Origins of the Forte Family

The Fortes establish themselves in Mortale in the late 18th Century

There are many theories regarding the origins of the Forte Family.  Some trace our ancestors back to Spain, some to Portugal and others to more exotic areas of the globe.  There are some who say that we are linked to Spanish royalty, and others who are convinced that our roots lie close to the Kings of Naples many centuries ago.

I have my doubts regarding the authenticity of such claims and, following recent research, I also now doubt the story which has been told to me on several occasions by several different people.  It seems to be the story most often passed down the generations and one upon which people lay most credence, however it is not true.

In about 1770, it is said that the family of Crescenzo Forte and Catarina Macari arrived from Arpino with their three boys and two girls and settled in the small hamlet of Mortale near Casalattico.  After examining the church census records of the early 1700s, I now know that this is not true as both Crescenzo and Catarina were listed as living in Mortale in 1756.  Moreover, Crescenzo Forte was born in Mortale in 1714 and his father, Tommaso Forte was also in Mortale along with other Fortes as early as the late 1600s.   The following part of the story, however, is true and I have seen documentary evidence to prove this.

Only two of their children, Teresa Madonna and Andrea Onorio married; Teresa married someone called Salvatore Morelli and Andrea married Angela Marsella.  It is therefore from Andrea's line that the great majority of the Forte family are descended.  Andrea and Angela had three boys and five girls, but it was their son Marco Antonio, born in September 1776, who stayed in the building known as Il Portone.  The others settled elsewhere in the village building small houses and it is from  this point that the Forte family became well established as land and property owners in Mortale and the surrounding mountains.

Il Portone appears at first to be just another house
tucked away in a corner of the small piazza in the
centre of Mortale. The piazza is right at the heart of
the village and it is where the Church of St Anthony
is found.  But Il Portone is in fact a deceptively large
property containing many 'hidden' rooms and at one
point contained at least 40 people.  It is often referred
to as the home of 'la famiglia di quaranta' and,
considering that many would still be living in huts at the
time, it must have been quite an imposing building, with 
its decorative iron fanlight above a large stone porch and a pigeon loft on the roof, which you can see in the picture above.  Carrier pigeons were used to communicate with outsiders, including the likes of the King of Naples regarding the supply of horses.

Families grew and the Fortes spread their wings around the village.  They worked hard and lived well off the land, but there were few luxuries and they lived frugally.  Their houses were modest, traditionally built from local stone quarried from the nearby mountain and they spent most of their time working.  It would be wrong to describe the Fortes as poor, for indeed as landowners they were moderately prosperous.  They caught horses in the mountains, bred and trained them and acquired a contract to supply them to the Neapolitan Army 100 miles away.  They were not thoroughbred horses, but more cart horses for heavy work.  They also developed an innovative way of threshing wheat, linking 12 horses in threes and trotting round a pivot stamping the sheaves of wheat under their hooves.  They had several teams of horses, which they hired out to others in return for grain and they grazed sheep in the local mountains.  The Fortes boasted that they owned more sheep than the King.  Down in the valley, they grew barley, corn and wheat and, up in the mountains, they burned wood to make charcoal.

The Fortes certainly made their mark in the area and were the largest family in Mortale at the time.  They were well respected in the area and there is even a record of Ferdinand II from Naples, King of the Two Sicilies, attending the wedding of a Forte girl around the 1840s.

© 2010 Paul Forte

Il Portone

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