Francesco Coppola

The date on the Foundation honors Francesco Coppola (1851-1912), the patriarch of Coppola family that emigrated from Sicily to America between 1899-1903, and settling in Lawrence, Massachusetts, north of Boston. In 1911, his two oldest sons, Joseph and James, half-brothers from different marriages, took on the cigar manufacturing business that Francesco started in 1903, under the name “Coppola Bros.” (hence, Fratelli Coppola).

The Coppola line traces back to Aci Catena, on the northeast coast of Sicily. To date, the oldest known member of the family is Sebastiano Coppola (b. 1685), who married Maria Buscemi in about 1708. Their great-great grandson (Guiseppe Coppola, 1828-1896) married Guiseppa Strano (1825-) in 1850, and their first son, Francesco Coppola (1851-1912) was Brian’s great-grandfather, who came to America in 1899. Francesco had five younger siblings (one of whom died young, at age 3).

Francesco was in the Italian army from about March 1872 to September 1881. He was Numero di Matricola 3019, in the 52nd Reggimento Military District of Catania Fanteria (infantry), and inducted as a calzoligo (shoemaker). He was 1.6 meters tall, chestnut colored hair, light eyes, small nose, oval chin, a round face and a natural (colorito) complexion. His salary was 90 lire per month, and he was issued a model 1870 shotgun and caseins, a sword, belt, comb, etc. He was charged 2.4 lire for losing his mutande (underwear) on September 11, 1881.

Childbirth is a dangerous activity; child and mother were both at risk. Francesco married his first wife, Grazia Panebianco (1857-1885), in 1881. History does not record whether this is related to the missing underwear. Four years later, Grazia died giving birth to their first child, Guiseppa Coppola (1885-1932).

Francesco remarried immediately, to Santa Strano (1858-1889). Santa died giving birth to their second child, Francesco’s first son, Guiseppe (Joseph) Coppola (1889-1941).

Three years later, Francesco was 40 years old when he married Palma Consentino (1868-1925) in 1892. They would have eight children (one of whom died at less than one year old), including their oldest, James (1894-1979)and their second youngest, Brian’s grandfather, Albert Coppola (1904-1977).

The public story is that Francesco came to America to make his fortune and go back to Sicily to his family. Palma then became concerned about his longer than expected absence, sold their possessions and joined him in the US – much to his surprise. What really happened, however, is that they intentionally came separately (an immigration strategy). Francesco and his son Salvatore left from Mistretta via the port of Naples on the ship Karamaniaand arrived at Ellis Island Oct. 02, 1899. The original ship manifest indicates that Francesco was 48 years old, occupation shoemaker, and visiting his sister Angela. Palma sailed the ship Geraand arrived 3 months later on Jan. 21, 1900 with some of the Consentino family and the Coppola children: Giuseppa, Gaetana, Giuseppe, and Rosa. The last two children, James and Bennie, sailed aboard the Burgundiawith their Aunt, Liboria Virgilio, and some of their cousins.

Francesco Coppola had blond hair and light blue eyes. His children Albert, Victor & Bennie shared these characteristics – and all his sons were bald like him, usually by the age of twenty. Francesco had several occupations over the years. He came to the US as a shoemaker and had, in 1900, a business with his brother-in-law Francesco Consentino. He opened his cigar manufacturing business in 1903. In the 1906 Poll Tax records, Francesco Coppola paid $5 for the privilege of voting. He wasted no time between becoming a citizen and voting. In 1910, Francesco made his son Joseph (Guiseppe) a clerk in the cigar manufacturing business. In 1911 the name was changed to Coppola Bros cigar mfg. (James & Joseph).

Following the Italian tradition, many of Francesco’s children named their first-born sons after their grandfather. So Brian’s father (Albert’s first son) was named, as were a number of the cousins, using the American version of Francesco’s name: Frank.

Dis-identification with the Italian heritage was strong during WW2, thanks to the fascist leader Mussolini siding with Hitler as an enemy to America.  Albert’s would be the last generation to continue the naming tradition, as well as the practice of only marrying within the Italian community.