|Cosimo I de' Medici|
Cosimo also struck a more indirect blow to the region in 1548 when he ordered dams built to stop the outflow from the swamps in the southern Valdinievole, turning the marshy ground into a lake that buried forests and farmland and prompted frequent epidemics of malaria commencing in 1550. Buggiano, Stignano and Montecatini were particularly hard hit in 1554 and 1557, but malaria outbreaks continued well into the 1800s. The bubonic plague which had devasted Italy in the 1300s also returned to claim more lives throughout the centuries. The Italian Plague of 1629-31 killed another 28,000. It hit hardest in the north, but a similar outbreak, focused in Florence, occurred from 1630 to 1633. Stignano and Buggiano instituted a quarantine prohibiting commercial activities with Lucca and dozens of other cities in an attempt to keep the plague away, but it had only moderate success. Parish priest Francesco Pellegrini wrote in 1631: “In Pescia certainly more than 2,000 people have died, and in Massa so many have died that now there are no more than 300 souls remaining, big and small, and maybe fewer in this community of Buggiano . . . and it is the same in Stignano.”
It was during this time that my descendants moved out of the hill village of Stignano and down into the flats of the Valdinievole. Most relocated only as far as Borgo a Buggiano and Ponte Buggianese, both within a few miles of Stignano. The reason for the movement appears to be a combination of limited area for farming in Stignano and abundant vacant fields in the plains below—an area prone to flooding but gradually becoming more usable through the construction of networks of canals and levees. Two Spadonis, Michele and Battista, are listed as attending the first Mass of the church of San Michele Archangelo in Ponte Buggianese in 1602. Antonio joined them in 1623. The church did not have a baptismal font until 1634, so children were baptized in either Stignano or Buggiano. The first Spadoni baptized in Ponte Buggianese was Lorenza, daughter of Antonio and Bartolomea, in 1637. Her cousin Lorenzo was born next in 1638, to my ancestors, Lionardo and Agnola. Within the next twenty-five years, numerous other Spadonis moved from Stignano to Ponte Buggianese, including two Giovannis, two Pieros, two Domenicos and an Andrea and a Carlo.
Le lagon gelé en 1708, by Gabriele Bella, part of a
lagoon which froze over in 1708-9, Venice, Italy.
On a positive note, the Valdinievole during the 1600s and 1700s experienced a respite from the frequent major wars, even if the ruling foreign governments of Italy changed fairly often. In the early 1800s, the area succumbed with almost no resistance to the governance of Napoleon Bonaparte, a rule which lasted until his defeat and abdication in 1814, at which time the area again became part of the duchy of Tuscany. When Italy finally united as one country during the mid-1800s, the people of Tuscany voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the new government, and the transition took place peacefully, with little interruption in the daily routines of the common people.
The system strongly favored the landowners, though, because of the abundance of peasants struggling to survive. Landowners could require additional payments beyond the fifty percent, such as extra meat and other produce for holidays, and the contadino might also have to provide his own tools. Most coloni never saved enough money to buy their own land, and the cycle continued from generation to generation, with the landowners staying rich and the workers barely surviving. This was the situation for my branch of the Spadonis, which is obvious from the fact that the family moved to various locations from time to time. They moved because mezzadria contracts typically lasted no more than five years before having to be renewed, and the contadino or colono might find a better contract at another farm. Either that or the padrone might demand a more favorable contract for the right to continue farming his land.
Some historians have speculated that the high infant mortality of earlier times desensitized parents to death. Others dispute this claim, including historian Sophie Oosterwijk, who writes: “It seems inconceivable that, in a period when the most popular image was that of the Madonna and Child, there was little or no understanding of or affection for children in everyday life. High infant mortality rates do not seem to have prevented parents from being fond of their children, however likely they were to lose at least some of them to diseases or accidents. Miracle reports and other types of documents attest to the lengths to which parents were prepared to go to obtain healing, rescue or salvation for their children, as well as to their grief when their efforts proved futile.”
Pietro and Maria had three boys born in the 1870s: Enrico, Eugenio and Michele, the latter being my grandfather. Pietro and Maria gave birth to a second Zelinda in 1880, and then to Giuseppe Giovanni Lindoro in 1883, the same year Anita Seghieri was born, just two miles away in San Salvatore. Giuseppe died when he was only two, and Zelinda met a tragic end at age seven when she died in a house fire (The sad story of Zelinda Spadoni).