From the Kingdom of the Sicilies

To the Pearl of the Orient Seas

A Family History

by Facundo S. Roco

In the beginning...

The history of the Roco Family begins with an entry in the diary of Juan De Dios Emeterio De Roco, "El Nacimiento de Mis Hermanos".

"1. En 29 de Dicie. de 1791 entre 7 y 8 de la noche nacio mi Padre, Dn. TOMAS MANUEL DE ROCO y en 1.o de Enero de 1792, fue bautisado en la Yglesia Parroquial de Cabite por su cura Parroco, Dn. Greg.o de la Pena siendo su padrino D. Antonio Canelose. En el ano de 1800 fue confirmado por el Yllino. Don Arzobispo Dn. Bacilio Sancho de Sta. Justa y Rufina y padrino Dn. Franco. [Francisco?] Cresini.

(Fallecio el 11 de Junio 1857 en Legaspi, Prov. a de Albay de [perbica?])

"1.1 On 29 December 1791, between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m., my Father -- Don TOMAS MANUEL DE ROCO -- was born. He was baptized on the first of January of 1792 at the Parish Church of Cabite by his parish priest, Don Gregorio de la Pena, with Don Antonio Canelose as his godfather. Tomas Manuel was confirmed in 1800 by His Excellency, the Archbishop Don Basilio Sancho de Sta. Justa, with Don Francisco Cresini as his godfather. Tomas Manuel died on the 11th of June 1857 in Legaspi of the Province of Albay."

It records the fact that on December 29, 1791, Juan de Dios Emeterio's father - Tomas Manuel De Roco -- was born at around 7:00-8:00 p.m. It also records succeeding events in Tomas' early life: baptism on January 1, 1792, at the Parish Church of Cavite (now the ruins of the Church of Porta Vaga in Cavite City); the name of the parish priest, Don Gregorio de la Pena; and even the name of his godfather, Don Antonio Canelose.

It also records for posterity the name of the Archbishop of Manila (Cavite was still part of the Archdiocese of Manila), Don Basilio de Sta. Justa, and his godfather during his confirmation, Don Francisco Cresini.

What it does not record is very interesting. There is no mention of Tomas Manuel's father or mother! This leaves us guessing as to the real identity of his parents, and his brothers and sisters, if there were any. Fortunately, the same manuscript records that Dona Dolores Roco, wife of Don Lorenzo Maroati, was the godmother of Arcenio Maria Roco, younger brother of Juan De Dios. This reveals that, following the normal practice of getting one's close relatives as godparents, Dolores must have been Tomas' sister It also suggests that perhaps Dolores was his only sister!

What is also interesting are the family names of Tomas Manuel's godfathers - Canelose and Cresini - as well as Dolores' husband, Maroati, which are very Italian-sounding names. And this brings us to the question, WHAT WERE THE ROCOS, CANELOSES, CRESINIS AND MAROATIS DOING IN THE FARTHEST COLONY OF THE SPANISH CROWN?

Were they Italian, or Spanish?

What could have possessed these intrepid Europeans to board sailboats and brave both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, travelling halfway across the globe to a land that in all probability they half-doubted existed? What hardships did they have to endure? Did they bring their wives with them? Or did they marry in the colony?

To understand the probable reasons why these men, or families, had migrated to the farthest colony of the Spanish Crown, it is necessary to understand the historical period when their migration occurred -- between 1750-90.

Europe in 1750-90...

Charles III, King of Spain (1716-88), was also King of the Two Sicilies (1734-59) during this period.

"He was the son of Philip V, king of Spain. Charles became duke of Parma in 1731. In that capacity he conquered the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which he ruled as Charles IV. During his rule of Spain, Charles promoted agriculture and commerce, established military academies, strengthened the navy, reformed the fiscal administration, curbed the Inquisition, and expelled the Jesuits. His friendship with France and hostility toward Great Britain led to the alliance in support of the American Revolution."

This tells us that the Sicilies at the period in question was ruled by the Spanish Crown. This explains why the Rocos had moved to the Philippines and not to some Italian colony in Africa - although it does not explain why they chose the Philippines, and not South America. Perhaps they had landed in Mexico and decided to continue west for one reason or another. Or maybe, their ship had rounded the tip of South America, passing between what is now called the Falkland Islands and Argentina. Nobody really knows but obviously, by the late 1780s the Rocos were firmly established first in Cavite, and then later in Manila.

The succession to the throne of Spain by Charles' son, Ferdinand I, in the latter half of the century also sheds light on other probable reasons for the migration of these families. According to MS Encarta 95,

"Ferdinand I (of Two Sicilies) (1751-1825), (was) king of the Two Sicilies (1816-25); (and) as Ferdinand IV, he was also king of Naples (1759-1806, 1815-25), and as Ferdinand III, king of Sicily (1806-15). He was the third son of Charles IV, king of the Two Sicilies, who became Charles III, king of Spain, in 1759. At the same time Ferdinand became king of Naples. He ruled for eight years under the regency of his father's chief minister Bernardo Tanucci. In 1768 he married the daughter of Maria Theresa, empress of Austria, and replaced Tanucci with John Francis Edward Acton, an Englishman.

"Influenced by his wife and by Acton, Ferdinand allied Naples with the coalition opposing France in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The French captured Naples in 1799 and there set up the Parthenopean Republic. Ferdinand found refuge in Palermo, Sicily, until an army under Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo recovered Naples later that year. Ferdinand's return was marked by mass executions of Neapolitans who had sided with the French. In 1806 he fled once more to Sicily before the advance of Joseph Bonaparte, who had been made king of Naples by his brother, Napoleon, and who captured Naples soon thereafter. Ferdinand's authority was limited to Sicily from 1806 until 1815; his reign was unpopular, and for a time (1812) his son acted for him as regent. Ferdinand returned to Naples after Napoleon's overthrow in 1815. The following year, against the will of most of his subjects, he reconstituted the kingdom of the Two Sicilies along autocratic lines with the aid of Austria. He was succeeded by his son, Francis I."

As this article tells us, the entire period was a tumultuous one for Europe and Spain, wracked as it was by the Napoleonic Wars, and by the Seven Year War, and beset by the Inquisition during which hundreds of thousands were put to death for suspicion of heresy. It was not until 1763 that the Seven Year War pitting Great Britain against France and Spain was ended by the Treaty of Paris.

It was also during this period that the French Enlightenment swept the continent, with great figures like Voltaire sparking revolutions in thought and politics, and the philosopher Rene Descartes postulating his epochal thesis, "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think therefore I am). Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (1729-96) was also busy expanding Modern Russia (at the expense of her neighbors), while Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Chevalier de Seingalt, was earning his renown as the world's greatest lover. In Rome, Pope Benedict XIV ruled the Roman Catholic Church with Spain as its vanguard.

In short, Europe in general, and Sicily in particular, during the period in question was not a healthy place to live in, more so, to raise one's family in. By 1797 in fact, the whole place was again at war with Napoleon Bonaparte seizing the Papal States. The Rocos, Cresinis, Maroatis and Caneloses obviously had left just at the right time.

Cavite during the late 18th Century...

Peace in the farthest Spanish colony, Las Islas Filipinas, must have beckoned and tempted the Rocos to uproot themselves from their hometown, obviously in the Calabrian region of present modern Italy, which at that time was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Roccos, obviously the original spelling of their family name, were not an insignificant family in Sicily at that time.

A town called Rocco in fact remains to this day. It is found in the Calabrian Region in southern Italy. This is probably one of the reasons why Luchino Visconti, the great Italian neorealist playwright and director of movies, had immortalized the Roccos in his play, "Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and his Brothers, 1960).

According to family tradition, in fact, the father of Tomas Manuel had three brothers. And his name suggests that they came from the town of Rocco. This is indicated by the history of names in Europe as described in MS Encarta:

"Before the development of last names, or surnames, one personal name was generally sufficient as an identifier. Duplications, however, began to occur so often that additional differentiations became a necessity. Thus, in England, for example, a person living near or at a place where apple trees grew might be called John where-the-apples-grow, hence, John Appleby... In surnames can be detected a desire for immortality; succeeding generations tend to venerate the family name as a symbol of permanence. The maternal grandfather's surname is often used as a child's first name, and women now often retain their maiden names after marriage, or hyphenate maiden and married names. Compound names also occur in some countries where retaining both family names has long been the custom. Thus, in Spain, Juan the son of Manuel Chávez and Juanita Fernández would be named Juan Chávez (y) Fernández."

Since Tomas Manuel was surnamed De Roco, or De Rocco, it is possible that Rocco was a place-name as already discussed, or the name of a clan. Obviously, the Spanish custom of linking both paternal and maternal surnames was not used by Tomas' parents. If they had done so, we would have known his mother's family name at least. And so while the Rocos were Spanish by virtue of the occupation of Sicily, they were really Italian by region and by custom.

Thus we can understand now why they chose the farthest and most peaceful colony of Spain for their new home, and why they immediately localized their names as proven by the dropping even of the prefix De by succeeding generations. They had obviously no wish to return to the strife-torn continental mainland of Europe.

And what did they find after travelling to the distant island called Luzon in Las Islas Filipinas? The following is a description of Manila and Cavite by a Frenchman named Jean Francois Galaup de la Perouse who visited the Philippines in 1787.

"The city of Manilla, with its outskirts, is very considerable; its population is estimated at 38,000 souls, among which there are not more than 1,000 or 1,200 Spaniards; the rest are mulattos, Chinese, or Indians who cultivate all the arts and carry on every species of industry. The poorest of the Spanish families have one or more carriages: two very fine horses cost 30 piasters; the board and wages of a coachman, six piasters a month; thus, there is not any country where the expense of a coach is more necessary and at the same time less weighty. The neighborhood of Manilla is delightful, a beautiful river flows by it, branching into different channels, the two principal of which lead to that famous lagoon, or lake of Bahia (Bay), which is seven leagues within the country, bordered by more than a hundred Indian villages, situated in the midst of a highly fertile territory.

"Manilla, built upon the shore of the bay that bears its name, and which is more than 25 leagues in circumference, lies at the mouth of a river which is navigable as far as the lake from which it derives its source, and is perhaps the most delightfully situated of any city in the world. All the necessaries of life are to be met with there in the greatest abundance, and at an excellent market; but the clothes, manufactures, and furniture of Europe bear excessive prices...

"These different islands are peopled by 3,000,000 inhabitants, and that of Luconia (Luzon) contains nearly a third of them. These people are, in my opinion, not at all inferior to Europeans: they cultivate the land with abundant skill; are carpenters, joiners, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, weavers, masons, etc. I have visited their villages and have found them affable, hospitable, and honest; and though the Spaniards speak of them, and even treat them, with contempt, I have found that the vices which they attribute to the Indians ought in justice to be attributed to the government they have established among them...

"...There is not the smallest particle of liberty there; monks and inquisitors direct the consciences of the people; spies overlook all temporal concerns, and the Governor the most innocent actions."

Perouse also visited Cavite, the second most important city in the colony, and recorded his observations as follows:

"Cavite, three leagues to the southwest of Manila, was formerly a very considerable place, but in the Philippines, as in Europe, the large towns in a great measure drain the little ones; at this time there remains no more than the commandant of the arsenal, a contador, two lieutenants of the port, the commandant of the place, 150 men in the garrison, and the officers attached to this corps.

"All the other inhabitants are mulattos or Indians employed at the arsenal...and with their families, which are very numerous, they form a population of about 4,000 souls, divided between the city and the suburb of Saint Roch (San Roque). There are only two parishes there, and three convents for men, each occupied by two ecclesiastics, although 30 might be conveniently accommodated. The Jesuits formerly possessed a very handsome house here, which the commercial company, lately established by the government, has taken it into its own hands. The whole place seems little else than a heap of ruins; the old stone houses are either abandoned or occupied by Indians who never repair them; and Cavite, the second town of the Philippines, the capital of a province of its own name, is at this time only a paltry village, where there remain no other Spaniards than those of the military establishment and of the administration..."

Based on these accounts, it is probable that the father of Tomas Manuel was the bookkeeper, or officer, of the commercial company mentioned by Perouse as family tradition tells us. Tomas Manuel himself was obviously employed as a bookkeeper as tradition also tells us.

Romance at the end of the rainbow...

The decision of the Rocos to move to the Philippines obviously was correct as borne out by later developments. Tomas Manuel later moved to Manila for studies, and at the age of nineteen had a romantic interlude with an unnamed girl who gave birth to his firstborn son, Jose Norvento. Obviously, as there was no wedding that followed, the romance did not receive parental approval.

Two years later, he would marry a very lovely sixteen year old girl, Maria Guadalupe de los Reyes of Santa Cruz, Manila, and together, they would have fifteen children. Thus ended the odyssey of the Rocos of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, and began the history of the Rocos of the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

Home Return to Table of Contents