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Biographical Outline

Giacomo Costantino Beltrami



The following is a short biographical outline of Beltrami's life, as well as some additional dates which might be contextually important (i.e. the fall of Napoleon). This biography has been culled from a variety of sources, all of which appear in the Main Bibliography. Two of the classic biographies on Beltrami are:

It is important to remember that our only guide for many of these dates is Beltrami's own written record, which further research by scholars has often proven to be somewhat apocryphal in nature. This guide attempts to give alternate versions of the dates when readily available, but some caution is urged in their use.

For more information on these and other pages, see the Main Menu page.


1779 Giacomo Costantino Beltrami born in Bergamo, Italy, 16th of 17 children; parents were Giovan Battista, the Doganiere Generale of the Repubblica Veneta, and Margherita Carozzi. Little is known about his early life, and his baptismal records (and hence, exact birthdate) were incinerated in a fire that destroyed the archives of the Church of S. Eufemia in Bergamo in 1793. Less still is known about his brothers and sisters, though Gabrielle Rosa's work contains some information. He most likely was schooled in literature and other humanist subjects, and almost certainly studied justice.
1797 Beltrami leaves home and becomes a soldier of the Repubblica Cisalpina; is involved in the "revolution of Bergamo" (for an accounting of these events, see either Belotti's Storia (see Main Bibliography), or: Persiani, Lidia Gamba. L'Albero della libertà: la pianura orientale bergamasca durante l'occupazione Napoleonica 1796-1814. Bergamo, 1996, beginning on page 21. [CONS BG 945.24 GAMBPL 1]) In March, Beltrami becomes a Mason. Over the next years, he begins his career in the Napoleonic courts in Italy first as an interpreter, then as a cancelliere (registrar), and later a magistrate (see below).
1801 In Torino; named Ispettore dei Magazzini della Commissione.
1805 Named Sotto-Ispettore degli Equipaggi; and Cancelliere di Giustizia nel Dipartamento del Taro (in Parma).
1806-1807 Vice-Ispettore delle Armate; also does bookkeeping work at this time for the Beretta Enterprise, then contracted to provide rationing for 2 divisions of Napoleon's armies, from which he earns a great deal of money.
18 Mar., 1809 Becomes Giudice della Corte del Dipartamento del Musone (Macerata).
1809-- Befriends Giulia Spada dei Medici (and the Spada family), as well as the Compagnoni family.
1812-- Moves to Florence to recuperate from health problems for a short time; meets Luisa Stolberg d'Albany (Comtessa d'Albany) through whose salon passed the most influential people of the day, including Chateaubriand, Lamartine, Byron, Rusich and Canova. Beltrami is promoted to Consigliere della Corte Reale di Ancona.
1814 Starts his Azienda Agricola Beltrami in Filottrano.
6 Apr., 1814 Fall of Napoleon and his exile to Elba.
Nov., 1814- June, 1815 Congress of Vienna gives Austria control over much of Italy.
Mar., 1815 Napoleon's return.
30 Mar., 1815 A plea for Italian independence, La Proclama agli Italiani, is issued by the King of Naples, Gioccino Muret.
13 Apr., 1815 Awarded Medaglia d'Onore di Napoli by the Istituto da Napoleone, but around this time, Beltrami sees the writing on the wall and resigns his office. He moves permanently to his farm at Filottrano presumably to make the rest of his life as a landholder.
June, 1815 Waterloo and Napoleon's final defeat
26 July, 1815 Le Marche (Filottrano's province) returns to papal domination.
1816 Beltrami falls under suspicion of the papal government for his role in the French administration.
1816-1817 Travels to Campania and visits with the Spada dei Medici family among others; breaks leg in a fall from a horse.
1818 Rise of società segrete (secret societies like I Carbonari and La Società Guelfa) and the subsequent fusing of these societies. The papal state, fearing these often independence-minded movements, cracks down. Beltrami, once a Napoleonic Mason like many of the Carbonari, is accused of various treasonous crimes against the state. He goes into a roaming exile between Rome and Florence, attempting to clear his name; Luisa d'Albany comes to his aid, and her assistance--combined with that of his other influential friends like Giulia Spada dei Medici--turns the tables in his fight.
25 Apr., 1818 Writes to Rome in his defense, and is partially cleared of accusation, but finds himself closely watched in Filottrano.
1818-1821 Works the Azienda in Filottrano, always under supervision and suspicion.
1 Apr., 1820 Giulia Spada dei Medici dies at the early age of 39, leaving behind eight children; extremely distressed, Beltrami assembles a collection of writings in her honor, and contributes to it a eulogy entitled "Una visita al Cimitero di Macerata."
24 Aug., 1821 Becomes member of Accademia dei Catenati di Macerata with the scholarly name 'Alcandro Grineo'
1 Oct., 1821 Beltrami, from a mixture of sadness over Giulia's death, disillusionment over the state of Italian independence, and ongoing persecution by papal officials, goes into voluntary exile and leaves Le Marche, not to return for sixteen years. Begins his travels in Italy, gathering letters of recommendation to the illustrious families of Europe and financial institutions, and then visits a myriad of cities in Europe, including Paris, Strasbourg, Waterloo, Brugges, and by July of 1822, London and Liverpool. Writes his Deux Mots at this time.
3 Nov., 1822

Beltrami departs Liverpool for Philadelphia; trip lasts over two months and is fraught with disaster.

23 Jan., 1823 Arrives Philadelphia. Due to Beltrami's spurious date-keeping, this date is questionable; his actual arrival was probably around Dec. 20th.
26 Jan., 1823 Publishes Deux Mots in Philadelphia. Visits Washington DC, Chester, Baltimore, and then takes a steamboat up the Ohio with the intention of going on to New Orleans. Sees Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Marietta, Cincinnati, and numerous other cities. While on board, meets Major Lawrence Tagliaferro and General Clark, and decides, rather than continuing to New Orleans, to join them in their journey to St. Louis and then further into the north. Beltrami becomes somewhat obsessed around this time with finding the source of the Mississippi river.
6 Apr., 1823 Beltrami leaves with Tagliaferro and Major Long for Fort St. Anthony (Snelling). Upon arrival, they spend several months scouting and mapping the surrounding wilderness, and studying the Native American populations of the area.
7 July, 1823 Begin voyage upriver by land and canoe. Long and Beltrami find themselves at odds with eachother.
4 Aug., 1823 Arrive at Fort Pembina, the northernmost outpost of the US government; on the 9th, Beltrami leaves the fort, separating from Tagliaferro and Long (who head for Hudson Bay), and joins two Chippewa guides and a mestizo to continue his search for the source of the river.
15 Aug., 1823 The guides abandon him; Beltrami decides to continue on. Enlists help from a passing group of Native Americans around the 18th.
28 Aug., 1823 Finds what he believes to be the source of the Mississippi and Red rivers, and names it Giulia after his departed friend; other lakes in the immediate vicinity he names for friends and Giulia's eight children.
30 Aug., 1823 Returns to Fort St. Anthony. Continues down Mississippi.
Dec., 1823 Arrives New Orleans. Stays eight months. End of Jan. 1824, finishes his Découverte at the plantation of the St. James Parish.
17 Feb., 1824 Receives and accepts invitation to address New Orleans Freemasons regarding his voyages.
12 Apr., 1824 Publishes Découverte. Much criticism ensues.
28 Apr., 1824 Departs New Orleans for Tampico, Mexico. Visits Aguascalientes, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Alvarado, San Luis Potosi and many others. Finds during this time the Evangelarium Aztecum, and makes copious observations of numerous aspects of Mexico, including flora and fauna, geology and politics.
May 1825 Returns to New Orleans; finds his book has engendered a harsh debate and has been largely dismissed as fantastical.
July 1825

Goes to Philadelphia in an attempt to recover copies of Découverte kept from sale in the cellar of a bar, and to find an audience for his work. Finds that Major Long's account of the journey--in Beltrami's mind due to the unavailability of his own book--has superseded Beltrami's account of the journey. Further complicating matters at this time is the Catholic church's official condemnation of Beltrami and his findings as being marginally heretical.

4 Nov., 1825 Witnesses the opening of the Grand Canal in New York and attends associated festivities.
Dec., 1825 Publishes "To The Public of New York, and the United States...," a defense of his work, discovery and person.
Feb.-Aug., 1826 Visits Haiti and Santa Domingo; possibly also Niagara and parts of Canada.
Oct., 1826 Returns to Europe; first settles in London.
Dec., 1827 Finishes (and publishes in early 1828) Pilgrimage, a two-volume English translation of Découverte and Deux Mots with an addended two chapters and some expanded material.
9 Dec., 1828 Nominated member of "Societas Medico-Botanica Londinensis on the virtue of his botanical work in Mexico. Begins work on Le Mexique.
June, 1829 Nominated member of Société Géographie di Paris.
Mid 1829 Moves to Paris; revives friendships with elite members of society, including Lafayette, Lafitte, Chateuabriand, as well as the editor of the Revue Encyclopedique, Jullien.
Early 1830 Publishes Le Mexique which is immediately censored in Austria and Italy by the Austrian and Papal governments, still antagonistic towards Beltrami. The copies Beltrami donated to Angelo Mai receive special dispensation to be retained.
Summer, 1830 Visits the Pyrenees and parts of France on "scientific survey."
Mar., 1831 Returns to Paris; once again attempts to defend his name and reputation.
30 Mar., 1832 Nominated member of the Ateneo di Bergamo.
16 July, 1832 Nominated member of Société Géologique de France.
21 Mar., 1833 Nominated member of Société Universelle de Civilization.
9 June, 1834 Nominated member of Société dell'Institut Historique de France.
June, 1834 Publishes L'Italie et L'Europe and its Italian-language equivalent, L'Italia ossia scoperte..., (originally intended as a much larger work which was never realized) in which Beltrami expresses his disappointment over the course of his homeland, and the continuing lack of independence of the Italian state.
Sept., 1834 Leaves Paris for good; represents the Société dell'Institut Historique de France at the "Congress of Stoccard" (Stuttgart, Germany, September, 1824), a gathering of naturalists and doctors.
1834 Moves to a villa at Heidelberg, Germany. Befriends famous German jurist Josef Anton Mittermaier.
1837-1849 Returns finally to his Azienda at Filottrano; finds his critics still active, and requests that the Pope allow his Mexique to be published; request is denied. Gives up his battle and confines himself to working on his house and garden.
1849 Returns briefly to Heidelberg to sell his villa, and then immediately back to Filottrano, where he lives his final years styled as a Franciscan Monk, "Fra Giacomo."
6 Jan., 1855 Dies in his home at age of 76.
1855 Objects, manuscripts, passports and letters donated to Angelo Mai by Beltrami's nephew, Antonio Beltrami.
1860 Unification of Italy, excluding Rome; Rome added 20 September, 1870.
1866 Creation of Beltrami County in northern Minnesota.


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