By Aris Michopoulos, Special to the Hellenic News of America
Two years ago we celebrated the Bicentennial of the Greek Revolution that finally brought the freedom to a small part of today’s Greece. The Revolution of 1821 that lasted for seven years and led to the creation of Greece through the Protocol of London in 1830 was the first successful uprising against the Turks in the Balkans. It was the harbinger of more such uprisings by the Greeks and other people in the Balkans that ultimately led to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire a hundred years later.
This explosive revolt and ultimate success to defeat an Empire required the combined forces not only of the Greeks, but also of the Philhellenes around the world. Among the most distinguished of them were the freedom-loving people of this country. America was a young country and some of “her fathers” such as Thomas Jefferson were still alive and happy to provide their wisdom to support the Greek cause. Thus Thomas Jefferson was very pleased to respond to the Greek savant and friend Adamantios Korais and offer him advice on the form and function of a future government in Greece based on the American model. Another aspect of their friendship was the mailing to Jefferson of all the new editions of the Greek classics published in Paris by Korais that formed a significant portion of Jefferson’s library. When Jefferson died his library was given to the US Government and eventually became the core of the US Library of Congress. The cooperation and support, however, did not end here. As a matter of fact it grew much deeper and expanded into a massive contribution by many Committees formed at the major population centers of the USA, such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Chicago. These Committees would organize many fundraising and other events to provide food, clothing and ammunition to the Greek people and its freedom fighters. At the top of this effort one could distinguish those young Americans who were offering their own lives to fight alongside the Greeks for the freedom of their country. These young fighters would meet dozens of similarly thinking youth from many European countries, such as England, France, Germany, Italy and others that were fighting for the same cause. Perhaps the best known of them was the famous British poet Lord Byron, who was financially supporting a fighting force of Souliots and he ultimately died defending the besieged city of Missolonghi in 1824.
Among the best known of the American contingent fighting in Greece were Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Colonel Jonathan Miller, Lieutenant General George Jarvis, and a William Washington. The story of Dr. Howe is probably the most fascinating. A graduate of Brown and Harvard universities, he went to Greece to support the cause by taking care of the sick and wounded and helping the civilian population. He learned Greek and eventually rose to the rank of Chief Surgeon of the Greek Army. His statue today stands at a short distance from the statue of General Theodore Kolokotronis, the leader of the Revolution, in Tripolis, the center of the Revolution. George Jarvis on the other hand, son of the American Ambassador in Germany, went to Greece and got so immersed into the Greek culture that spoke the language fluently, was dressing and behaving as a Greek and his fellow fighters would call him by his Greek name. Jarvis reached the rank of the General of the Greek Army. A special role however was kept for Col. Miller to play. Col. Miller not only provided his military expertise and deep knowledge fighting the war, but he also tended to other needs of the Revolution. One such case was that of an orphan, whose father died in a battle and felt his duty to adopt his child and bring it to the USA. He provided for all his needs and education. Indeed, his investment was an excellent one as his adopted son, i.e. Lukas Miltiades-Miller became a lawyer and moved to Wisconsin, where he became a Congressman in 1853 and a US congressman in 1891-1893. And his best tribute to Greece, the USA and his American father was perhaps his speech at the US Congress on the occasion of the celebration of the Greek Revolution.
A similar story we also encounter in the life of John Zachos, another orphan of the Revolution. His father, a fellow fighter of Dr. Howe, was killed in a battle when John was four years old. He was adopted by Howe, brought to the USA, where he got a solid education in many schools and ended being a truly Renaissance man, being an inventor, a writer, a poet, an educator and a professor at the Cooper Union Institute in New York. The end of the Civil War found him a leader of a group supporting the Union Forces and wrote an Ode to the liberation of the Slaves. Equally impressive were the careers of the other orphans, a couple of dozen in them that were brought to the USA. Perhaps most noteworthy of this group are the brothers Constantinos and Pantias Rallis orphans from Chios, Captain George Colvocoresses, George Fiske, who became a captain in the navy and others. A few of these orphans, grown up and highly educated adults returned to Greece to offer their knowledge and experience to their young country. In this category falls Christodoulos Evangelides, who opened an American-type boarding school in his native island of Syros, and others who built businesses, became doctors and served Greece in many ways. A special case of “bilateral philanthropy” is perhaps the sequel of Dr. Howe’s “mission impossible” to Greece during and after the Revolution. Thus when the Cretan Revolution broke out in 1866 Howe volunteered again and went to Crete to help the rebels with his services. At the end of the revolt he returned to Boston bringing along a young Greek that was his assistant and secretary in Greece. That young and extremely bright man would eventually become Howe’s son-in-law, marrying his daughter, the poetess Julia Romana Howe. Upon Howe’s death he became the director of the Perkins School for the Blind for which he raised $100,000 and turned it into the largest and most famous school for the blind in the USA. The School, located today in Watertown, MA, is the best school for the blind in the USA and the world. Thus Greece gave back to the USA one of her brightest, philanthropic and inventive children, i.e. Michael Anagnostopoulos or Anagnos to serve not only the USA but the world at large. Anagnos became quite famous for his teaching method and had some famous students, such as Helen Keller, Thomas Stringer and other.
These were the roots and the first fruits of the Greek American collaboration at the dawn of both countries modern histories. Two centuries later we are witnessing a quite deep and complex system of mutual influence in many fields. The huge immigration of the Greeks during the early part of the 20th century and also from l965-1980 resulted in a great number of Greek Americans that helped expand the base and knowledge of the USA and Greece. Indeed, this period produced a great number of mayors, governors, artists, intellectuals, politicians, and successful businessmen who at some point became household names, such as Spyro Agnew, Michael Dukakis, Paul Tsongas and Paul Sarbanes, the Skouras Bros., Maria Kallas, Aristotle Onassis and his wife Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, Telly Savalas, Jennifer Aniston, and thousands of educators, doctors and professors. At the same time this mutual influence affected the USA policies and played a significant role during some critical periods of the Modern Greek history. Thus it led to the support of Greece during the German Occupation and the promulgation of the Truman Doctrine during the Civil War that followed. Moreover, it supported Greece with various development projects afterwards in order to recover from the German Occupation and the Civil War. More recently it led to a very close economic, military and cultural relationship that became quite obvious during last year’s address of the Greek Prime Minister to the US Congress.
Thus summing up this great course of events associated with the Greek Revolution and its results some two hundred years later, one might consider fair to utter with enthusiasm the well-known verses of the famous Greek poet Kostis Palamas «αυτό το λόγο θα σας πω, δεν έχω άλλο κανένα, μεθύστε με τ’ αθάνατο κρασί του Εικοσιένα» i.e. I have nothing else to say than to urge you all to get drunk with the everlasting wine of Twenty One!!!