for my sisters to see me for they did not know at all I was coming in Palermo. It is impossible to explain you how I was the welcome for my sisters, Brother-in-laws, relations and friends all, after I have been out of here 25 years. My sisters were never satisfied to kiss me – I have been obliged to remain home for some days to receive visits from respectable high persons and ships’ masters, who have been so devoted to me as we do with our very high respectable President 1 , to whom you will present my kind regards.
Here I am now going to give you some particulars since my departure from you. Since then to reach Newyork I employed five days – I went off from Newyork with a Steamer and while on our journey, we met three Ice Islands 2 , and I still cannot make out how we did not have any harm, we further got two heavy storms and the steamer got a great deal of harm. In eleven days passage we reached Havre 3 from where I went to Genoa 4 by railway, then with a Steamer I went to Naples and so after a day I reached Palermo. All the time employed to come here it has been 21 days, and I was obliged further to stop three weeks at Newyork, forgetting the certificate 5 , which I was not able to find and I have done without.
I have not forgotten still when I left you and my family when I kissed my son John 6 , and the dear was crying, such an affectionate doing it did remain me in my heart. I remember too Charly 7 and Rose 8 were sleeping, and I am sure that if had they been awake they should had done the same, I bless them in God’s name. I wish the God bless from Mr. Bricam 9 and I bless him too. When you shall write to me I beg you to keep a copy of your letter and send it some days after the first, so as if the first gets lost, I can have the second one.
Tell Luigi, he who plays the violin with only one string, that I went to see his mother and I found her in good health together with two of her brothers and I gave her the $11 – I spoke to his brother the shoemaker that Luigi wishes him at your place, he answered me he should do it with great pleasure, but he wants first $105 in gold, to give to the bank as I did. It is good too if he should send more money to help his mother, he can send me a London Draft – he told me too he was going to write to Luigi soon, I have not been able to give him the money, for I could not spare any of mine, and if he is going to send the London Draft he must make haste, before my going away from Palermo.
I remember you to look out our business and to help your mother. Please tell to Giorgio Chiesola that I am going to send him a portrait of a good girl as I promised him.
Remember Frank 10 to pay attention to the cattle an to everything in his power, and then God bless him.
I hope to send you some portraits of your cousins my nieces, so as all of you three brothers will know them and with God’s will one day be all together, so presently my dear sons do not hurry yourselves to get wives, at least not before I shall be with you.
Dear son, I have not written you before now, because I have not known before now anybody who might had written me a letter in English.
Present my kind regards to Spenza and his family, to James and his family, to Giorgio Chiesola and his family, to all my friends of the point 11 , to Cemba Potas. Tell Ulvailta the son of Louisa, that I send him my best respects and to his mother also – by in by I shall send him the portrait of a nice young lady, a relation of mine. I want you further to tell to all my friends to help sometimes Frank if he shall want any help for my cattle.
Some of my relations a week before my arrival here, they did dream I was coming in Palermo. My youngest sister Rosalia did dream that I took her in my garden and she gave me particular explanations about it and about my house. I also made the same dream.
I have been also together with the American Counsil of Palermo for about an hour, and I made his acquaintance, I spoke to him about our Church, he asked me some questions, and I answered him the truth. Here I always speak to everyone about our religion – I keep many persons from ten o’clock in the morning till five in the evening always talking them about our Church and they cry – I never eat at day time, untill I reach my sister’s house.
I am here to serve the laws of our Lord Jesus Christ, and when anybody talks bad about it, I am ready to defend it.
I dreamed also on my coming here that with a hammer I broke a piece of mountain, and from undernith I saw a lion coming out made by the God – and not by human hands, that shows how it is great the strength of God. I need not tell you that here I am very well treated by everyone, mostly from my relations.
Having nothing further to tell you at present, may God bless you, your mother and brothers and all the family and friends, by sending my loves to you all
P.S. This is the seventh letter I write you
[A signature in a shaky, unsure script follows: “Joseph Toronto,” with a simple sketch of a hand between the two words.]
[Written in a different hand:]
Tutte le mie sorelle, parenti, nipote, e tutte l’amici miei vi fanno tanti rispeti, cosi pratticano le mie cognati.
[All of my sisters, relatives, nieces and nephews, and all of my friends pay their respects, as do my brothers-in-law.]
1 Brigham Young, LDS Church president, Joseph’s benefactor and friend
2 I.e., glaciers
3 On the northern coast of France
4 Genoa is in northwestern Italy
5 Probably referring to his passport or naturalization/immigration papers
6 His fourth child, Jonathan, born 1865, by his first wife Eleanor Jones
7 His first child, John Charles, born 1873, by his second wife Anna Katrina Johanssen
8 His second child, Rosa Anna, born 1875, from Anna Katrina
9 Brigham Young
10 His second child, born 1856, from Eleanor
11 The “point” of the mountain near present-day Magna, Utah, where his ranch and cattle were located around what is now called Toronto Cave and designated a Utah State Historical Site.