The Greek War for Independence - American Philhellenes
The American philhellenic movement started in Albany, New York, when the local newspaper, the Albany Argus, in its New Year's issue of 1822, published a column of verse exalting the heroic Greeks. This was followed by Fourth of July speeches, mass public meetings, numerous editorials in local newspapers, and pleas for monetary support. Unfortunately for the Greeks, enthusiasm began to fade as quickly as it began, for philhellenism had not spread to cities beyond New York. Then two things happened that changed everything: the first on January 5, 1824, Lord Byron arrived at Missolonghi, and the second, the Greeks began to mount successive military successes against the Ottoman forces, renewing enthusiasm for philhellenism.
American public passion intensified as news of Turkish barbarities became known and philhellenism surged. Naturally, the plight of the oppressed Greeks appealed strongly to idealistic college youth. Colleges and universities including Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and others asked for donations. Fund drives flourished. One newspaper noted:
Besides efforts by college students, special benefit performances were given at theatres; special sermons were preached and special collections taken up in churches; prominent men debated public questions and charged an admission fee to be donated to the local Greek committee; merchants were persuaded to assign to Greek relief a percentage of their profits; objects of value were offered at public auction and sold at inflated prices; school children handed up their pennies; laborers gave up a day’s wages; ship owners donated space on their ships for supplies destined for Greece; and innumerable balls and fairs were held.
The story of the atrocities caused philhellenistic fervor to infect the White House itself. On December 3, 1822, President James Monroe in the ''Sixth Annual Message to Congress'' [what the ''State of the Union'' message was called in those days] articulated the reasons for America’s interest in the Greek cause:
The mention of Greece fills the mind with the most exalted sentiments and arouses in our bosoms the best feelings of which our nation is susceptible. . . That such a country should have been overwhelmed and so long hidden, as it were, from the world under a gloomy despotism has been a cause of unceasing and deep regret to generous minds for ages past. . . A strong hope is entertained that these people will recover their independence and resume their equal station among the nations of the earth.
The American "discovery" of modern Greece dates back to the eighteenth century when Thomas Jefferson expressed his desire to see the Greek people free from Turkish domination and the establishment of a Greek national state with "'the language of Homer becoming again a living language, as among possible events.'" Jefferson's concern was shared by many educated Americans whose familiarity with the his
tory and literature of ancient Greece inspired strong philhellenic sentiments. During the Greek War of Independence (1821-30) thousands
of American philhellenes gave their moral and material support to the Greek cause. Some even participated in the hostilities and distinguished themselves by their military service and dedication to the cause of freedom.
In 1833 the United States recognized the new Greek government and on 10/22 December 1837 a commercial treaty was signed which regulated the trade between the two countries for the next eighty-two years. By 1900 American consulates were established in several locations on the mainland and the Aegean islands, though the development of Greek- American diplomatic and commercial relations progressed slowly throughout the nineteenth century.
On May 25th, 1821, Petros Mavromichalis, on behalf of the Messinian Congress send a letter to the then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, which was published in the American newspapers, asking for moral support. "Your virtues, Americans, are close to ours, although a broad sea separates us", wrote among other Mavromichalis. "We feel you closer than our neighboring countries and we consider you as friends, co-patriots and brothers, because you are fair, philanthropic and brave… Do not deny to help us…" Edward Everett, a Harvard professor and great philhellene, who was also the publisher of the North American Review, published every correspondence of letters or appeals that he was receiving from Greece and through articles and speeches he made strong public pronouncements for the recognition of the Revolution and for sending military aid to Greece.
On December 3rd, 1822, US president James Monroe in his annual address to Congress said: "A strong hope is entertained that the Greeks will recover their independence and assume their equal statue among the nations of the earth."
1823, December 18: New York Citizens Petition of Sympathy for Greece, demonstrates public sympathy toward revolutionary movements. The citizens… have, in common with their fellow-citizens throughout the United States, witnessed… the heroic efforts of the Greeks to rescue themselves from Turkish bondage. (Documents for John Quincy Adams)
Thomas Jefferson and Adamantios Koraes
It is worth noting that Adamantios Koraes, a Greek physician, intellectual, scholar and an early "prophet" of the Revolution, who believed that independence of Greece could only be achieved by educational progress, wrote many times to Thomas Jefferson asking for his support to the struggle of Greece for independence.
Koraes, who at the time lived in Paris, met Jefferson there around 1785, when Jefferson served as the ambassador of the United States to France. Following Jefferson's return to America in 1789, the two men continued their friendship through correspondence. Koraes' letters to Jefferson were passionate and full of patriotic zest, always promoting the case that it was to the best interest of America and the American people to help Greece attain its freedom. "Help us, fortunate Americans", wrote Koraes in a letter dated July 10th, 1823, "We are not asking you for a handout. Rather, we are providing you with an opportunity to augment your good fortune."
Koraes believed that appealing to powerful, respected and enlightened philhellenes to intervene and influence their respective governments for the recognition of the Greek cause, was a powerful and invaluable political tool. Himself an "enlightened revolutionary", he believed that the power of intellect and diplomacy was more effective than the might of soldiers and arms. Through correspondence and personal contacts, Koraes convinced many foreign intellectuals that the continuing use of the Greek language since classical days, together with a continuous habitation of the same lands and of common religion, history and tradition, was conclusive evidence of the existence of a Greek national identity, thus establishing a strong argument for the recognition of an independent Greek state.
The American philhellenes
The first volunteer American to travel to Greece and join the Greek War of Independence was George Jarvis, a New Yorker, who went to Greece in 1822. He learned the Greek language, put on a "foustanella" (Greek kilted skirt) and upon joining the "kleftes" (Greek guerilla fighters) he became known as "Kapetan Zervos". Jarvis was brave, participated in many battles and was repeatedly wounded. He died of natural causes in Argos on August 11th, 1828, but his appeals back home for aid and contributions to the Greek cause paid off.
Jarvis became a role model for other American volunteers. In 1824, Captain Jonathan P. Miller, of Vermont, arrived in Greece. He too learned the Greek language, worn the foustanella and was fearless in battle. Miller was in Messolongi during its siege and in a letter to Edward Everett dated May 3rd, 1826, he described the heroic "exodus" and the subsequent fall of Messolongi and the massacre of its population by the Ottomans.
While in Greece, Miller adopted a four-year-old boy, whom he brought back to Vermont. This boy, Loukas Miltiades Miller, eventually graduated from Vermont University in 1845, and shortly thereafter he married and moved to the town of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he engaged in business and civic activities. In 1853 he was elected a member of the State Legislature and in 1871 he was the first American of Greek origin to be elected to the Congress of the United States of America!
However, by far the best-known philhellene is Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a Bostonian physician. Upon his arrival in Greece, he enlisted in the Greek Army and for six years he served as a soldier and a chief surgeon. In 1829 he established a medical center in Aegina and a school for the blind in Corinth. Long after the revolution, Howe continued to be active in Greek affairs, both in Greece and in the United States. In 1866, during the Cretan Revolution, he returned to Greece with his wife Julia Ward Howe, to organize support for the new uprising of the Cretans against Ottoman tyranny and enslavement.
Other American philhellenes who went to Greece to offer their services during the Revolution were George Wilson of Providence, Rhode Island, who excelled in bravery during the naval battle at Nafpaktos; James Williams, an African American from Baltimore who joined the Greek Navy forces; Estwick Evans from New Hampshire, who left behind his wife and children in order to fight the Greek War for Independence; captain John M. Allen; and William Townsend Washington, a distant relative of president George Washington, who despite his erratic personal behavior and colorful life-style he was fearless and brave and fell heroically fighting in the battle of Palamidi.
In the meantime, the Greek Revolution was gaining support among the American philhellene citizens and many were collecting money to help the Greek cause. Through the fundraising efforts of New York philhellenes, the amount of 6,600 sterling pounds was collected in 1824 and was forwarded to the Greek government via London, England.
During a fundraiser in New York City, Nicholas Biddle, a banker, offered the then largest personal donation of $300 to the "New York Greek Relief Committee", while US president John Adams in a letter to the same committee encouraged the fundraising efforts. Leading the fundraising efforts in Baltimore was Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and in Philadelphia the leader was Mathew Carey.
In 1825, the French General Lafayette, a great philhellene and staunch supporter of the Greek Revolution, visited the United States and in every affair that he attended in his honor, proclaimed the importance and the moral responsibility of helping, in any way possible, the Greek struggle for independence.
However, by 1826 the initial enthusiasm of the American public begun to wane, partly due to conflicting reports about the success of the war and also because of disturbing news about infighting and rivalry among the Greek leaders.
To rekindle the American philhellenic movement, the Greek revolutionary leader Theodoros Kolokotronis, through George Jarvis, sent a letter to Edward Everett dated July 5th, 1826, in which the great Greek leader explained the situation in Greece, pledged unity and appealed for further help and support. "Greece is forever grateful to the philanthropy of our Christian [American] brothers", wrote Kolokotronis, "who share her struggle and who also support with their funds her just war [for independence]… the Greeks, determined to live or die free, do not fear shedding their blood… or the killing of their old, their women and their children… and they are ready to accept death rather than slavery; and now, more than ever, enthusiastically and united they are moving forward against [the Turks]… The Greek nation is not ungrateful to its benefactors. It is grateful to those who proclaim its epic struggle and their names will be recorded with indelible letters in the annals of the reborn Greece, in timeless display, for the respect of upcoming generations… Do not stop sending us your contributions… thus [you are] benefiting humanity and fulfilling Christ's will. " The letter was translated by Everett and parts of it, along with parts from Jarvis' accompanying letter, were published in newspapers in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and other cities, sparking a new initiative of aid and assistance for the Greek nation.
Like most other philhellenes who fought in Greece, including Byron, Howe soon became disillusioned with his unglamorous comrades-in-arms, who failed to resemble the heroes he had read about in Homer. The righteous campaign against foreign oppression repeatedly deteriorated into civil war among competing factions, and Howe, never slow to pass judgment, complained that the modern Greeks were deceitful, corrupt, ignorant, and selfish. Nonetheless, he relished the drama of the war, the opportunity to command, the variety and scope of his work, the constant travel, and the gratification of serving a noble cause.
Howe devoted the next six years to Greek independence, immersing himself in the kind of frenetic activity that he would always thrive on. In addition to battling the Turks and treating wounded Greek soldiers, between 1824 and 1827 he was also busy organizing a hospital at Nauplia and, on behalf of the American-Greek relief committees, traveling around the countryside to distribute emergency supplies of food and clothing to the suffering Greek women and children. In February 1828, at the behest of the Greek government, he returned for several months to the United States, where he embarked on a speaking tour to raise money for the Greek cause and published his hastily written but moderately successful Historical Sketch of the Greek Revolution, a florid and melodramatic work, even by the standards of the day.
With the American-Greek relief committees paying his passage and expenses, he returned to Greece in November to begin a series of ambitious relief projects. His work on these projects demonstrated the administrative efficiency, organizational skill, and ingenuity that would later serve him well as founding director of an asylum for the blind. Acting on his lifelong conviction that doling out charity promoted idleness, he employed hundreds of destitute refugees in hauling and setting stones to build a harbor wall to restore the port at Aegina. When that task was completed, he persuaded the Greek government to grant him land at Hexamilia to establish an agricultural colony, which he named "Washingtonia." Supported by the American relief committees, Howe chose twenty-six refugee families to be his colonists, provided them with seed and cattle, and established a school based on the innovative system of the English educator of the poor Joseph Lancaster.
During most of 1829 -the year Laura Bridgman was born- Howe reigned over his very own utopian colony, a benevolent Mr. Kurtz. Not until he ran his own asylum in Boston would he again enjoy such a satisfying combination of power and social usefulness. Thirty years later, he recalled his days as ruler of Washingtonia as among the happiest of his life:
''...I was alone among my colonists, who were all Greeks. They knew I wanted to help them, and they let me have my own way. ... I labored here day and night, in season and out, and was governor, legislator, clerk, constable, and everything but patriarch...''.
This idyll, of course, could not last. Inevitably, Howe had a bitter falling-out with the president of Greece, who after years of Turkish domination may have objected to ceding a portion of Corinth to an American. Resentful that his well-intentioned efforts to bring good government to a chaotic nation had not been appreciated by its leaders, Howe left the country in January 1830, carrying with him Byron's helmet, which he had picked up at auction.
Howe spent the next year touring Europe, and then set sail for home. He was almost thirty years old, a seasoned veteran of bloody combat and a world traveler, but he remained essentially the same man he had been when he first set out for Greece. The boyish characteristics of his adolescent letters—expressions of longing for "reputation" and heroic distinction; boasting masked by self-denigration—persisted in the letters he wrote to friends long after his return. As idealistic and vaguely ambitious as ever, he continued to dream of following "a path as yet untrodden in this country by the multitude, and ... to do something in it." Neither his exposure to terrible human suffering in Greece nor the many personal hardships he had undergone had altered him: he was, as John Jay Chapman observed, "one of those singular men in whom we can trace no course of development."
The Town of Greece (Northern part of New York State)
The Town of Greece was incorporated in 1822. It was named after the country of Greece, as a show of support as the Greek people fought for their independence from Turkish rule. The name is also a tribute to this old-world nation a symbol of intellectual and athletic excellence.