The Leeber Saga

In an unknown area of Italy, Panfilantonio Leopardi was born in 1791. Marrying Gaetana Paolilli (born in 1792) and settling in Sulmona, Italy, located in the province of Abruzzi, 90 miles east of Rome, Panfilantonio and Gaetana produced three sons: Vincenzo, Francesco, and Biagio. Biagio was probably the third child born February 2, 1831. When he was approximately 30 and still living in Sulmona, Biagio married Angela Maria DiProspero, who was 20 (born February 19, 1841 in Pratola Peligna, Italy, located near Sulmona in the province of Abruzzi). Biagio and Angela Maria produced five sons: Antonio, born February 3, 1862; Pasquale, born February 26, 1867; Pietro, born December 18, 1871; Giacomo, born May 17, 1877; and Donato, born December 18, 1880.

Being the two youngest children of Biagio and Angela Maria, Giacomo, age 17, and Donato, age 14, set sail for America to find work, leaving three brothers in Sulmona – Antonio, Pasquale, and Pietro (Pietro’s son, Michael, later came to America to wed Giacomo’s daughter, Minnie). Arriving in New York in 1894, Giacomo and Donato worked until Giacomo married his wife in 1901, Caterina Rusciano (born in Naples, Italy). Since the coal mines in the southern states were booming in the early 1900’s, the boys left New York after Giacomo’s marriage and settled in a small coal mining town of Thomas, West Virginia, located in Tucker County (county seat is Parsons) in the northern part of the state. Giacomo and Caterina gave birth to their first two children there, Mary (8/22/02) and Minnie (3/12/04), while Donato worked in a grocery store. It is here where the boys changed their last name (no official name change recorded) from Leopardi to Leeber. Two stories have surfaced for reasons of the name change. Some have said that it was due to the persecution of foreigners in the south; others have said that the brothers met German monks who suggested a name change on their way to America.

In 1905 the boys left Thomas and moved to Coalton, West Virginia, approximately 35 miles southwest of Thomas and located in Randolph County (county seat is Elkins). Here is where Donato met his wife, Josephine Tocci, and married December 10, 1905, exactly three months after Giacomo and Caterina’s third child, Julia (9/10/05), was born in Coalton. During the next eight years, Giacomo and Donato continue to live and work in Coalton. In 1906 Donato and Josephine had their first child, Blaise Michael (8/9/06), who died six months later and is buried in St. Vincent’s Cemetery in Kingsville, located a few miles from Coalton. In 1907 each family produced another child – in April Giacomo and Caterina gave birth to their fourth child, Sue (4/21/07), and in December Donato and Josephine gave birth to their second child, Anthony (12/16/07).

In 1909 there was only a month difference in Caterina and Josephine’s pregnancy. In February Caterina gave birth to her fifth child and first boy, James, Jr.(2/16/09), and in March Josephine gave birth to her third child, Blaise William (3/25/09). In June of the next year (1910), Josephine gave birth to her fourth child, Frank (6/4/10). In 1911 both wives were pregnant – Caterina giving birth to her sixth child, Anthony (5/13/11), and Josephine giving birth to her fifth child, Nicholas (8/7/11). The following year (1912), Caterina’s seventh baby, Victor (12/26/12), arrived while Josephine was pregnant for her sixth child, Joseph (2/12/13), who was born two months later (1913). In August of 1914, Angela Mary (8/21/14) was born to Josephine, making her the seventh child and first girl.

A coal mining foreman arrived on the scene from the southern part of the state early 1915. A new mine had opened in McAlpin, West Virginia (near Beckley) and recruitment was underway for workers. Since a woman was needed to operate a boarding house for the miners, Giacomo figured his wife could handle the job. He, his wife, and their seven children left for McAlpin, leaving brother Donato in Coalton where he finally opened his own grocery store and took over a local hotel. In that same year, Caterina gave birth to her eighth child, Elizabeth (10/19/15), born in McAlpin. (See Leeber homeplace in McAlpin)

Still living in Coalton, Donato and Josephine gave birth to their eighth child, Ann (still living), January 16, 1916. A year later in McAlpin, Giacomo and Josephine produced their ninth child May 5, 1917, Louise (still living). 1918 saw a birth in each family – Stella (4/21/18), the ninth child, was born in April to Donato and Josephine while Fury (11/22/18), the tenth child, was born to Giacomo and Caterina in November. It was at this time that Donato and Josephine took in an orphan, Daisy Lingo (born 1908), who would be beneficial to Josephine in the care of her boys and would later be adopted by them. Two years passed before Donato’s tenth child was born April 4, 1920, Patrick, while the following year, Giacomo’s eleventh child was born, Lena (1/25/21). 1922 saw the birth of another child in each family – Arthur (2/12/22), the twelfth child who died at the age of 3, born to Giacomo and Caterina and 6 days later, Victor, Donato and Josephine’s eleventh child who is living and is a priest in Connecticut, was born on February 18, 1922. The following year (1923) Donato and Josephine gave birth to their twelfth and last child November 15, 1923, George (still living), and four years later Giacomo and Caterina had their thirteenth and last child, Eugene (3/3/27).

During the late 1920’s when his son George was a child, Donato, having it hard in Coalton with the operation of his store and hotel, sent his family to Massachusetts to find work while he remained in Coalton, trying to sell his property. Donato, on a trip to Massachusetts to see his family in 1929, became ill and died December 29th at the age of 49. Josephine continued to raise her family and died October 19, 1959 at the age of 76. Donato and Josephine are buried in St. Mary's Cemetery; Needham, Massachusetts.

Giacomo and Caterina continued to live in McAlpin, later buying a home in Beckley where Caterina died December 29, 1945 at the age of 59 and Giacomo died November 8, 1948 at the age of 71. Giacomo and Caterina are buried at Sunset Memorial Park in Beckley, West Virginia.

The only known visits shared by the two families after Giacomo left Coalton in 1915 were: (1) Victor, Giacomo’s son, drove his father to Massachusetts when Donato was ill in 1929, (2) Angela Maria, Donato’s daughter, and her husband, Pat Caruso, honeymooned in West Virginia and visited Giacomo’s family in July 1934. (3) Fury, Giacomo’s son, and his wife Mamie visited Massachusetts when they were married in February 1942, (4) Father Victor Leeber, Donato’s son, visited Mamie when her husband Fury was killed in a car accident in January 1954, (5) Fury’s family visited Massachusetts in August 1996 at a annual Massachusetts Leeber reunion, and (6) Both families united in Beckley, West Virginia at the first worldwide Leeber/Leopardi family reunion in August 1997.

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