AMERICAN PHILHELLENES AND THE WAR FOR
Scanned from The Hellenic Voice of 3/20/02
By GEORGE C. CHRYSSIS
Early period of the American philhellenic movement
The 1776 American Revolution was an inspiration to the then enslaved Greeks,
not only during the actual days of the revolutionary war but long after its
successful completion and the eventual declaration of independence and the
creation of the United States of America.
There are unconfirmed reports, that in the battle of Monmouth. New Jersey,
which look place on June 28, 1778, Greek volunteers fought under the
leadership of a young man called Demetrios Ypsilanti, who allegedly later
returned to Greece and might have fought or influenced the advent of the War
Today, a town near Detroit, Michigan, bears the name Ypsilanti in honor of a
Demetrios Ypsilanti. Historians point out that the town was named after the
Greek Revolution hero Demetrios Ypsilanti, brother of "Philiki Eteria"
leader Alexandros Ypsilanti, rather than the "Monmouth battle legend."
Irrespective of whom the town was named after, the fact remains that the
heroism of a Greek freedom fighter inspired judge Augustus Woodward to name,
in 1833, a town after a man "who in the beginning of the 19th Century, in
charge of three hundred men. successfully battled an entire Turkish army,
inflicting damage and eventually escaping without losing a single man."
When the bell of the Revolution rang in 1821 and the cry "Freedom or Death"
resonated over the enslaved Greeks, a number of American philhellenes
started a lobbying campaign in the United Stales for the support of the
Greek War of Independence, a campaign that captured the imagination of many
influential political and civil leaders in America.
The Greeks on the other hand, knew from the very beginning of (heir War of
Independence that the American people would understand their struggle,
having themselves fought for independence a few years back, and sought the
support and influence of the new Republic to advance and promote their
Thus, on May 25, 1821, Petros Mavromichalis, on behalf of the Messinian
Congress sent a letter to the then Secretary of Stale John Quincy Adams that
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
yon 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 3, 1822, 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 station among the nations of the
Unfortunately, on December 2, 1823, president Monroe announced the "Monroe
Doctrine" which in essence excluded the United States from getting involved
in European affairs and considered the then existing European governments as
"de facto legitimate."
On December 8, 1823, Congressman from Massachusetts Daniel Webster made a
motion in Congress for the appropriation of money to send an American envoy
to Greece and for the support of the Greek struggle for independence. On
January 19. 1824, Webster gave a powerful and resonating speech in defense
of his proposal. "1 have in mind the modern not the ancient, the alive and
not the dead Greece... today's Greece, fighting against unprecedented
difficulties... a Greece fighting for its existence and for the common
privilege of human existence," said Webster.
Henry Clay, a Congressman from Kentucky, supported Webster's motion and in a
moving oratorical speech on January 20, 1824, asked Congress to officially
recognize the Greek War of Independence and send an envoy to Greece to
examine and report on the situation. He stressed the fact thai Ihc entire
American nation was showing sympathy and support for Greece and urged
Congress to suppress any fears and apprehensions and to help a Christian
General Sam Houston, a member of Congress, supported Daniel Webster's motion also.
Unfortunately, due to strong opposition from members of Congress that adhered to the
principles of the "Monroe Doctrine," the Webster motion was defeated.
However, the speeches of the great philhellenes, Webster and Clay, were
widely publicized in America. Europe and South America and sparked the
interest of many individuals who decided to help the Greek revolution with
various means. The influence and the positive contributions of the American
philhellenes to the Greek War of Independence had just begun.
Theodoros Kolokotronis (1770-1843),
the leading military hero of the 1821
Greek Revolution of Independence.
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 Jefferson asking for his support to the struggle of Greece for
Koraes, who lived in Paris, met Jefferson there around 1785, when Jefferson
served as the ambassador of the new Republic 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 making a case why i! was to the best interest of America and the
American people to help Greece. "Help us, fortunate Americans," wrote Koraes
in a letter dated July 10. 1823, "We are not asking you for a handout.
Rather, we are providing you with an opportunity to augment your good
Koraes knew that appealing to powerful and enlightened philhellenes, such
as Jefferson, to intervene and influence their respective governments for
the recognition of the Greek cause was the right thing to do. As 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 unbroken 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 American to travel to Greece and join the Greek War of
Independence as a volunteer was George Jarvis, a New Yorker, who went to
Greece in 1822. He learned the Greek language, put on a "fous-t an el la"
(Greek kilted skirt) and upon joining the "kleftes" (Greek guerilla
fighters) he became known as Kapetan Zervos. Jarvis participated, in many
battles and was repeatedly wounded. He died of natural causes in Argos on
August 11,1828, 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
Missolonghi during its siege and in a letter to Everett dated May 3, 1826,
he described the heroic exodus and the subsequent massacre of the
While in Greece, Miller adopted a four-year-old boy, whom he brought back to
Vermont. This boy, Loukas Miltiades Miller, 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 1891 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. Upon his arrival in Greece, he enlisted in the Greek Army and for
six years he served as soldier and a chief surgeon. In 1829 he established a medical center
in Aegina and a school for (he 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 Η owe to organize
support for the new uprising of die Cretans against Ottoman tyranny and
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 Revolution of Independence; captain John M. Alien; and
William Townsend Washington, a distant relative of president George
Washington, who despite his erratic personal behavior and life style he was
tearless and brave and fell heroically 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.
During a fundraiser in New York, Nicholas Biddle, a banker, offered the then
largest personal donation of $300 to the New York Greek Relief Committee,
while president John Adams in a letter to the same committee encouraged the
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
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
To rekindle the American philhellenic movement, the Greek revolutionary
leader Theodoros Kolokotronis, through George Jarvis, sent a letter to
Edward Everett dated July 5, 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 dian 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 pans 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.
Material aid to Greece
Captain Jonathan P. Miller returned to the United States in 1826 and through
the efforts of the New York, he was able to collect $17,500 worth of various
relief supplies, which he look back to Greece onboard the ship
"Chancellor", on March 5, 1827.
The same year two more ships, "Jane" and "Six Brothers," left New York
harbor bound for Greece carrying various relief supplies of $25,000 in the
At about the same time, two more shiploads of supplies totaling about
$22,500 left the port of Philadelphia onboard the ships "Tontine" and
"Levant," while from Boston the ship "Statesman" carried to Greece cargo
worth over $ 11,500.
All these relief provisions that contained food items, clothing, medical
supplies and other necessities, were distributed primarily to the suffering
Greek civilian population, albeit soldiers and brigands stole some supplies
upon the arrival of the cargo to Greece.
On " January 2, 1827, Congressman Edward Livingston from Louisiana
introduced a motion in Congress for the appropriation of $50,000 to purchase
supplies for the needy people of Greece. His motion was defeated, but
through private initiatives and fundraising activities $80,000 was collected
in a combination of cash, food items and other in-kind aid.
In 1827 and 1828 a total of eight shiploads of supplies and relief aid worth
more than $150,000 (an extraordinary amount in today's standards) were
dispatched to Greece and distributed by overseeing officials to needy
members of the civilian population.
It was obvious that the publication of Kolokotronis' letter had a great
impact in rekindling the humanitarian interest of the Americans toward the
ongoing Greek struggle. Furthermore, the articles about Greece and its War of
Independence that Everett and Carey published through their media publications,
along with the letters and reports published in American newspapers from the
great philhellenes and humanitarians Howe, Miller and Jarvis, kept the struggle and
plight of the Greeks in the forefront of the American public opinion.
It is estimated that thousand of Greeks were saved from starvation, exposure
to the elements and disease through the efforts of these philhellenes. It
may be safe to say that without the moral, intellectual, political, monetary
and in-kind assistance of these men, the outcome of the War of Independence
might have been different.
And lastly, these men arranged to transport a number of war orphans to the
United States that were adopted by American families. Many of these orphans
excelled in their professions and became productive and admired citizens of
the United States. Some chose to go back to Greece to offer their expertise
and advice to the newly created Greek state.
The great Bostonian philhellene
Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe,
in an 1859 photograph.
As we celebrate the 181st anniversary of the Greek Revolution for
Independence, America has become an economic and military superpower, while
Greece is an equal economic and social member of the European Union and the
"economic and democratic powerhouse in the Balkans", as President Clinton
declared during his visit to Greece.
Now more than ever, Greece
Greece and America need to draw strength from the timeless bonds that have
developed through years of defending and protecting identical ideals and
values. The spirit that developed during the American and the Greek
revolutions must be rekindled and kept alive.
There are over 2.5 million Americans in the United States that can trace
their ancestry to Greece, who are productive and respected members of our
society. They represent the best educated and the second wealthiest ethnic
group in America.
Americans of Hellenic descend me proud of their ancestry, they are very
patriotic and love America and Greece for what they both stand: democracy,
freedom, respect for human rights and economic opportunity.
These are the ideals and values upon which the 1776 American Revolution was
based, and these are also the ideals and values which the 1821 Greek
Both Revolutions for Independence taught us that freedom is earned with
sacrifice and it takes sacrifice to remain free. They also taught us not to
take liberty for granted, but to keep fighting for liberty, no matter how
adverse and challenging the circumstances may be. This message is especially
On this festive Greek Independence Day, let the spirit of 1821 continue to
inspire our thoughts and our actions and together let us proclaim that
freedom, democracy and respect for human rights, along with the Hellenic
spirit, are the greatest gifts that we have received and these are indeed
the greatest gifts that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren.