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Attempted Italian colonization of America facts for kids

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French Guiana in its region
Ferdinando I ordered an expedition in order to create a Tuscan settlement on the territory of modern French Guyana

An attempted Italian colonization in America was done in 1608 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando I.


The Italian colonization of the Americas was limited to an aborted attempt by the Grand Duke of Tuscany to create a colony in South America in the early 1600s.

In 1608, Ferdinando the First of Tuscany organized an expedition under captain Robert Thornton, in order to explore northern Brazil and the Amazon river and prepare for the establishment of a settlement in northern coastal South America, which would serve as a base to export Brazilian wood to Renaissance Italy.

Thornton expedition

Ferdinando the First, Grand Duke of Tuscany, oversaw the only Italian attempt to create a colony in the Americas.

In the first years of the 17th century Ferdinando I of Tuscany evaluated the possibility of a colony in Brasil […] Ferdinando gave captain Thornton a galleon and a "tartane" [for an expedition in 1608] […] Thornton sailed for one year: he reached Guyana and Brasil, exploring the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. […]In July 1609 he was back in Leghorn, but in February of that year the Grand Duke died and in Florence nobody [after him] was still thinking about establishing an overseas colony.

When Thornton returned to Tuscany a year later, he found Ferdinando I dead, and his successor Cosimo II uninterested in the establishment of a colony. Thornton was ready to sail back to the area between the rivers Orinoco and Amazon in the summer of 1609 with Italian settlers from Livorno and Lucca, but the project was scrapped.

Thornton's galleon 'Santa Lucia' returned to Italy in 1609 with plenty of information (after exploring the area between Trinidad island and the delta of the Amazon river), some indigenous natives of the Americas and a few tropical parrots.

He brought back with him to Tuscany five Arawak natives, most of whom died of smallpox. Only one lived on at the Medici court for several years, and learned to speak Italian. These natives often talked about the richness and fertility of their native land, speaking of a country rich in silver and gold. Thornton himself corroborated these reports, and asserted that the country was rich in rosewood, wild sugar canes, white pepper, balsam, cotton and many other kinds of merchandise which would form an abundant commerce for the Tuscans.

The area that Thornton considered as a possible site of an Italian colony now lies in modern French Guyana, near Cayenne, which would be colonised by France in 1630.

Modern Italian "colonies"

The Italians never created real colonies in the Americas, and only made territorial colonies in other areas of the world mainly after their political unification in the 19th century.

Many Italians (and similarly Germans) moved to America to live under other flags and created the settlements of emigrants, sometimes called called "colonies". Those settlements where made by groups of Italian emigrants who settled together in the same place and around the same time, founding a settlement that still exists today in many cases.

That was the first Italian settlement of this kind made in Venezuela by Luigi Castelli, who wanted to settle in the late 1830s Italian emigrants from Tuscany in the same area where a few years later German emigrants settled and created the "Colonia Tovar" (unluckily their ship sank in the Mediterranean).

Many of these Italian settlements were created in the second half of the 19th century, mainly in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and the Southern and Southeastern regions of Brazil (Sao Paulo, Paraná, Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul).

In most of those settlements the Italian language (and dialects) is still spoken today: like in "Capitán Pastene" of Chile, in "Chipilo" of Mexico or in "Nova Veneza" of Santa Catarina (where it is spoken the Talian of Brasil).

None of these settlements are related to the Italian colonial empire of the 20th century.

  • Franzina, Emilio. Storia dell'emigrazione italiana. Donzelli Editore. Roma, 2002 ISBN: 88-7989-719-5
  • Ridolfi, R. Pensieri medicei di colonizzare il Brasile, in «Il Veltro» (luglio-agosto 1962). Roma, 1962
  • Sanfilippo, Matteo. Gli Italiani in Brasile. Edizioni Sette Citta'. Viterbo, 2008
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