Update 23 March 2013: Surnames Abbatemarco through Caruso have been updated with additional information and corrections.
Monte San Giacomo is situated on the slopes of Monte Cervati on the eastern side of the Valle di Diano, which occupies the southern most part of Campania. The neighboring communes are Sassano and Teggiano; Monte San Giacomo is also adjacent to the Parco Nazionale Cilento, a wild mountinous peninsula seperating the Valle di Diano from the Gulf of Salerno.
The earliest evidence of human occupation in the Valle di Diano dates to as far back as 50,000BP. During the first millennium BC the area was inhabited by the Lucani tribe. It was well developed with irrigation works, villae and farms during the Roman era. The Sosiani, a Roman senatorial family, owned property in the vicinity, and it is believed that this is how the neighboring town of Sassano got its name.
The region was devestated from AD 500 to 1000 as sucesive waves of Goths, Lombards, Franks, and Arabs swept through. Political and economic conditions stabilized with the arrival of the Normans around 1030, and it was around this time that Monte San Giacomo was founded. It was named for St. James the Greater, and a church dedicated to him was built next to a natural sping.
Monte San Giacomo reached its greatest prosperity during the sixteenth century. Agriculture was mainstay of the economy. The San Giacomese grew cereals and olives and raised sheep. The civil records indicate that even into the early twentieth century, the vast majority of San Giacomese made their living off the land. Most were contadini, or peasant farmers. Also prevalent were pastore(shepherds), and a handful were possidente(land owners).
A severe earthquake in 1857 wreaked havoc in the region, damaging irrigation canals in the valley and destroying the nearby towns of Padula and Sala. It was not long after the earthquake, and perhaps partly because of it, that large scale migration to the New World began. Brazil was an early destination of choice for the emigrants, many of whom settled in the burgeoning city of Sao Paolo and found work in the surrounding coffee plantations. In the early twentieth century, however, a decline in the coffee industry, and changes to Brazilian immigration policy made that country a less desirable destination. Indeed, in the first years of that century we find San Giacomese migrating from Brazil directly to the US, often with Brazilian-born children in tow.
The first San Giacomese that I have been able to identify arrived in the US in 1875. Emigration to the US seems to have been heaviest from about 1887-1892 and from 1900-1911. It was not uncommon to find groups of more than two dozen San Giacomese on a single transatlantic voyage to New York. Most settled in and around Hoboken, NJ, while a smaller group settled in Brooklyn. Interestingly, relatively few San Giacomese settled in Manhattan itself. The impact of emigration on Monte San Giacomo is dramatically reflected in population statistics: in 1881, Monte San Giacomo had 2,936 inhabitants, but by 1911 the population had fallen to 1,914. Not all San Giacomese stayed in the New World. Some, having made their fortunes, or having given up trying, eventually returned to their native town. Others made the transatlantic journey mutiple times, returning to Monte San Giacomo every few years to marry, visit family, or "take care of affairs".
Today, Monte San Giacomo is a comune of Salerno province. In 2001, the population stood at 1,675.