Biography of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Revolutionary Hero Who United Italy

Engraved portrait of Giuseppe Garibaldi

Wikimedia Commons

Giuseppe Garibaldi (July 4, 1807–June 2, 1882) was a military leader who led a movement that united Italy in the mid-1800s. He stood in opposition to the oppression of the Italian people, and his revolutionary instincts inspired people on both sides of the Atlantic.

Fast Facts: Giuseppi Garibaldi

  • Known For: Unifying northern and southern Italy
  • Born: July 4, 1807 in Nice, France
  • Parents: Giovanni Domenico Garibaldi and Maria Rosa Nicoletta Raimondo
  • Died: June 2, 1882 in Caprera, Kingdom of Italy
  • Published Works: Autobiography
  • Spouse(s): Francesca Armosino (m. 1880–1882), Giuseppina Raimondi (m. 1860–1860), Ana Ribeiro da Silva (Anita) Garibaldi (m. 1842–1849)
  • Children: by Anita: Menotti (b. 1840), Rosita (b. 1843), Teresita (b. 1845) and Ricciotti (b. 1847); by Francesca: Clélia Garibaldi (1867); Rosa Garibaldi (1869) and Manlio Garibaldi (1873)

He lived an adventurous life, which included stints as a fisherman, sailor, and soldier. His activities led him into exile, which meant living for a time in South America and even, at one point, in New York.

Early Life

Giuseppe Garibaldi was born in Nice on July 4, 1807, to Giovanni Domenico Garibaldi and his wife Maria Rosa Nicoletta Raimondo. His father was a fisherman and also piloted trading vessels along the Mediterranean coast.

When Garibaldi was a child, Nice, which had been ruled by Napoleonic France, came under the control of the Italian kingdom of Piedmont Sardinia. It's likely that Garibaldi's great desire to unite Italy was rooted in his childhood experience of essentially seeing the nationality of his hometown being changed.

Resisting his mother's wish that he join the priesthood, Garibaldi went to sea at the age of 15.

From Sea Captain to Rebel and Fugitive

Garibaldi was certified as a sea captain by the age of 25, and in the early 1830s he became involved in the "Young Italy" movement led by Giuseppe Mazzini. The party was devoted to the liberation and unification of Italy, large parts of which were then ruled by Austria or the Papacy.

A plot to overthrow the Piedmontese government failed and Garibaldi, who was involved, was forced to flee. The government sentenced him to death in absentia. Unable to return to Italy, he sailed to South America.

Guerrilla Fighter and Rebel in South America

For more than a dozen years Garibaldi lived in exile, making a living at first as a sailor and a trader. He was drawn to rebel movements in South America and fought in Brazil and Uruguay.

Garibaldi led forces that were victorious over the Uruguayan dictator, and he was credited with ensuring the liberation of Uruguay. Exhibiting a keen sense of the dramatic, Garibaldi adopted the red shirts worn by South American gauchos as a personal trademark. In later years, his billowing red shirts would be a prominent part of his public image.

In 1842, he met and married a Brazilian freedom fighter, Ana Maria de Jesus Ribeiro da Silva, known as Anita. They would have four children, Menotti (b. 1840), Rosita (b. 1843), Teresita (b. 1845), and Ricciotti (b. 1847).

Return to Italy

While Garibaldi was in South America he stayed in touch with his revolutionary colleague Mazzini, who was living in exile in London. Mazzini continually promoted Garibaldi, seeing him as a rallying point for Italian nationalists.

As revolutions broke out in Europe in 1848, Garibaldi returned from South America. He landed in Nice, along with his "Italian Legion," which consisted of about 60 loyal fighters. As war and rebellions broke roiled Italy, Garibaldi commanded troops in Milan before having to flee to Switzerland.

Hailed as an Italian Military Hero

Garibaldi intended to go to Sicily and join a rebellion there, but he was instead drawn into a conflict at Rome. In 1849 Garibaldi, taking the side of a newly formed revolutionary government, led Italian forces battling French troops who were loyal to the pope. After addressing the Roman assembly following a brutal battle, while still carrying a bloody sword, Garibaldi was encouraged to flee the city.

Garibaldi's South American-born wife Anita, who had fought alongside him, died during the perilous retreat from Rome. Garibaldi himself escaped to Tuscany and eventually to Nice.

Exiled to Staten Island

The authorities in Nice forced him back into exile, and he crossed the Atlantic yet again. For a time he lived quietly in Staten Island, a borough of New York City, as a guest of Italian-American inventor Antonio Meucci.

In the early 1850s, Garibaldi also returned to seafaring, at one point serving as captain of a ship that sailed to the Pacific and back.

Return to Italy

In the mid-1850s Garibaldi visited Mazzini in London and was eventually allowed to return to Italy. He was able to obtain funds to buy an estate on a small island off the coast of Sardinia and devoted himself to farming.

Never far from his mind, of course, was a political movement to unify Italy. This movement was popularly known as the risorgimento, literally "the resurrection" in Italian. Garibaldi was married for a few days in January 1860, to a woman named Giuseppina Raimondi, who it turned out was pregnant with another man's child. It was a scandal that was quickly hushed up.

The 'Thousand Red Shirts'

Political upheaval again led Garibaldi into battle. In May 1860 he landed in Sicily with his followers, who came to be known as the "Thousand Red Shirts." Garibaldi defeated the Neapolitan troops, essentially conquering the island, and then crossed the Strait of Messina to the Italian mainland.

After matching northward, Garibaldi reached Naples and made a triumphant entry into the undefended city on September 7, 1860. He declared himself dictator. Seeking a peaceful unification of Italy, Garibaldi turned over his southern conquests to the Piedmontese king and returned to his island farm.

Legacy and Death

The eventual unification of Italy took more than a decade. Garibaldi made several attempts to seize Rome in the 1860s, but was captured three times and sent back to his farm. In the Franco-Prussian War, Garibaldi, out of sympathy for the newly formed French Republic, briefly fought against the Prussians.

In 1865, he hired Francesca Armosino, a robust young woman from San Damiano d'Asti to help his daughter Teresita who was ill. Francesca and Garibaldi would have three children: Clélia Garibaldi (1867); Rosa Garibaldi (1869) and Manlio Garibaldi (1873). They married in 1880.

As a result of the Franco-Prussian War, the Italian government took control of Rome, and Italy was essentially united. Garibaldi was later voted a pension by the Italian government and was considered a national hero until his death on June 2, 1882.


  • Garibaldi, Guiseppi. "My Life." Tr. Parkin, Stephen. Hesperus Press, 2004.
  • Garibaldi, Guiseppi. "Garibaldi: An Autobiography." Tr. Robson, William. London, Routledge, Warne & Routledge, 1861.
  • Riall, Lucy. "Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero." New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. 
  • Scirocco, Alfonso. "Garibaldi: Citizen of the World." Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007.
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McNamara, Robert. "Biography of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Revolutionary Hero Who United Italy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, McNamara, Robert. (2020, August 26). Biography of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Revolutionary Hero Who United Italy. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "Biography of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Revolutionary Hero Who United Italy." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).