Italian Americans of Long Island: Francis B. Spinola

This is the latest in a new series about important Italian American figures on Long Island.

Francis B. Spinola was the first Italian American to serve as a United States Congressman when he was elected in 1887. A Renaissance man and one of the most influential Italian Americans of his time, he also served as a brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Born in Old Field in Suffolk County, he worked in public office after passing the bar exam and practicing law in Brooklyn. An alderman of the Second Ward in Brooklyn in the 1840s worked his way into a “Special Police” role to help protect New York City. Through these offices, he raised his public profile and later served in the New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, and as the Commissioner of New York Harbor. 

Spinola volunteered for the Army during the Civil War in 1862 and was instrumental in commanding relief efforts across four regiments, known as Spinola’s Empire Brigade. His brigade led Union troops at the Battle of Wapping Heights in Virginia in 1863. 

After his service in the war, he was again elected to the New York State Assembly and was elected to Congress in 1887 until his untimely death from pneumonia in 1891. He is interred at Green-Wood Cemetary in Brooklyn.

RELATED: Read about the first Italian to immigrate to the United States

Chris R. Vaccaro is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Italian American Heritage Society of Long Island. He is a media executive, professor, historian, and author from Long Island. If you have a suggestion on who we should profile next, email [email protected].