ASPECTS OF THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF MOSTA (1630-1650)
Dissertation submitted to the Department of History at the Royal University of Malta, Malta 1973
The digital version of this unpublished dissertation may have some differences from original introduced during the scanning process which due to the limited resources didn't have time to completely verify and is another reason why one has to seek the original version (located at UOM) when needs to quote references from it.
(p.54) It is difficult to ascertain the level of prosperity of Mosta during the period 1630-1650. G.F. Abela does his best to stress the healthy economic situation of Malta in the mid - 1640s.34 Honey and cotton, together with grapes and wines appear to have been prominent products. Abela mentions the multiple harvest and cotton product. Malta had been also famous for the production of cumin for many centuries prior to the coming of the Order. Cumin seed was used not only medicinally but also as a spice and considerable quantities were exported.35 Fruit, especially oranges and lemons were grown to a large size and exported to France and Rome. Further exports mentioned by Abela included wine, cotton goods, flax and cereals, which were produced in abundance. Fishing also appears to be a worthwhile occupation as the islands provided several (p.55) porti e cale and the fishermen could catch gran moltitudine di pesci. Abela also stresses the abundance of birds that pass over Malta, while hares and rabbits were innumerable. Domestic fowls were used for food in daily profusion, and the Order seemed to have made good use of this opportunity.
When describing Mosta, G.F. Abela gives as a rather depressing picture especially when his description is compared with that of the neighbouring village of Naxxar. Abela tells us that Naxxar è situata questa Terre in posto eminente. Uno dei migliori, è di piu buon’aria e di piu vaga e delitione vista, ditutta l’Isola.36 For Abela, the 1526 raid by corsairs still loomed very large in the life of the Mostin. He tells us that in order to ransom the victims, the Mostin were forced to sell their lands furono costretti a vender i loro terreni, che possedevano nel proprio distretto, con rimaner poveri, come di presente si ritrovane,37 The last phrase seems to indicate that there were a number of Mostin, who in c.1647 were still in a position verging on poverty, especially among the relatives of the victims. In the course of my research, I (p.56) came across a case were a certain Agata Vella is described as paupercula.38
However, according to Richardson, Mosta flourished in the gap between the Naxxar hills and the Bingemma ridge, controlling the routes northwards.39 At this period, Mosta was basically an agricultural community.40 Although it is difficult to ascertain whether cotton was one of the principal crops at Mosta in the period under study, it is a fact that, from the beginning of the seventeenth century until the end of the Order’s rule, cotton became more and more important and there was a large increase in the acreage occupied by the crop.41 Moreover, in the 1836 Commissioners’ Report, Mosta was mentioned as the leading village in Malta in the weaving industry, and from a census held in 1861 it was established that there were about four hundred weavers in a population of 3,828 persons.42
(p.57) The men had to serve in tha militia of Naxxar under the command of the Cavaliere Capitano who resided in a tower at Naxxar. In 1647, the number of men enrolled from Naxxar, Mosta and Gharghur totalled about 800 persons.43
During the rule of the Order, the building industry underwent considerable expansion. The extensions to the urban areas and fortificatians around the harbours were obviously a powerful stimulant to the building industry. The general increase in population led to the expansion of many rural settlements and here, too, the demand for housing was strong.44 An indication of this industry at Mosta in the period may be obtained from the following list of new major buildings:-
|1610||The chapel of the Visitation known as Ta’ Wejda was rebuilt by Damiano Bonnici.|
|1614||The parish church dedicated to the Assumption was completed.45 (p.58)|
|1657||The chapel of St. Anthony the Abbot was re-built through the generosity of Rev. Salvator Fenech and Florio Borg; while it was later being provided by the latter benefactor and Antonie Xerri with pious legacies for regular Masses and Services.|
|1657||The Chapel of St. Silvester built by the Knight Silvester Fiteni of Notabile.|
|1658||The chapel of the Immaculate Conception known as ta’ l-Andar il-Blat was re-built by the contributions of Bartolomeo Busuttil.|
|1659||The Chapel of St. Leonard was re-built from a legacy left by Bernarda Mangion in the deeds of Notaro Gio-Paolo Fenech of the 15th March, 1658.46|
The prosperity of Malta, however, suffered a number of temporary setbacks in the period 1630-1650. During the last months of 1635 and throughout 1636, Malta was threatened with starvation due to lack of wheat provisions and in fact the Order's galleys had for a time to resort to piracy by laying (p.59) hands on some vessels laden with wheat provisions, while these were on their way to Messina.47 Moreover, in 1645 the Venetians confiscated the property of the Order within their jurisdiction as a reprisal for actions by privateers operating from Malta.48 However, this economic decline did not appear to have affected in any way Mosta’s birth-rate or death-rate.
- G.G. Lanfranco, “The Natural History of Malta as presented by Abela in 1647”, G.F. Abela: Essays in His Honour by Members of the “Malta Historical Society” on the Third Centenary of his Death (1655-1955), (Malta 1961), pp. 49-62.
- B. Blouet, op. cit., p. 145.
- G.F. Abela, op. cit., p. 84.
- Ibid., p. 83.
- A.P.M., D.L. I (1612-1640), p. 70.
- M. Richardson, Aspects of the Demography of Modern Malta, Ph.D. thesis, (University of Durham 1960), p.242.
- The village motto is Spes alit Ruricolam (Hope sustains the farmer).
- B. Blouet, op. cit., p. 145.
- E.B. Vella, op. cit., p. 187.
- G.F. Abels, op. cit., p. 84 44, B. Bleuet, op. cit.t p, 129 43, Bee faetnata, p, 8.
- B. Blouet, op. cit., p. 129.
- See footnote, p. 8.
- A. Ferris, op. cit., pp. 462-474
- V. Borg, Fabio Chigi: Apostolic Delegate in Malta (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana 1967), pp. 71-72.
- B. Blouet, op. cit., pp. 106-107.