When we revolted, we said first for our Christian Faith and then for the Nation. – Theodore Kolokotronis1
During 1821 and 1822, nothing was done to answer the appeal of desperate Greeks. George Jarvis, a New Yorker residing abroad, joined the Greek revolutionaries. His group of American Philhellenes served with distinction.
In 1823, there was a sharp decline in American interest in the Greek cause, because of a civil war among leaders. At the end of 1823, Lord Byron embraced the Greek cause, arriving at Missolonghi. From this moment, Pan Hellenism became strong. It was unquestioned in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Byron’s sacrificial death secured Greek Independence.2
In Areos Square park, Tripolis, is the statue of the great Phil-Hellene Edward Everett. Who was Edward Everett? “In 1821, Greece declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Its first appeal to America for recognition and support was not to the US government, but to a classicist (Edward Everett). Yet, after the Greek War of Independence broke out in February 1821, a phenomenon which the US press dubbed ‘Greek fever’, or ‘Greek fire’ swept across the nation.
Few fanned the flames as much as Edward Everett, who, as the first American point of contact for the revolutionaries, led the charge on behalf of the Greeks in America.
Here is a chapter of Everett’s life – decades before his last national hurrah at Gettysburg – that is largely overlooked in the United States. As a young man, Everett was appointed to the first named professorship of Greek at Harvard. He became the second American traveler (after the Philadelphian Nicholas Biddle) to record a journey through the Ottoman Empire and was the first classical scholar to combine his academic pursuits with activism on behalf of the Greek people and the cause of Greek independence.”3
On January 6, 1824, the New York Commercial Advertiser reported: “We cannot keep the record of the numerous meetings called in every part of the country to procure aid for the Greek cause. Meetings were called in every village. Clergymen are taking collections to augment the Fund (Greek). At the universities and colleges throughout America: students were supporters of theater performances; church sermons; merchants giving a percentage of their profits to a Fund; public auctions of valuable items to help the Greeks; and school children donating their savings. In 1824, American companies shipped to Greece a collection of muskets, rifles, swords, small cannons, and medical supplies.
The American Press began a PROHELLENIC campaign, in an appeal from Lord Byron and American scholars. American idealists who joined the Greek forces were Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. Howe graduated in 1821 from Brown University and then completed his medical education in 1824 at Harvard Medical College. Soon thereafter he left for Greece, where he participated in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. During that time Howe sent letters to his family and friends about the war; many of those letters appeared in American newspapers. He secured provisions from Americans that he then distributed to the citizens of war-torn Greece, and he published An Historical Sketch of the Greek Revolution (1828), which informed Americans about the causes, progress, and outcome of the war.5
Americans who joined Greek forces included: Lt. General George Jarvis; Jonathan Miller from Randolph, Vermont; George Wilson, Providence, Rhode Island; Captain John M. Allen, a close friend of General Lafayette; and William T. Washington of Washington.
A heroic African American James Williams from Baltimore fought. Senator Sarbanes in the 2013 Congressional Record said “When Hellenes acted to liberate themselves in 1821, James Williams, an African American sailor from my hometown of Baltimore, joined the Greek revolutionary navy and fought at the Battle of Navarino. In turn, John Zachos and Photius Fisk, orphans of the Greek War of Independence, became passionate abolitionists in America. Zachos was a member of the Educational Commission of Boston and New York. Fisk, a U.S. Navy chaplain, helped slaves find freedom by supporting the Underground Railroad…. The historical relationship of these two proud communities embodies the greatness of America. On March 25, when we celebrate Greek Independence Day, we salute all those who have struggled for freedom, and we rededicate ourselves to ensuring that America remains a symbol of fairness and opportunity, the world over.”6 Mr. Williams gave his life for Greek Independence in the Revolution. He is buried in Greece.
Before the national uprising, Greeks were hardly known. “It must be remembered that after four centuries of Turkish rule or misrule, Greece had sunk so low a level that she excited no interest abroad, beyond the pitiful belief that the Hellenic spirit had expired in dust and ashes affording no hope of future resurrection.7 The American people offered their enthusiastic support. The United States government was cautious as the Greeks were recovering their freedom.
- Zotos, Stephanos. “American Philhellenism and the Greek War of Independence”, Pilgrimage, March 1976, p.4.
- Magazine of American History-vol. XVIII- July-December 1827, by Charles K. Tuckerman, Florence, Italy, edited by Mrs. Martha J. Lamb, New York, cited from Zotos, p.4
- James Williams. https://hapsoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Screenshot-2020-05-16-11.27.00.png