Their arrival coincided with the tumultuous period of Reconstruction. Blacks outnumbered whites four to one in the county. Prejudice existed among many white locals against Italians. Their skin was shade darker, they had different customs, and many were Roman Catholics. Mississippi could be a singularly unwelcoming land.
Canton may have been a partial exception. A railroad and lumbering center with a constant flow of outside workers, the town of about 12,000 was more accustomed to strangers than other parts of rural Mississippi. Moreover, Canton was noted for the number of saloons it held, thus bucking the state’s strong Prohibitionist movement. A number of localities already had barred alcohol under local option.
A circa 1890 photograph of seven members of the Trolio family, taken on the porch of a brick house, shows a well-dressed group of young people, seemingly comfortable in their surroundings. The man lounging at left, smoking a cigar, has been identified as Vic Trolio. The image that comes across is a family of some means that, despite being Italian, was fully at home in being in a Mississippi town where many of the values might have been at odds with theirs. Nor were Trolios bereft of Italian neighbors. A number of families had populated the region, including the DeMarchis, Buckarinis, Garbinos, Repettis, and Peveris. In Canton, at least, the Trolio clan had some Old Country allies.
Vic Trolio would have been about 20 years old when family photo was taken and likely already launched on his career as a businessman in Canton. He had been born in 1870 in Tennessee, the son of Pietro and Mary Trolio, both of them Italian immigrants. As a child Vic's large Italian family had moved to Mississippi where Pietro was engaged in the hotel business.
My assumption is that Vic Trolio's first occupation was as a grocer, a career choice for many Italians. A 1904 memoir cites him as the owner of the Canton Grocery Company. By that year the Trolios also operated a three-story hotel with fancy balustrades on the main square in Canton. A key feature of that establishment was the saloon on the ground floor. Trolio is shown here in another languid pose behind the ornate bar of his watering hole. A flyer for his establishment, emphasized “anxious to please.”
Trolio advertised the “best of whiskey,” on that flyer, with special emphasis on “Old Ky Taylor.” That was a brand from Wright & Taylor of Louisville. His saloon also featured signs for “Ashton Whiskey” from Simon Bros. of Louisville and “Murray Hill” from Jos. Magnus of Cincinnati. But most of all Vic sold “Trolio Bourbon.” At 75 cents a quart and $3.00 a gallon, Vic peddled it both in his saloon and from his grocery store. He packaged it in a series of ceramic jugs, a selection of which are shown here.
The jugs, which probably were manufactured by area potteries, indicate a substantial trade in Trolio whiskey. The span included single handled gallon containers, some with simple labels, to more decorative branding. Others had bail handles, designed to allow the buyer more easily to carry the jug home. Bails, subject to rust, frequently pulled away, leaving the rabbit ears found by collectors today. Some were decorated with sponged on cobalt color, others showed one half in salt glaze, the back half in dark albany slip glaze. In all it was an interesting and surprising array of whiskey ceramics that Vic Trolio produced over a relatively short period of time.
In 1894, Vic suffered a tragic loss. That was the year his wife of only a few years, Catarina Repetti Trolio, died, only 25 years old. Perhaps she died in child birth, a common occurrence in those days. The 1900 U.S. Census found Vic, a widower, living on Union Street with his parents, six brothers, one sister and a sister-in-law. One brother, Charles, was listed as a "bar keeper," likely in the Trolio drinking establishment. Vic himself was recorded as "keeping saloon."
In about 1904, Vic, age 34, remarried. His wife was Emma was 16 years younger but like him born in Tennessee of Italian immigrant parentage. They would have at least two children, Emma May, born circa 1905, and Victoria, 1906. The 1910 Census found them living on South Union Street in Canton. Vic gave his occupation as "retail merchant."
In 1907, Mississippi had become the first Southern state to ban alcohol completely, anticipating National Prohibition by 13 years. Vic was forced to shut down his saloon and end liquor sales from his grocery store.
A fire during the winter of 1913 burned the third floor of the Trolio Hotel so badly that he elected not to replace it and managed with the remaining two floors. Today as a two-story hotel it stands restored and is on the National Registry of Historical Buildings.
During the early 1900s, Trolio turned, at least in part, to pecan farming. In a letter to an agricultural publication in 1922, he described the poor pecan crop of the previous year and indicated plans to put out more trees during the current growing season. Trolio died in 1938 as his gravestone indicates. He lies beside other members of the extended Trolio family. At the center of their plot is an obelisk with “Trolio” on the base. The tallest object in the Canton Cemetery, it looks like a giant finger, as if Vic is “giving the bird” to the Mississippians who were responsible for shutting down his saloon. Canton may not have caught the message; townsfolk subsequently named a street after Vic, the Italian immigrant's son who had become one of the town's most prominent businessmen.
Note: The two Trolio photos are from a group of snapshots that are available on the Mississippi Digital History site. Unfortunately only a few identify the individuals involved.