Immigration from Italy to the United States was only a trickle before the 1880’s. The British colonies contained small pockets of Italians, who brought Italian horticulture and winemaking to North America as early as the seventeenth century. During the late eighteenth century Revolutionary War era and in the early days of the independent American republic, political philosopher Filippo Mazzei was probably the most prominent Italian in the United States. He was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson and had a plantation near Jefferson’s Virginia home. The two men conversed in Italian, and Mazzei is believed to have given Jefferson the phrase “that all Men are created equal,” which Jefferson famously rendered “all Men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence.
Later Italian immigrants were important in the development of the early wine industry in California. During the nineteenth century, Italian artists and musicians made significant contributions to art, architecture, and music, especially opera.However, their numbers were small until late in the century.