UPDATE, 23 March 2013: Surname Muro has been updated with additional information and corrections. Please note that as I have been focusing on Atripalda civil records, I have not been able to post many updates for Agropoli surnames lately, however I do have additional information on many families-mostly US migration and census data. Please let me know if there is a specific surname(s) you are interested in, an I will post any updates as soon as possible.
Agropoli is the largest town of the Cilento, a largely rugged and mountainous area occupying the south western part of Salerno province. Agropoli itself sits on the coast, the oldest part of the town is situated in a promontory overlooking the harbor.
Permanent human occupation dates back to the late Bronze Age. Just to the north of Agropoli, Greeks settlers founded the great colony of Poseidonia, or Paestum as it is know today, at the end of the 7th century BC. The inhabitants of Paestum called Agropoli’s promontory Petra, and built a temple to Artemis atop it. Paestum continued to prosper into Roman times, and a new town called Ercula developed along the shore below the promontory.
As the Roman Empire declined, the inhabitants of Paestum were unable to maintain the city’s harbor, which silted up. The city itself was virtually abandoned by 700. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Ercula found that their beach side town was in danger from Vandals and other barbarian marauders, so they retreated to the more easily defended promontory. In the sixth century the area was re-conquered by the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire; the Byzantines fortified the promontory and named their stronghold Akropolis-“High City”.
In 882 Akropolis fell to the Arabs, whom also used it as a military base. The Arabs were in turn driven out by the Princes of Salerno and the town came under the control of the bishopric of Capaccio. By the 15th century the area was part of the Kingdom of Naples, and in 1436 Agropoli was given to the Count of Sanseverino as a fief. By the end of the 15th century, the town’s population stood at about 1,250.
The 16th and 17th centuries were difficult for Agropoli. It was sacked in 1515 by the notorious North African corsair Kurdogali. Further pirate raids occurred periodically over the next 125 years, including 1544 and 1630. The pirates’ main objective was to capture townspeople and hold them for exorbitant ransom. One particularly unfortunate Agropolini, Sallustio Patella, was held captive for 23 years before his ransom of 100 ducats could be raised. Because of Agropoli’s strategic importance, it did receive some assistance- neighboring inland towns helped pay for the maintenance of its walls and sent men to help in its defense. As if pirate raids were not enough, a devastating plague in 1656 killed over one third of the region’s inhabitants.
After passing back and forth through a succession of feudal overlords over the course of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Sanfelice Dukes of Laureana acquired Agropoli in 1660. Agropoli’s situation stabilized somewhat during the 18th century, although by then the population had dwindled to only a few hundred inhabitants. 1806 was a tumultuous year for Agropoli. Napoleon had installed his brother Joseph as king in Naples, while the British supported the exiled Bourbon king. The British and French fought a number of naval battles around the Italian boot, and Agropoli was bombarded by English ships. In the same year, Joseph Bonaparte abolished feudalism, and as a result Agropoli gained a degree of municipal independence that it had not seen in centuries.
Agropoli then began to grow again, from only 500 or so inhabitants in 1800 to 2,038 in 1861 and 3,228 by 1901. Many families from inland villages such as Laureana, Ogliastro, and Torchiara moved into Agropoli during the 19th century. The town soon outgrew the old Byzantine fortifications and spilled out onto the low ground below. There were occasional set backs, however- such as a cholera epidemic in 1866 which took over 120 lives from all age and social groups.
As one would expect from a seaside town, many inhabitants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were mariani (seamen). There were also many farmers-olive oil, wine, vegetables, and fruit were among their products; dry figs were a specialty. Other Agropolesi found work with the railroad, the main line from Naples to Reggio Calabria passed through the town.
Despite its relative prosperity, many of Agropoli’s residents sought greater opportunities in the New World. Agropolini settled in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and New York. We also find Agropolini settling in smaller communities, such as Wilmerding, an industrial suburb of Pittsburgh, and Auburn, NY.
Unlike many other towns in the region, Agropoli continued to grow and prosper in the 20th century, reaching a population of 19,830 by 2001. Today Agropoli is a thriving resort town, with a large marina.
Il Cilento nel Secolo XVII. Francesco Volpe, Napoli, 1991, Edizioni Scientifich Italiane
La Nuova Italia. Francesco Vallardi ed., Milano, 1901
Registri di Stato Civile, 1866-1929. Agropoli
New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957 (On-line database) Ancestry.com Operations inc., 2006