Joseph Macheca — The First American Don

The name Joseph Macheca is not well-known to the general public. Even in Mafia historian circles, he is an enigmatic figure. But this unknown may have been the first Mafia don in America. He led an enterprising crew of gangland figures in the years following the Civil War, decades before organized crime is generally thought to have originated. By absorbing hoodlums into his group, Macheca avoided much violence. But as always, violence came to the mob.

New Orleans served as a port of entry for many Sicilians, and many of the early mobsters got their start there before moving on to cities like Chicago and New York. New Orleans–born mobsters also moved to Rockford, Illinois, and Tampa, Florida, cementing ties between the respective Mafia organizations.

Macheca welcomed an exiled Sicilian Mafia leader into his “family” after Macheca led his team to victory in a war against rival gangsters in 1869. When this exiled leader was deported back to Italy by New Orleans authorities, the Macheca hold on the local mob started to splinter. Two distinct factions emerged. And as is the case with every mob family where factions emerge, the blood began to run. The two factions were the Macheca-Matranga group, briefly mentioned in the previous section, and another, led by the Provenzanos. War erupted between the factions around 1888.

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