Garibaldi, Anita (c. 1821–1849)

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Garibaldi, Anita (c. 1821–1849)

Hero of Brazil and Italy, possessed of exceptional physical and emotional courage, who actively participated in husband Giuseppe Garibaldi's struggles for liberty and national self-determination in South America and Italy. Name variations: Aninha; Annita Bentos. Pronunciation: Gah-ree-BAL-dee. Born Ana Maria de Jésus Riberio da Silva around 1821, in Morrinhos, Brazil; died at Guiccioli farm, Mandriole, near Ravenna, Italy, on August 4, 1849; daughter of Bento Ribeiro da Silva de Jesus (a peasant) and Maria Antonia; started to learn to read and write a few months before her death; learned to sign her name; married Manoel Duarte di Aguiar, on August 30, 1835; married Giuseppe Garibaldi, on March 26, 1842; children (second marriage): Menotti (b. September 16, 1840); Rosita (b. end of 1841 or, according to other sources, 1843 and died young); Teresita or Teresa Garibaldi (b. November 1844 or 1845); Ricciotti (b. February 24, 1847).

Met Garibaldi at Laguna in southern Brazil (October 1839); fought in naval battle of Imbituba (November 3, 1839); fought in naval battle and involved in evacuation of Laguna (November 15, 1839); retreated through the mountains of Rio Grande do Sul (late fall-winter, 1840–41); with Giuseppe, departed for Montevideo, Uruguay (April 1841); arrived in Montevideo (June 17, 1841); stayed in Montevideo (1842–47); sailed for Italy (January 1848); arrived in Genoa and traveled to Nice (April 1848); left Genoa with Giuseppe Garibaldi and his volunteers for Livorno (October 24, 1848); stayed with her husband at Rieti, near Rome (February–April 1849); traveled from Nice to Rome, arriving during the siege (June 26, 1849); set out on retreat northward from Rome (July 2, 1848).

Giuseppe Garibaldi wrote in his autobiography:

By chance I cast my eyes towards the houses on the Barra—a tolerably high hill on the south side of the entrance to the lagoon [of the town of Laguna, Brazil], where a few simple and picturesque dwellings were visible. Outside one of these, by means of the telescope I usually carried with me when on deck, I espied a young woman, and forthwith gave orders for the boat to be got out, as I wished to go ashore. I landed, and, making for the houses where I expected to find the object of my excursion, I had just given up all hope of seeing her again, when I met an inhabitant of the place, whose acquaintance I had made soon after our arrival.

He invited me to take coffee in his house; we entered, and the first person who met my eyes was the damsel who had attracted me ashore. It was Anita, the mother of my children, who shared my life for better, for worse—the wife whose courage I have so often felt the loss of.

Much of the evidence about the life of Anita Garibaldi is incomplete or equivocal. She was born in the village of Morrinhos, Brazil, to poor peasants from the province of São Paulo. There were several other children, apart from Anita, but the exact number is unclear. Anita's father died when she was still a child, and soon afterwards her mother moved to the town of Laguna. Anita never received a formal education but learned at an early age, like other girls of the town, to be a good equestrian. She was vivacious and strong willed. About the time Anita was 14, a young man who had been courting her, without success, encountered her in a wood while she was walking home. Dismounting from his horse, he attacked and tried to rape her. Anita grabbed his whip, flogged him thoroughly, leaped on his horse, and rode to the nearest police station to file a charge.

Due to Anita's unruliness, her mother was eager to marry her off and pressured her to wed Manoel Duarte di Aguiar, a 25-year-old shoemaker. Anita, still 14, reluctantly agreed, though she expressed her misgivings to her close friend, Maria Fortunata . Although Anita and Duarte were together four years, their marriage produced no children, and, in 1839, the Brazilian army called Duarte into service, since he was a member of the national guard. Legend has it that an unlucky omen had occurred on their wedding day: as Anita walked into the church, she had tripped and lost a satin slipper. Some took this as a sign that she was destined to abandon her husband. Others speculate that the marriage had never been consummated, and that Duarte had been the one to abandon her. Whatever the truth, Duarte was out of the picture when Giuseppe Garibaldi spied her through his telescope.

The Anita who so captivated Giuseppe that he was ready to run off with a married woman was not a conventional beauty. Various sources describe her as having "large and stupendous eyes," freckles, and thick flowing black hair. Giuseppe was a short, handsome, 32-year-old Italian exile and sailor. He had been born in the city of Nice, which at that time was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. In nearby Genoa, he joined the secret nationalist organization Young Italy, founded by Giuseppe Mazzini. The police of the Kingdom of Sardinia discovered Giuseppe Garibaldi's conspiratorial activities and forced him to flee Europe under sentence of death. He arrived in Rio de Janeiro in January 1836. There he made contact with the community of Italian political exiles, who put him in contact with the revolutionaries of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. Rio Grande aspired to complete independence from the autocratic Brazilian empire. Giuseppe took up the cause of Riograndense independence and received the command of a ship.

Soon after his 1839 meeting with Anita, Giuseppe was ordered to raid the Brazilian coast, and Anita insisted on sailing with him. At Imbituba, 20 miles north of Laguna, his fleet of two ships came under attack from three betterarmed Brazilian warships. Giuseppe tried to persuade Anita to go ashore while the fight lasted; she refused. When the battle reached its height, some of the crew lost their nerve and fled below deck, while Anita grabbed a musket and began to fire at the enemy. When the blast of a cannon ball exploded near her, two sailors were killed, but Anita remained unhurt. Giuseppe urged her to seek shelter below deck. For once, she listened. Within moments, she emerged back on deck with several sailors whom she had shamed into returning to the fray. Eventually, the enemy broke off the engagement and sailed away.

On another occasion, Giuseppe found himself on shore when a vastly superior Brazilian fleet attacked his ships. Most of his sailors, believing the struggle hopeless, either refused to return to their ships or hesitated to open fire. But Anita took matters into her own hands and shot the first cannon. This prompted the rest of the men to open up with cannon and small arms fire.

When it proved necessary to evacuate the town of Laguna, Anita took charge of removing supplies from the ships, while her husband directed covering fire against the enemy. The next 18 months were spent fighting inland. Anita was at Giuseppe's side the entire campaign. "She looked upon battles as a pleasure," wrote Giuseppe, "and the hardships of camp life as a pastime."

Despite the fact that she was several months pregnant, it is said that Anita led a munitions train to the front. Suddenly surrounded by Brazilian cavalry near the town of Curitibanos, she urged her fellow soldiers to fight on and not give in to the demands for surrender. Mounting her horse, she then galloped past the Brazilians and seemed on the verge of escaping. But the enemy shot her horse from under her, throwing her to the ground, and she was apprehended. Brought before a vindictive Brazilian commander, Anita denounced him and the Brazilian government. At night, she managed to escape and, after eight harrowing days, was able to rejoin her Giuseppe, or José, as she called him. Months later, in September 1840, Anita gave birth to her son Menotti, born with a scar on his head. Giuseppe believed that this had been caused by Anita's fall from her horse, but medical opinion deems this unlikely. Little Menotti soon had to face even greater dangers. Twelve days after his birth, enemy troops surrounded the farm where Anita was staying. Giuseppe was away at the time. Half naked, Anita seized her baby, leaped on a horse, and, together with some of Giuseppe's men, fled into the woods until the danger had passed.

New and powerful attacks by Caixas, the Brazilians' ablest general, drove Anita, Giuseppe, and the Riograndense forces into the western highlands of the province. The retreating army suffered great hardships. The temperature in the mountains of the western Rio Grande do Sul dropped below freezing at night. Heavy rains and flooded rivers and mountain streams made progress difficult. The band went hungry and were forced to live on small forest animals and berries. Sometimes Anita, sometimes Giuseppe carried Menotti in a large handkerchief tied around the neck to form a large sling, using their body heat and breath to keep him warm. Many died, and Anita was terrified that her son would not survive. Finally the Garibaldi family and the Rio Grande army reached safety in San Gabriel, 400 miles from their starting point.

Aware that he needed a rest and intent on contacting his parents in Italy, Giuseppe obtained leave, and he and Anita traveled to Montevideo, Uruguay, arriving on June 17, 1841. There, they took up residence in a small house shared with other families, and Giuseppe became a teacher of mathematics. Nine months later, the Garibaldis were married in a large Baroque church near their house. Why they married at this time is something of a mystery, although the historian Jasper Ridley suggests that it was because Anita had finally received news of the death of her husband. The truth cannot be established, since Duarte's death certificate has never been found and nothing is known of him after 1839.

Although Giuseppe Garibaldi had no immediate wish to return to the military life, he was soon drawn into the "Great War" of 1839–1851 between the Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas and Uruguay, a war complicated by the defection of a prominent Uruguayan politician to the side of Argentina. The Uruguayan Republic, which had been sympathetic to the Rio Grande revolutionaries, enrolled Giuseppe as a "colonel" in its navy. Later, he formed his famous Italian Legion to defend Montevideo against attack. During the five years that Giuseppe served Uruguay, Anita devoted herself to her growing family. After her arrival in Montevideo, she gave birth to three more children, Rosita in late 1841 (some sources give 1843), Teresa in February 1845, and Ricciotti in February 1847. Despite Giuseppe's rise to the posts of

commander-in-chief of the Uruguayan navy and, for a brief time, head of the army in Montevideo, he survived on the salary of an ordinary soldier. For seven years, his family dwelt in one room, with shared kitchen privileges.

During the war, Anita did not serve, or lend her name, to the efforts of the Montevidean Philanthropical Society, which sought aid for the city's hospitals and money and comforts for the troops. Ridley suggests that this may have been because she was ignored by the upper-class women. Or it may be that, compared to the excitement of campaigning beside her husband, committee work appeared uninteresting. Contemporary accounts maintain that Anita felt a sense of inferiority and resentment toward the women of Uruguay's elite. Anita was known as a firebrand, jealous of their interest in her husband. On more than one occasion, she proffered her husband two pistols, one for him and the other for a suspected rival. She even compelled him to cut off his shoulder-length hair, which, she believed, made him too desirable.

Anita Garibaldi's life and death made her a national heroine in both Brazil and Italy, and a heroine of romance in many other countries of the world.

—Jasper Ridley

While Giuseppe was campaigning in western Uruguay in December 1845, their daughter Rosita died, probably of scarlet fever. Anita took the blow even harder than Giuseppe, who loved little Rosita dearly. Fearing his wife might go mad from grief, he suggested that she come to stay with him in Salto, despite the danger of the journey in wartime.

By the end of 1847, news of nationalist and liberal demonstrations in Italy persuaded Giuseppe to return to his homeland. A wave of revolutionary sentiment had swept across Europe, and many hoped that it might now be possible to throw out the Austrians, who were occupying Venice and Lombardy, and unite the different Italian states into one country. At the beginning of January 1848, Anita Garibaldi agreed to leave for Italy in the company of her children and a number of other wives and children of Italian Legionaries. Giuseppe was to follow. Unhappy at being separated from Rosita's body in the cemetery at Montevideo, Anita placed flowers on the grave the day before departing.

When she arrived at Genoa in April, she was greeted, to her surprise, by cheering crowds, crying out, "Long live Garibaldi! Long live the family of our Garibaldi!" She then made her way to Nice, where Giuseppe's mother lived, and where Giuseppe arrived to a great reception on June 21. Italian newspapers and nationalist propagandists, such as Mazzini, had already made the exploits of the Garibaldis well known in Italy.

Giuseppe's mother, who feared that his and Anita's marriage had been somewhat irregular, urged them to remarry in Nice. This they refused to do, and in September 1848, after Giuseppe's involvement in the vain struggle to drive the Austrians out of northern Italy, they moved to the cottage of an old sailor friend just outside the town. During the months she stayed in Nice, Anita began to learn to read and write.

In October, when Giuseppe elected to go with some volunteers to help the Sicilians against the despotic government of the Bourbon king of Naples, Anita demanded to accompany him. Menotti, eight years old, went to a boarding school in Genoa and the other two children stayed in Nice with friends. On October 24, the Garibaldis, and 72 volunteers, set sail from Genoa. When their ship landed in Leghorn, however, the people there begged Giuseppe to take command of the revolutionary Tuscan army. Subsequently, he decided to lead his volunteers in an expedition to Venice, which was holding out against an Austrian siege. Anita was persuaded to return to Nice. A difficult march through the Apennine mountains followed. Events in Rome, where revolutionaries had overthrown papal authority, caused Giuseppe to change his plans once again. Now he marched southward to assist the Romans. At Rieti, northeast of Rome, Anita met up with him, and stayed with him from the end of February until the beginning of April 1849. At Rieti, they decided to have their fifth child. When the new republican government in Rome, dominated by Mazzini, called Giuseppe's force to assist in the defense of the city, Anita again wished to join him. Giuseppe finally persuaded her, however, to return to Nice and care for their children.

On June 26, toward the end of the fierce campaign of the French army to wrest Rome away from the control of the Italian republicans and return it to the pope, Anita arrived at Giuseppe's headquarters unexpectedly. A few minutes after she had appeared, a cannon ball hit the building, blasting a hole in the roof and bringing down the ceiling plaster in the room where she and her husband were talking. The event did not disturb Anita who, as always, remained cool under fire. Giuseppe barely convinced her to stay away from the battle lines.

On July 2, the Roman Assembly decided to capitulate to the French, who had seized the western walls of Rome after a gallant fight by the outnumbered and outgunned troops of Giuseppe Garibaldi. That day, at 5 pm, Giuseppe addressed the remnants of the army in St. Peter's Square, with Anita on horseback by his side. "This is what I have to offer to you who wish to follow me," said Giuseppe: "hunger, cold, the heat of the sun; no wages, no barracks, no ammunition; but continual skirmishes, forced marches and bayonet-fights. Those of you who love your country and love glory, follow me!" Nearly 5,000 men, and Anita Garibaldi, would follow. Just before departing, she hurried from St. Peter's Square to change into men's clothing and have her hair cut short.

At Monte Rotondo, northeast of Rome, the Garibaldis stopped to rest, requisitioning supplies from the local inhabitants and paying for it with the paper money of the Roman Republic. Giuseppe sent Anita and a Swiss volunteer to obtain rations from a monastery outside the town. The Swiss volunteer recorded in his diary that the monks seemed to be terrified of Anita and produced the food and wine which were required. As the army swung north, the Garibaldis rode in front, the unarmed Anita wearing a green uniform with a broad-brimmed, plumed Calabrian hat. As French, Austrian, Spanish, and Neapolitan armies closed in on Garibaldi's band, the situation became more and more hopeless and desertions increased. Anita, however, remained cheerful. She inspired the men by her example, chatting with them on the march, and made a tent during the hours of rest. They responded toward her with many acts of kindness. If, on the other hand, any soldiers showed signs of weakness or grumbled, she subjected them to a good tongue lashing.

On July 17, the contingent crossed into Tuscany, where Giuseppe was welcomed at the town of Cetona. For the first time since the march began, he and his troops slept in houses. Anita bought and put on a woman's dress, now that her pregnancy was more advanced. On July 30, tired, hungry, and ever more closely followed by their enemies, Giuseppe's troops, now reduced to a force of 1,800, arrived at the border of the tiny Republic of San Marino, in northcentral Italy. While Giuseppe was negotiating to secure temporary sanctuary in the republic, an Austrian army came upon his forces and attacked. Most of the Garibaldean rear-guard panicked and fled, despite Anita's efforts to stop them.

In San Marino, the Garibaldis found a temporary haven, since the Austrians respected the international boundary. Giuseppe dissolved his army, leaving each man free to determine his own fate. On the evening of July 31, he decided to try to escape through the Austrian lines and make his way to Venice, which was still holding out against the Austrians. He, as well as the women of the town, urged Anita to stay in San Marino. After months of excellent health, she had developed a fever, perhaps malaria. But Anita insisted on staying with her husband. Her "noble heart was indignant at all my warnings," wrote Giuseppe, "and reduced me to silence with the words 'You want to leave me.'"

The Garibaldis, together with 200 followers, set out at midnight, after persuading a porter to secretly let them out through the town gates. They passed unnoticed through the Austrian lines and finally reached Cesenatico on the Adriatic coast, about 20 miles south of Ravenna. Here Giuseppe commandeered 13 small ships to transport his men to Venice. After they had hurriedly embarked, they discovered how short they were of drinking water. As Anita's fever became worse, she repeatedly asked for water.

The tiny expedition sailed north all day and night on August 2, passing Ravenna and arriving in the neighborhood of the swamps around Lake Comacchio, some 50 miles from Venice. Assisted by the light of a full moon, an Austrian naval patrol spotted the Garibaldi flotilla and succeeded in capturing 10 of the 13 boats, but the craft conveying the Garibaldis made it safely to the beach. Anita was too ill to climb out, however, and Giuseppe had to carry her ashore. He then ordered the 30 men who had reached safety to make their escape as best they could; he and one other companion, a Lieutenant Leggiero, would remain with his wife. With Anita in his arms, Giuseppe headed for a field, where they lay and rested, concealed by the corn. But Anita was delirious from fever and, though she spoke of her children, was becoming increasingly incoherent. Fortunately, Giacomo Bonnet, a local landowner and friend of Giuseppe, now found the little group and led them to a farm, with Giuseppe carrying Anita another two miles across the fields. There, they laid her on a bed and at last provided her with food and drink, but she could swallow only a little water and soup.

Initially, it was decided that Anita should be left in the care of a doctor, while Giuseppe tried to make his escape, since capture by the Austrians or the papal authorities meant certain death. But Anita clung to her husband, whispering, "You want to leave me," and Giuseppe could not bring himself to abandon her. On the afternoon of August 4, transported in a cart and resting on a mattress, Anita was brought to a large, isolated farmhouse owned by the Marquis Guiccioli, a farm managed by men sympathetic to Giuseppe. When a doctor arrived, Giuseppe pleaded with him to save her. Advised to quickly get her to bed, Giuseppe and the other men took hold of the mattress, carried her into the farmhouse, and up to a bedroom on the second floor. As they put her down on the bed, they realized that Anita Garibaldi had died while being conveyed up the stairs.


Garibaldi, Giuseppe. Autobiography. Vols. I and II. Translated by A. Werner. London: Walter Smith and Innes, 1889.

Hibbert, Christopher. Garibaldi and his Enemies. London: Longmans, 1965.

Ridley, Jasper. Garibaldi. London: Constable, 1974.

Viotti, Andrea. Garibaldi: The Revolutionary and his Men. Poole, Dorset: Blandford, 1979.

suggested reading:

Bryant, Dorothy. Anita, Anita: Garibaldi of the New World. Ata Books, 1993.

Gerson, Brasil. Garibaldi e Anita, Guerrilheiros do Liberalismo. São Paulo: José Bushatsky, 1971.

Sergio, Lisa. I Am My Beloved: The Life of Anita Garibaldi. NY: Weybright and Talley, 1969 (a semi-fictionalized account).

Valente, Valentim. Anita Garibaldi, Heroína por Amor. São Paulo: Soma. 1984.

related media:

1860, Italian historical film, directed by Alessandro Blasetti, 1934.

Anita Garibaldi, Italian film, starring Anna Magnani and Raf Vallone, directed by Goffredo Alessandrini and Francesco Rosi, 1954.

Richard Bach Jensen , Assistant Professor of History at Louisiana Scholars' College, Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, Louisiana