EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): Among the many events scheduled to take place in celebrating 200 years from the start of the Greek Revolution, the most meaningful ones among us, Greek-Americans, are the ones that honor the American participation in the Greek War of Independence. Helleniscope will closely follow and present two of these events: 1) The installation of the monument of the American Philhellenes at Aurora, Illinois (organized by Peter and Georgia Nikolopoulos of the American Philhellenes Society) and the celebration of the participation of the USS Constitution in the Greek Revolution (Organized by George Gialtouridis of the “Panagia Soumela Society” of Boston). In both occasions the main event will take place in May and we will have time to present them further.
Tomorrow, however, in Boston a ceremony will be held on the historic warship USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” in Boston, to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the Greek Revolution and the philhellenic movement here in the United States at the time. A look at the announcement by George Gialtouridis and “Panagia Soumela Society” will convince you that this is a truly significant event that marks the American relationship with Greece in a meaningful way.
In the third part of our post, you can read an excerpt of a historical paper by Elizabeth George titled “Through the Eyes of Sailors and Citizens: How Sailors on the USS Constitution Viewed the Greek Revolution”.
ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE PANAGIA SOUMELA SOCIETY OF BOSTON
On March 25, 2021 at 4:00 pm EST, Hellenes and Philhellenes “Steering Committee” in coordination with the Pontian Society ‘Panagia Soumela’ of Boston will be hosting an event. A ceremony will be held on the historic warship USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” in Boston, MA to commemorate the 200-year Anniversary of the Greek Independence and the philhellenic movement here in the United States at the time.
The USS Constitution was in the Mediterranean Sea during the years of the Greek Revolution as well as in the Aegean Sea where it escorted safely to port merchant vessels delivering humanitarian aid to the Greek people. The aid was sent from the good citizens of the United States. The role of the USS Constitution as part of the Mediterranean Squadron was to keep the sea lanes open to merchant shipping.
Greece and Cyprus’ national anthem Ὕμνος εἰς τὴν Ἐλευθερίαν – Hymn to Liberty consists of 158 stanzas. Written by Dionysios Solomos in 1823, Stanza 22 honors the Philhellenic movement in America at the time of Greece’s War of Independence:
Was also Washington’s land
And the shackles that bound her
She remembered firsthand.
This event will pay tribute to the Americans that honored and sacrificed for the freedom of people of common values and heritage. USS Constitution Commander John Benda will be giving the opening remarks. A USSC color guard will present the colors. The national anthems of the United States and Greece will be sung by Ms. Panayota Haloulakou. Speakers will include:
Geoffrey R. Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to the Hellenic Republic
United States Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland
United States Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Florida
Mr. Stratos Efthymiou, Consul General of Greece in Boston
Mr. Michael Dukakis, former Governor of Massachusetts
Ms. Anne Rand, President & Chief Executive Officer of the USS Constitution Museum
Mr. Hans Charles, Consul General of Haiti in Boston
Mr. João Pedro Fins do Lago, Consul General of Portugal in Boston
Ambassador Meron Reuben, Consul General of Israel in Boston
Ms. Gillian Kellogg, Descendant of the great Philhellene, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe
Mr. Constantinos Velentzas, Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism, Athens, Greece
Prof. Emmanuel E. (Manolis) Paraschos, Professor Emeritus at Emerson College
Dr. Jeanne McDougall, great-great granddaughter of George Sirian
The event will be streamed live at www.panagiasoumela.com
Pontian Society ‘Panagia Soumela’ Boston, Inc.
The USS Constitution’s Involvement in the Greek Revolution:
By Elizabeth George
On July 2, 1824 a Turkish fleet arrived at the island of Psara, located in the northwest Aegean. The Turkish soldiers disembarked from their ships onto the island and commenced a bloody massacre of all of the Greeks in Psara. Among the inhabitants of the island was a six-year-old boy named George Sirian. As the Turkish soldiers advanced further into the island, Sirian’s mother searched for a way to save her youngest son. She decided to put George on a small boat and send him out into the sea in hopes that a neutral ship would discover him and take him under their protection. As Sirian set off into the sea, he witnessed from his boat a group of Turkish soldiers slaughter his mother.
George Sirian successfully escaped Psara, but what became of him immediately following the attack remains a mystery. The first official records of Sirian appear in 1827 when he sought protection and work on board the USS Constitution, at the
age of nine. Captain Daniel Patterson wanted to help Sirian, but did not want to break the United State’s neutral position in the Greek War of Independence by providing refuge to an orphaned Greek boy. Patterson overcame this dilemma by
allowing Sirian to remain on the Constitution only if he enlisted in the United States Navy. Sirian agreed to these terms and served as a Boy on the ship.
The story of George Sirian demonstrates some of the obstacles the USS Constitution encountered in the Mediterranean while trying to uphold US foreign policy. Although the United States maintained a neutral stance in the Greek Revolution, the crew of the USS Constitution often walked a fine line between
neutrality and direct involvement in the conflict. Members of the 1820s naval squadron in the Mediterranean found themselves torn in their desire to provide humanitarian relief to the struggling Greeks and their aspirations of securing US
trade with the Ottoman Empire.
One of the USS Constitution’s duties while in the Mediterranean was to protect private American vessels abroad. Many of these vessels consisted of ships carrying provisions for the suffering Greek people. William Fleming, a Marine aboard the USS Constitution, wrote numerous times in his personal journal
about instances in which the ship protected American vessels containing provisions for the Greek citizens. In one entry Fleming mentioned that Dr. Samuel Gridley
Howe, an American doctor and philanthropist who traveled to Greece in order to aid the Greeks in their revolution, entreated the Constitution on May 31, 1827, to help the ship Chancellor from New York. Fleming wrote, “Capt. Patterson received a letter from Dr. Howe (at Napoli) stating that our presence would be necessary there, as there was considerable contentions about the provisions, which the ship Chancellor brought at from New York. Accordingly we got underway immediately
(having first sent the Chancellor to join the brig Fortune.” The Constitution then traveled to protect the ship Chancellor and oversee the distribution of the provisions. These accounts of the USS Constitution protecting the American private ships, which brought humanitarian relief to the Greek people, help
demonstrate how the Constitution indirectly participated in the American efforts to provide help to the suffering Greek people.
Another instance, which demonstrates the USS Constitution’s interest in participating in America’s humanitarian effort to help the Greeks, occurred in July 1826, off the coast of Salamis. From the shore, a few Greek men signaled to the Constitution and Captain Patterson ushered them on board. They entreated
the captain for provisions for their starving families. Captain Patterson understood that the US Navy was forbidden under the terms of neutrality to directly aid the Greeks or the Turks, yet he found a way around this restriction. He agreed to give a certain sum of goods to the Greeks if they in turn gave him an ancient Greek statue to take home to the United States. One of the sailors noted, “the captain, regarding the purchase as an act of charity, readily agreed to give the stipulated sum.” It is uncertain whether or not Captain Patterson really conducted this transaction out of charity or if he simply wished to acquire an ancient statue. Nevertheless, this story is significant because it provides insight into how the US Navy overseas carried out US foreign policy. The Constitution became creative in
its attempts to both aid the Greeks and maintain the United State’s neutral position in the war.
The actions of the US naval squadron in the Mediterranean signify their sympathy for the Greek people. Yet, as they involved themselves in charitable activities for the Greeks, the US Navy also wished to remain on friendly terms with the Ottoman Empire in order to protect American trade. Although unsuccessful, Commodore Rodgers met with the Capedan Pascha, the head of the Turkish fleet, in hopes of
obtaining a trade treaty. Also, the squadron traveled frequently to Turkish strongholds in order to make their presence and cordiality known. The men aboard the Constitution knew full well the larger implications of their presence in the disputed waters. In a letter to his mother, Amasa Paine, Midshipman on the Constitution, wrote “our government I believe thinks it important that our squadron should be shown among the Turks as much as possible as they are new about establishing a Treaty with them.” The US Navy wished to make their presence
known with the Ottoman Empire in hopes of maintaining their trade. The US naval squadron did not passively sail through the Mediterranean.
In the examples of George Sirian, the ship’s participation in the distribution of provisions to the Greeks, and the purchase of the ancient statue, it is clear that the USS Constitution remained proactive in the Mediterranean and did not simply just observe the events in the Mediterranean unfold. The USS Constitution, despite the United States’ neutral stance in the Greek War of Independence, participated in America’s humanitarian effort to help the Greeks. At the same time, the US Navy, in aiding the Greeks, did not lose sight of their desire to augment and strengthen American Mediterranean trade, which required them to maintain friendly relations with the formable Turkish navy.
The Sailors’ Opinions of the Greek Revolution:
On the Fourth of July, 1826, Americans all over the United States prepared for festivities in honor of the anniversary of their country’s independence. Almost 5,000 miles away, situated between the island of Tenedos and mainland Turkey, sailors on board the USS Constitution also prepared to celebrate their nation’s birthday. That morning, Captain Daniel Patterson sent a small boat and a few sailors to Tenedos to receive provisions for their ship, while the rest of the crew performed their daily duties. At 11:20 am, some members of the ship noticed a few
objects appear in the distance. Sailors and officers gathered on the deck and strained their eyes to try to decipher what ships approached them.
Within minutes, the US sailors recognized that a Turkish fleet, comprised of sloops of war, frigates and schooners, covered the horizon. The Turkish fleet, which returned from the Dardanelles where they had just prevailed in a naval battle
with the Greeks, sailed directly towards the US squadron. A Midshipman on board the Constitution announced that the USS North Carolina, stationed next to them, had just made orders to beat for quarters. The Midshipmen ordered “to quarters, to quarters, to quarters,” the drums echoed from all ends of the Constitution, and the crew proceeded without hesitation to their proper station and prepared for battle. Commodore Rodgers on the North Carolina decided to proceed with their Fourth of July plans, despite the advancement of the Turkish fleet. At twelve o’clock the North Carolina fired a twenty-one-gun salute. The Turks assumed the U.S. squadron fired the salute in their honor, and then returned the courtesy. Over the course of the next few days the Americans and Turks exchanged friendly gestures with each other. On July 7, the US schooner Porpoise received the Capedan Pascha on board their ship and even hoisted the Turkish flag on their fore mast. All
of the sailors included this event in their personal journals, but refrained from writing extensively on the Capedan Pascha.
It is difficult to ascertain whether the American sailors on the USS Constitution favored either the Turks or the Greeks, because they abstain from directly stating their opinions of the war. By comparing their descriptions of the Turkish and Greek officers that the American sailors encountered, however, definite biases can be recognized. William Flemming, a Marine on the USS Constitution, mentioned the visits of various Turkish and Greek officers in his personal journal. His writings provide valuable insight into his biases about the Turks and Greeks. In July 1826, the US squadron and the Turkish fleet interacted frequently and pursued various meetings and formalities with each other. Commodore Rodgers met several times with the Capedan Pascha in hopes of finalizing a trade treaty with the Ottoman Empire. Marine William Fleming mentioned briefly the encounters with the Turkish fleet, but refrained from writing extensively about the Capedan Pascha and the details of his visit. On July 14, 1826, Fleming wrote his most detailed description of the Capedan Pasha when describing Commodore Rodger’s visit with the Turkish commander. Fleming wrote, “the commodore and his company were received with every mark of distinction on board, and on leaving the Turkish Commander, saluted the commodore with 24 guns which the North Carolina returned.”
Fleming’s writings do not express any animosities against the Turks, yet his writing displays a lack of interest in the events and the Capedan Pascha. The indifference Fleming’s writings suggest is magnified when compared to his descriptions of the Greek officers. On May 11, 1827, the USS Constitution received Admiral Constantine Canaris onto the ship. Canaris, a prominent leader in the Greek
War of Independence, won widespread fame after inflicting significant damage on the Turkish Fleet in retaliation for the Turkish massacre of the Greek island of Chios. Fleming praised Canaris in his description of the admiral’s visit. He wrote:
Admiral Canaris accompanied by some other Greek officers visited our ship. He is a man of about 35 years of age of small stature, but well made with dark penetrating eyes, and of a very mild, modest department. He’s one of the bravest men that the Greeks possess, and his gallant exploits have endured his name dear to his countrymen.
Fleming’s description of Canaris was not an anomaly in his writings about the Greeks. He expressed the same amount of enthusiasm when writing about General Theodoros Colocotronis. Colocotronis was the backbone for the Greeks
in their War of Independence, and led many successful campaigns against the Turks. Fleming elaborated on General Colocotronis’ visit aboard the USS Constitution on June 1, 1827. In describing Colocotronis, Fleming wrote:
While laying here, we were visited by the celebrated Greek General Colocotroni. He is almost 50 years of age, of great stature, with large features and of a
determined look. He is altogether a very majestic looking man, and a great warrior. The Greek soldiers look upon him at their main support in their struggle
for liberty. His very appearance animates them and seldome he leads them into action without being victorious.
In both of his writings of Admiral Constantine Canaris and General Theodoros Colocotronis, Fleming portrayed them as valiant heroes of the Greek Revolution. Admiral Canaris and General Colocotronis were described in the same revered
way that Americans described George Washington in his participation in the American Revolution. Although Fleming never directly states his partiality to the Greeks, his favorable descriptions of the Greeks in comparison with his matter-offact description of the Capedan Pascha exposes a blatant bias in favor of the Greek officers.
Edward Clearwater, Midshipman on the USS Constitution, focused his entries on the everyday happenings on board the ship, the weather and the location of the ship. He rarely strayed from his objective writing style and seldom elaborated on
any event. Additionally, Clearwater refrained from including extended descriptions of what he witnessed outside of the USS Constitution. On the night of May 14, 1827, the USS Constitution crew observed a battle between the Greek and the
Turkish armies. Following this battle, a slight change occurs in Clearwater’s writing style.
Clearwater mentions the battle in several preceeding entries. The numerous battle references signify the significant impression it left upon Clearwater. Additionally, after observing the scuffle between the Greeks and Turks, Clearwater then
referred to the Greeks as the “poor Greeks” multiple times. For example, when describing the American private ships that arrived to bring provisions to the Greek people on May 18, 1827, Clearwater writes, “The Smeriea Brig Forline Captain
Harris arrived 56 days from Philadelphia with provisions for the poor Greeks.”19 Again on May 24, 1827, Clearwater notes, “At 5 AM the American Ship Chancellor arrived from New York with provisions to the poor Greeks.”20 Describing the Greeks as the “poor Greeks” may not appear to be noteworthy at a first glance. By taking into account Clearwater’s plain and objective writing style, however, the change in his writing demonstrates the sympathy he felt for the Greek people and his desire to provide them with relief.21
As Americans abroad, the sailors on the USS Constitution reflected the opinions of Americans at home and their desire to support the Greek people in their struggle for freedom from an oppressive rule. As sailors on a neutral United States
naval ship, Marine William Fleming and Midshipmen Edward Clearwater never expressed support for either the Greeks or the Turks. By analyzing and comparing their writing styles, however, Fleming and Clearwater’s admiration and sympathy
for the Greek Cause becomes apparent. Yet, unlike Americans at home, those aboard the USS Constitution expressed their opinions of the Greeks and Turks after direct observation. This level of observation sometimes challenged the idealization of the Greeks voiced by most the American public.
The Sailors’ Opinions of the Greek and Turkish Cultures: When visiting the island of Milos in Greece, George Jones, a Protestant minister and a scholar on board the USS Constitution wrote in great depth about his visit to a Greek Orthodox Good Friday service. Although Jones was a Christian, the Greek Orthodox Church must have seemed very foreign to him. Orthodox Christian churches and chapels are ubiquitous in Greece. Some of the chapels are simple and no more than
twelve feet long, while other larger churches are decorated extensively with paintings, domes and riches. A tall wall with icons of Christ, Mary and Orthodox saints divide the altar from the narthex of the church. Scenes from the Bible and
from the lives of saints cover the walks and ceilings of the church and numerous candles are kept lit at all times of the day. The churches do not possess pews, and the church segregates the women on the left side and the men on the right side. Priests and deacons with long beards wear long service robes of various colors, decorated with elaborate embroidery. Orthodox Christian services are mainly chanted and can last up to six hours.
When reflecting on his visit to the Good Friday Service, Jones concluded “there is no people, not even the Roman Catholics, more superstitious than the Greeks. I watched them to-day, with great interest: they would have been a fine subject for a
painter.” As a Protestant minister who values simplicity when praising God, Jones must have been shocked at the florid and convoluted service. By describing the Greek Orthodox service and traditions in great detail, Jones illustrated the great contrast between Orthodox and Protestant Christian churches. Ironically, one of the prominent rallying points for Americans at home to support the Greek cause was their common Christian faith. In a poem written to rally the Greek cause, the author, a man from Berwick, Pennsylvania, wrote:
Sleeps then, there, one Christian sword?
Sleeps! Though Greece expiring calls?
Rouse it ‘gainst the Moslem horde,
Rouse it, ere the red-cross falls.
Many Americans viewed the Greek War of Independence as a religious war between Christianity and Islam. Marine William Fleming reflected this American view in one of his journal entries, after he discovered an American Marine abandoned his ship and became a Turk to fight for the Ottomans. Fleming
writes that the marine “renounced his God and his Country by turning a Turk.” Americans often supported the Greeks for their Christian faith, but failed to realize that the Greek people’s Orthodox faith differed sharply from Protestant Christianity.
Aside from their religious views, many Americans viewed the Turkish people very negatively and often referred to them as barbarians. The Americans who traveled abroad, however, and interacted with the Turks express a more favorable opinion
of them. As a teacher on the Constitution, George Jones enjoyed many opportunities to leave the ship and discover the Mediterranean cultures. Jones spent a considerable amount of time with the Turkish people and concluded, “the Turk is not the surely, brutal animal, we imagine him; they are taciturn, but polite; and, like all people, indeed, accessible when one approaches them in their own fashion. A good humored smile, with a spice of dignity in it, and a salutation, a little after their own manner, never fails to make them kind and affable inreturn. I chat as well as I can; praise their goods, when they are fine and have never been rudely treated yet.”26 This description of the Turks illustrates how Americans stereotype the Turks as “brutal animals,” but then negates that stereotype.
Through traveling and receiving a first-hand account of Greece and Turkey, Americans who traveled abroad expressed a more mature understanding of the Greek and Turkish people.
George Jones realized that the Greeks did not possess the same Christian faith as the majority of Americans and also that the Turkish people maintained virtuous qualities. Jones’ journal expresses his realization that the cultures of Greece and Turkey did not reflect a clash between good versus evil. Each culture
possessed its advantages and setbacks.
By examining the USS Constitution’s Mediterranean involvement in the Greek War of Independence, the sailors’ opinions of the war, as well as the cultures of Greece and Turkey, it is apparent that the United States did not strictly desire or practice isolationist policies. Americans expressed interest in foreign affairs and foreign cultures. Because of their direct participation in the Mediterranean and their encounters with the Greeks and Turks, the officers and sailors aboard the USS Constitution possessed opinions that both reflected and challenged the prevailing American stereotypes of the Greeks and Turks. Although the United States remained neutral throughout the war, the US naval squadron did attempt to
conduct treaty negotiations with the Ottoman Empire in order to maintain and protect American trade interest. At the same time the squadron helped facilitate America’s humanitarian effort to provide relief to the suffering Greek citizens. The
mission of the USS Constitution and the US naval squadron, and the activities of the men aboard those vessels, challenge the prevailing views of American neutrality and isolationist policies of the 1820s.