Giuseppe Barbera

A doctor, a Carbonaro and an exile.


Dr. Giuseppe Barbera, who lived in Alexandria (Egypt), was a gentleman. His wife, Antonietta Mallia, was a gentlewoman.

They had five children: Emilio, Elena, Attilio, Castore and Itala; three servants: Maria, Mohamed and Brigitte, and a close friend: Michelangelo Florio.

At the start of the 19th century this (presumably) happy family was destroyed by Michelangelo Florio, who was the Curator of the Museum of Alexandria (Egypt). Doctor Barbera was an honoured man. His house was at Messina (Italy), where both he and the family were loved by everybody who knew them. Both the rich and the poor were always welcome in the house and in its gardens.

In the year 1845 (1), at the outbreak of the war, Doctor Barbera was forced to flee to Alexandria as he had joined the army of Garibaldi and Cavour (?). The two men were highly honoured for their heroic deeds in their country. Still today, in Naples (Italy), in a beautiful ancient monastery which belongs to the state and is used as a museum, St Martin’s Church, there are documents giving evidence of the heroic deeds of Doctor Barbera and his brother. Doctor Barbera was conferred a parchment signed by the highest authorities in Italy, the document is now in the hands of Doctor Barbera’s son, Attilio, who lives in America. Short after their arrival in Egypt, the Doctor and his family found a beautiful house and were very happy about their new life, in particular the children, who liked their new servants and soon learnt to speak Arabic.

After a short time the Doctor and his family made the acquaintance of Michelangelo Florio and they soon became close friends. His visits and the kindness he showed to the children got him the trust of the Doctor, who did not realise that the man would destroy his family in the future. Michelangelo had fallen in love with the Doctor’s beautiful wife, who never suspected of his intentions as he looked so fond of the children; she was so happy to know they had such a good friend. Antonietta Mallia was very faithful to her husband and her children. Their beautiful house was richly furnished with pieces of ancient Egyptian style. Attilio Barbera, their second son, who went to the United States and got married there, often used to tell his children about the beautiful house they had in Alexandria. He remembered how it was built and that there were gardens in the middle so that the children could play undisturbed, far from dangers. At the end of the war (?), the Italian government set a period of time, after which the Doctor and his family were allowed to move back to Messina. The news was received with great happiness by the Doctor and his family, much to the regret of Michelangelo Florio. So he started to plan a way to keep the family there. After a short time the opportunity arose. One day the Doctor went to his office and Florio was with him. As soon as they got there the Doctor started to feel sick and to complain; Michelangelo suggested that he should lay down and gave him something to relieve the pain, which the Doctor accepted gratefully. Soon he fell asleep and Florio left him there. When his wife went to call him, she found him dead. They called for another doctor, who said it had been a heart attack. Nobody suspected that Michelangelo might have poisoned his best friend. The death of Doctor Giuseppe Barbera was a sensation as he was strong and enjoyed good health. About the fact, Michelangelo Florio reported that he was with him in the office when Barbera had an attack, to relieve the pain he had mixed something himself and, after drinking it, had laid down asking to be left alone. At the beginning nobody suspected of Michelangelo Florio but, after the consultation of various doctors, it was found that he had been poisoned.

He was buried in Alexandria (Egypt).

After the death of the Doctor, Florio used to go more and more often to see the widow and the children, he looked very sad about the loss of his dear friend and showed his solidarity to the family. Some time later he respectfully proposed himself to the widow and was accepted. He got her love and respect only to shatter them. No sooner had they got married than troubles began. Florio behaved as the master the house, giving orders to everybody, ill treating the servants and beating them until they could stand him no more. Mohamed and Brigitte went away, refusing to be treated like slaves. They were sued before the High Court of Justice (?) since he wanted to punish them, but they were released as their former master had died and they could not be compelled to obey the new master. Poor Maria stayed for the sake of her mistress and of the children, whom she loved deeply and who, she knew, needed her. After a short time Mrs Barbera realised her mistake but she could not turn back. Her kind heart did not stand it and she started to suffer from heart attacks, which became so frequent that she died less than three years later. Her friends and neighbours started to suspect of Michelangelo, who was accused of having given her wife a slow-acting poison. Now the poor children could not rely on anybody except for poor, trustworthy Maria. The eldest daughter, Elena, was only eight years old, her brother Emilio was just two years older and the other children were too young to understand the meaning of all that. Early one morning three Officers of the Italian Government reached the house of Michelangelo Florio from Messina and asked for the Doctor’s five children. The wicked stepfather would not let them go, but he was forced to as the officers were entitled to take them. Crying, poor Maria dressed and kissed them; while she was still saying goodbye, they were put into a carriage that was waiting to take them to the ship, far from the happiness they had enjoyed in their childhood.

The ship got under way to Messina, Italy

When they reached Messina, they were received by the Italian Consul (?) who questioned them and discovered that they had an uncle who lived in Italy and was the only relative they could remember. The Consul found the uncle, who was very sorry for what had happened to them and offered to take care of his brother’s children. It was arranged to send the children to their uncle but the poor man died of a heart attack as soon as he got to know how his brother and his wife had died and what had happened in Alexandria. The poor children were left to the mercy of the world. When the Italian Government inquired into the riches left by Doctor Barbera, it was discovered that the stepfather, Michelangelo Florio, had squandered away all the fortune as he had taken possession of the house claiming it was his right. It was decided to send the two daughters to a nunnery, Convento De Royali (?), and the three sons to the Jesuit College dei Cappellani (?) where they went their own ways. Little Elena was told that she could not understand Italian as the children had learnt Arabic. One day a new nun arrived at the convent and she soon found that Elena was a very lively child, she talked to her in Arabic and the little child was very happy to have someone who could understand her. Some time passed until one day a beautiful lady went to the convent, she was dressed in white and there was a maid with her. She was a young English woman who had asked to see the children as she was her mother’s sister and came from England. She had got to know what had happened and had traced down the children. The nuns called the two little girls who were happy to know they had an aunt. The nun who spoke Arabic translated for them.

Their aunt was travelling with her husband, who was a Sea Captain, and they had stopped off at Messina for one day. She stayed with them for a while but then she had to leave. She gave some money and her card (?) to little Elena and kissed them hastily. In their happiness the two little girls lost their aunt’s card, as well as the trace of their only living relative. They did not know that soon they would have to separate. One day a French gentleman and his wife went to visit the convent and, since they had no children, they wanted to adopt a little girl. As soon as they saw little Itala they fell in love with her. She looked like a beautiful doll with her brown eyes and black curls; she was just the girl they would like to have. Itala was so little and Elena was so frightened that she did not want her to leave, they hugged each other so close and she cried at the thought that they would take her away; after many hugs and kisses they separated for ever. Elena was old enough to understand her new condition; she cried for many days and would not eat. The nuns were sorry and tried any way to relieve her sorrow and make her happy. Little Itala was very happy about her new life. She was taken to Paris, France, in her new house where she was brought up in luxury; as soon as she was old enough she had all kinds of teachers. Time passed quickly and before her adoptive parents could realise it, Itala became a good musician, an artist and a linguist and she came out. In the meanwhile Elena was brought up by the nuns who were so fond of her, she was a clever girl and learnt many languages. Just like their parents, the children had a gift for languages. Their brothers too pursued their studies: Emilio became an interpreter at the Court of Appeal in Cairo, Egypt. Attilio had been studying music since he was a little child and was now a successful musician; when he got his degree at the College he chose the clarinet. He was Private Secretary to the Marquis Pellingrani (3) of Messina, Italy. After many years he went to the United States where he played solo even at the Metropolitan Opera House for the great singer Adelina Patti. He knew a beautiful girl of German origin, a nice blonde with dark eyes, and after only six weeks they got married. Attilio could not speak English well and his wife did not understand Italian, but she used to say: “love has its own language”. She was right: they had been married for more than 40 years when he was struck by a heart attack and died in his bed six weeks later. Castore, the youngest brother, was fond of art, studied all kinds of painting and sculpture and became a famous artist in Italy. In one of the churchyards of Messina there are still many of his sculptures. He too went to the United States and soon had a lot of works to do for the rich people who had seen and appreciated his sculptures.

Brothers and sisters had lost trace of their little sister Itala; it’s so strange destiny can play such a great role in the life of the people. Itala was now a beautiful lady of the smart set in Paris. Emilio was an interpreter at the Court of Appeal of Cairo, Egypt, and one day he went to Paris, where he was introduced to a beautiful lady: Itala Puyet. Soon their friendship changed into love, they got engaged and decided to get married. Then, while they where talking, Emilio started to tell about the misfortunes of his family, of how their wicked stepfather had robbed him and his brothers and sisters of the family riches, of how he was trying to get back their estate in Alexandria, Egypt. In the meantime Itala’s adoptive parents remembered the story the nuns had told them when they had adopted her so, after talking about the past, the young woman realised that man was her brother. Itala was heartbroken as he had been her very first love, Emilio too was sorry for the sad mistake; nevertheless, they were happy to have come together after so many years of separation. Later Itala met a Russian gentleman and married him.

They were rewarded with the birth of a nice baby and they were very happy for just a few years as they lost their child at the age of 12. He went to a school with French windows; one day he was playing with some children when he lost his balance, fell to the ground and died. He too was endowed with a gift for languages and music. In the following years the wicked stepfather Michelangelo Florio enjoyed the luxury of the estate he had stolen and took a beautiful Egyptian woman with him. He was so cruel to her that, when she could not stand her wickedness any more, she planned to get away with him. Behind the house a long, winding path led to an old well where she used to walk with him in the cool evenings. One evening, before the walk, she called him kindly and said: “There is something at the bottom of the well, do you want to come with me and see what it is?” He was very happy that she had called him and went with her to see. Leaning over the edge of the well he looked down, quicker than lightning she took a rock and threw it down on his head with all her strength, killing him.

This was the end of the life of the wicked Michelangelo Florio.

Then what was left of Doctor Barbera’s riches became property of the Egyptian Government as all the children had gone away. After getting his degree at the College of Messina Emilio went to Egypt where he lived to the age of 70. Attilio died at 70 in the United States. Castore lived only to the age of 54 and died because of the break of a piece of marble from a statue he was carving for a wealthy lawyer of New York, who had lost his two children because of some children’s disease. It was a marble statue as high as a child of 5/6 years. Elena, who was living with her children at Gioiosa Marea, Sicily, Italy, had lost her husband some years before. Little Itala went to the United States after losing her husband, as well as her children. Her parents had died, too. Exchanging letters with her brother Emilio in Egypt, Itala found out that Attilio was living in the United States and she wrote to tell him that she would soon visit him there. Their meeting was very happy as they had not seen each other since she was a little girl of four. She did not stay long in America as she missed Paris very much, so she went back to France and the family did not know anything more about her. Attilio lived for many years and moved to Virginia after two of his daughters had got married. His daughter Anna married a handsome man coming from the same village in Italy where Elena, Attilio’s sister, lived; the other daughter, Adeline, married the cousin of Anna’s husband. Their names were Antonio Cappadona and Vincenzo Ferlazzo respectively, and they came from Gioiosa Marea, Sicily, Italy. The two daughters celebrated a beautiful wedding at New York, then Anna and Antonio moved to Temaque, Pa.; Vincenzo and Adeline went to Norfolk, Va. The two young husbands had a good job and were both successful in their businesses. Antonio Cappadona ran a big tailor’s shop and Vincenzo Ferlazzo owned an antique shop, he was also a talented musician since he had studied with his father-in-law, the famous Maestro Attilio Barbera. he eldest daughter Itala married a Navy Officer at Norfolk, Va. and Lily, the youngest daughter, married a Navy Officer as well. Attilio Barbera died of a heart attack in September 1923, Itala died in September 1927 of a blood transfusion. Mrs Barbera lived to the age of 89, but she had been blind for her last nine years. She spent her last years with her daughter Adeline and her husband Vincenzo Ferlazzo.

Anna Cappadona lost her beloved husband in February 1919 because of a flu epidemics, and was left alone with her three children: Rosalia, Antonio and Maria, who was still a baby. She moved to Norfolk, Va., where her parents and sisters lived. She bought a nice house and here she could recover her health thanks to the beneficial climate. Her children grew up: the daughters became beautiful women and the sons handsome men. Antonio Cappadona moved to California and married a nice girl, whose name was Margy; they had a nice daughter, called Claudia. Rosalia became a nursery school teacher as she had worked for many years at the old Hospital of St. Vincent, Norfolk. She met a handsome young man, whom she married in June 1939, thus becoming Mrs Herman Voliva. They were very happy and had four daughters. The first two were twins: Liliana and Barbara, who are now young women. Then Valeria and Marylin were born. Maria was Private Secretary to the Army Chaplain at Portsmouth, Va. Naval Yard. She married one of her school mates, Charles Dailey. They were happy with three nice daughters: Anna Maria, who is now a young woman, Angela and Gloria. Anna Cappadona was struck by brain haemorrhage, she was unconscious from March to the fourth of June 1957, then she died. She was buried at Tamsqua, Pa., where her beloved husband had been buried in 1919. Lilly married Arthur Barret, they had a nice baby called Arthur who died of mastoiditis when he was just eighteen months old; many years later they had the happy event of the birth of their second baby, Herbert Barret. He was a young man in his thirties and had a gift for music and art. He was a policeman and was struck by a prisoner, which caused his death in April 1938.

Adelina and Vincenzo Ferlazzo lived happily with their daughter, to whom they gave the name of Vincenzo’s sister, who had died some years before: Margherita Adelina Ferlazzo. Margherita married a handsome young boy so she is now Mrs Post. They have two beautiful daughters: Madeline Patricia Post, aged 16, Dianna Loretta Post, aged 14, and little Eugene Armstead Post, aged 7. This his is all about myself, Adelina Barbera Ferlazzo, writing about our family. I am sorry I forgot to tell about the parents of my dear Mum, Anna Betz.

Ruth and Valentine Betz were from Hessen, Germany, but they grew up in the United States, where they met and got married. The grandfather was a piano maker. They grew their children the German way and spoke to them in German. They had four children, two sons and two daughters: Henry, Charles, Anna and Ruth. Little Ruth was disabled because of a wound to the backbone. When she was a baby, her brother Henry was holding her but he dropped her, she fell backwards and hurt the backbone. When she grew up she had to wear a corset to keep upright; she loved walking with her elder sister Anna, but she soon got tired and could not walk long. She died when she was only six. Also her brother Henry died when he was still a boy, but I don’t know what caused his death, perhaps some children’s disease. Henry joined his father in the piano business. Anna Betz and her husband Attilio Barbera had eight children. Itala was the eldest, then there were Emilio, Anna and Adeline. Little Amelia died of scarlet fever and diphtheria at the age of six; six years later they had another daughter, whom they called Bella. She died before she was one year old. On the day of her christening her godmother, who was a strong woman, held the baby in her arms in the carriage that was to take them to the Catholic Church of Santa Cecilia. When the godfathers took the godmother home, she was worried for the baby. She laid her down in her bed and, on her knees, she started to prey. I, Adelina, was then four years old and when I stepped into the bedroom I felt there was something wrong so I ran to my Mum. She came into the room asking what was happening and the stepmother answered: “Isn’t she a beautiful baby?” The following day the baby was very weak and not lively when her mother bathed her. Then she got weaker and weaker, she would not eat, so Mum called for the Doctor. He said that the baby had been hit on her head. Poor baby, she dragged on for three months, then she died. We all thought that, getting into or out of the carriage, the stepmother might have caused her head to hit against the door. Some years later Mum had two twin sons, who were seven months premature, and lived only for a few days. Two years later Mum had another daughter whom she called Lily Philomena. She is still alive and has a son called Herbert Barbera Barret.

This is all about my family so far.

Signed Adelina Barbera Ferlazzo

The following report about the life of my grandfather Giuseppe Barbera was told me by Eleonora (Elena), my father’s sister, when we met in Italy in the year 1921/1922. My husband’s parents lived in a nice village, Gioiosa Marea, which in English means the happiness of the sea. It was a nice village with the sea on one side, surrounded by high mountains which seemed to reach the sky. Aunt Elena, who was the eldest daughter at the time of her parents’ death, remembered everything and when she told me about the tragedy of her family, she cried bitter tears. I will always remember her, she was an old woman. I was the only one in the family who was happy enough as to go to Italy since my husband’s parents lived in the same village. We went on a beautiful trip and we travelled for three months visiting several towns; then we stopped at Gioiosa Marea at Vincenzo’s parents. Our daughter Margherita was a child at that time but I think she can remember something about that trip: we went to Palermo, Messina, Naples and Rome and visited the Church of Saint Peter, the Catacombs and the Vatican City. The Pope, Pio XI, was ill and did not receive visitors. When we were in Naples we went to Pompei, to Vomero and Posillipo, we took the cableway up the mountains, it was a beautiful trip. We put an Italian coin in a small cut at the top of a rod so that, getting quite close to the crater, we could dip the coin into the lava: it was so hot that the copper coin burnt. As soon as you took the coin out of the lava it turned into a sort of hardened slag taken out of a forge: it was so hot that the copper coin burnt. The ruins of Pompei were very sad to see, there were many bodies that had been hit before they could reach the sea. They looked as if they were made of plaster. The men that were digging at Pompei at that time used some chemical to turn the bodies into plaster.

I went back to America with Margherita while Vincenzo remained at Gioiosa Marea with his father and mother. We left from there and Vincenzo took us to Naples a second time, then to Genoa. The ship stopped at Genoa for two days as some beautiful antique furniture had to be loaded together with other goods. Vincenzo left us in Genoa and, as soon as the ship was ready to start, went back to Gioiosa, where he stayed with his parents until November 1922. I left Italy with Margherita in March 1922. The journey was good almost to the end.

Before leaving Gioiosa Marea we were so happy to go back to America but, on the way back, Margherita got flu and she had a high temperature, so the two doctors on board suggested that she should be taken to a doctor once arrived in America. Two days before our arrival in New York we met a terrible storm and the Captain never left his post for two days and two nights. The ship tossed about and rolled so …………… the storm. My family was so happy to have us back home and we stayed with my father and my mother until Vincenzo arrived in November. We stayed until we found a house to buy.

We bought our new house in March 1923 and we moved in on the eight of March 1923. We are still living in the same house. When my dear Vincenzo died, Margherita asked me to go to live with them, in the same building, but as I was ill I could not go up and down the stairs, so I asked Lester and Margherita to come to live with me. I am so happy they are with me, and the children keep me company. Margherita is a beautiful daughter. Since I fell ill she has been a perfect nurse and she takes care of me. Also Lester and the children are very kind.

This is the end of the story of my family and if the children wanted to go on with it, it would be nice to know what the future has in store for them.

Adelina Barbera Ferlazzo 12 May 1959

Those children have grown up now. Madeline is the eldest, she is 30, she is married to Jack Hahn, who is the treasurer at Highis Ice Cream Company and is 31. They built a beautiful house close to ours. Dianna is 28, she is married to Frederic Capps, 34, a salesman for a furniture factory. They have two children: Michael Darrin and Theresa Marie. Mike is 6, he will be 7 on 22 October 1973; Theresa will be 3 on 6 December 1973. Eugene is 21, he will be 22 on 17 October 1973, he is married and has a daughter, Jennifer, who will be one on 11 June 1973. He studies electronic engineering at Old Dominion University. He is also a good musician and plays the guitar; also the girls play: Madeleine the accordion and Dianna the piano.

Margherita Ferlazzo Post 10 February 1973

I heard my father Manlio tell the story of his great-grandfather Giuseppe Barbera and of the vicissitudes of his five children. One of them was my great-grandmother, Emanuela Barbera. In spring 1999 I found the translation of the story of Adelina Barbera, daughter of Attilio and niece of Giuseppe Barbera.

At first sight it looked like a novel, with many historical mistakes, but with a lot of enthusiasm I am trying to put it in order and shed light on this story.

Giorgio Ferlazzo Ciano

last update: 26 maggio 2014