Friday, June 1, 2012

Vic Trolio: An Italian Saloonkeeper in Mississippi

According to historical accounts, only about 100 individuals of Italian ancestry were living in Mississippi when the Civil War broke out in 1861.  Most of those had gravitated from New Orleans to river towns like Natchez and Vicksburg.   As the war progress, some moved inland to escape the fighting, including Canton, Madison County, Mississippi, where the Trolio family found a home.

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.











9 comments:

  1. I have one of these Gallon jugs simuliar to the top one pictured

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  2. Mr. Sullivan,
    I would like to bring to your attention the fact that your blog about my great-grandfather contains many errors about the life and history of Vic Trolio. As the great-granddaughter of Vic Trolio, I, and the many other members of my family, are the “evidence” of Vic Trolio marrying again and having surviving children. He is also not featured in the photo of the seven members of the family. In the future, before you write about someone or something, I would suggest that you not make speculations and assumptions about your subject. Thorough research would have yielded the correct facts about my family. Should you want to contact me or my mother, we would be happy to help with correcting your blog. - Vicki

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    1. Dear Ms. Moorehead: You indeed were right about the number of errors that were included in the first version of this post. I have gone back and corrected a number of them by using the U.S. Census data available. Any further advice or help you can give me would be most appreciated. I am sorry it has taken this long to respond but my earlier attempts to reach you by email were not successful.

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  3. Was there a Victoria Trolio who was an Artist of Alison wells art community? Paul Edelstein 901-496-8122

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  4. Dear Mr. Edelstein: Thanks for your inquiry. A Victoria Trolio was a daughter of Vic Trolio. She was born in 1907 in Mississippi. As to her activities, I have nothing. Unfortunately my contact with a family member, above, has been lost. Suggest you try to find Ms. Moorehead, who likely could answer your inquiry.

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  5. Hello : I am writing a book about the emigration from Cariseto,Piacenza, Italy where the Troglios (Trolio) originated. I am interested in getting in touch with possible descendants,if any.
    Also interested in buying a whiskey mug!
    email . ernesto.milani@gmail.com

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  6. Dear Grizzly Bear: Thanks for being in touch and best wishes on your writing project. As you can see above, I had been in touch with a Victoria Moorehead, a self-described great grand-daughter of Vic Trolio. Unfortunately, as also noted above, I have lost her email address - an earlier computer crashed. She may see this and be in touch with you. I sold my only Trolio jug years ago and have no mug. But feel free to take any of the photos or material from my post on Trolio, with attribution to the original sources.

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  7. I have a query: My mother being from Koscziuscko, I spent many summers in Attala county. In the early 1970's, while visiting relatives in McAdams, we went to see another cousin living near Canton. On the way south, we passed by - on the left hand side headed south - a white-columned, ante-bellum style house, at least two stories, possibly three, with, as I remember it, a rusted metal roof, which was described to me as the "Victrolio House." It took me decades to figure out that it was the Vic Trolio House, and I've always wondered exactly where it was, and what became of it. I did take a picture of it, but I'm still trying to lay hands on it in our vast collection of photographs. I was about twelve at the time. Can you shed any light on this obscure memory?

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  8. Dear Authoressaurus: A wonderful memory. I do not have a clue to the Trolio house but he had wealth enough to build a fine residence in town. Note the fine cemetery monument. If you find the photo of the house and can send it electronically I would be happy to have it.

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