Two hundred years after the beginning of the Greek Revolution against the Turks in 1821, we were invited, as Greeks of the Diaspora, to celebrate this important anniversary. Many celebrations took place March 25, 2021, in various cities of Massachusetts and, for those who could not attend, I'd like to describe what I observed (and learned from) in the two events I attended in Boston.*
As a history consultant to an upcoming ERT (Greece's PBS) documentary about American philhellenes and Greek children who came to the U.S. after they were orphaned by the war, I was invited to participate in an event that took place in the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge to honor the great American philhellene Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe. The event was organized by the Consulate General of Greece in Boston.
The same day at an event held at the USS Constitution at the Naval Base in Charlestown, I had the opportunity to introduce the virtual but moving presentation of a descendant of one of those orphans, who made history in the U.S. Navy, Georgios Sarigiannis (Sirian) from Psara (see next section). The event was organized by the Pontian Society Panagia Soumela.
In these events I met descendants of past philhellenes who made huge sacrifices to help Greece become free and philhellenes of today who keep alive the stories of 1821 and what they have meant for Greece, America and the world.
*Another site relating to this period of Greek history is the one dealing with the recently discovered Psara accounting books, where one can see how much people were paid for their explosives, etc.. It's here: https://manoparas.wixsite.com/psara
The event at Mt. Auburn Cemetery
S. G. Howe's grave
At S. G. Howe's grave, from the left: Gov. M. Dukakis, Metropolitan Methodios, Perkins School for the Blind President Dave Power, Greece's Consul General S. Efthymiou
From left: Gov. Dukakis, Howe's great great granddaughter Anne McNeece and her husband, Howe's great great granddaughter Gillian Kellogg and her daughter.
From left, Boston Vice Consul of Greece M. Koukoutsi, Stamatis Astra, Prof. Paraschos, Gov. Dukakis, Mrs. and Mr. McNeece, Consul Gen. Efthymiou, event cosponsor, Ms. Kellogg and her daughter, G. Gialtouridis, President of the Pontian Society, Panagia Soumela, event cosponsor and honorary Pontian guard.
At the event, Ms. Kellogg showed me a prized possession of the Howe family: A medal given to them on behalf of the Greek nation as a sign of gratitude of Greece toward the Howe family ("Τάγμα Αριστείας δια το Βασίλειον της Ελλάδος"). At the Perkins School for the Blind Archives I found the official King Otto document accompanying "Greece's Silver Cross of Excellence," dated January 25, 1834.
In April 2021 the Museum on Philhellenism opened in Athens (Zisimopoulou 12). The opening poster on the museum's facade was that of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe in his Greek revolution soldier's uniform.* A new graduate of Harvard's medical school in 1824, Howe was an admirer of classical Greece and of Lord Byron so he raised money for the Greek cause and joined the Greek army in Nafplio. Soon he was named surgeon general of the Greek navy and head of the first Greek military hospital in Nafplio. He also created an orphanage, an army hospital in Poros, amassed a team to repair Aegina's harbor and in 1829 created a self-sufficient refugee camp called Washingtonia outside of Corinth. Much of what he did he paid for from his own pocket. He returned to Greece in 1866 with funds and supplies to help the Cretan revolution. He directed the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, 1832-1876. Photo, courtesy of the museum.
* The portrait was painted by British artist John Elliott,
the husband of Howe's and Julia Ward's youngest daughter, Maud.
Maud was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and the person
who returned to Greece the Howe family's prized possession,
the helmet of Lord Byron in 1926.
Some thoughts of S. G. Howe on
In 1906, Howe's daughter Laura Richards edited the book “Letters and Journals of Samuel Gridley Howe,” in which she described, through her father's words, his difficult education at Boston Latin, his playful career as an undergraduate student at Brown University and his life in Greece during the Greek revolution.
Although clearly Howe loved Greece and Greeks and was willing to risk everything for their liberation, he was often conflicted and frustrated. He wrote in his "An Historical Sketch of the Greek Revolution" book, for example, that
“the Author has never, for an instant, let his enthusiasm blind him to the
faults of the Greeks, or influence him in recording them; nor has he even
ranked himself among those Philhellenes, who have imagined the
cause of Greece was to be advanced, by holding up to the world a
false picture of disinterested patriotism, or
heroic courage of the modern Greeks” (p. vii).
In Richards' book he is quoted as writing:
There are very few Greeks whose word would be taken by other Greeks, especially
in regard to pecuniary matters, so they will cheat and embezzle tremendously.
Every man almost is imbued with this spirit, and hence every man ,
conscious that he himself would embezzle if he had the opportunity,
supposes as a matter of course that
everybody else would do the same…..(p. 347)
But the introduction of Richards' book says Howe wrote:
But it is not alone to her poets and orators, to her painters and sculptors,
that Greece owes her glory; whether we contemplate her Philosophers,
her Statesmen, her Patriots, or her Warriors, we shall find the same
extraordinary development of human faculties, the
same brilliant example of greatness and worth.
Greece, by the mental superiority of her inhabitants, overthrew
empires; made herself mistress of all around her; and raised
herself to a pinnacle of glory, from which she was precipitated,
rather by her own degeneracy, than by any other cause….. (p. x-xi).