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That Greece Might Still Be Free

William St Clair

30 America to the Rescue

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1During the winter of 1826 a new danger had begun to threaten the fragile existence of Greece. For those that had eyes to see, Greece’s worst enemy was not now the Turks or the Arabs but starvation. The country was in the grip of famine. Hundreds of people had already died and thousands more were quickly sinking into hopelessness.

2For six years the country had been at war and in many areas cultivation had long since ceased. In Roumeli the inhabitants, back under Turkish government, returned to the land, but in Free Greece the situation was desperate. The Morea had been fought over by the rival chieftains in civil wars and a final devastation had been added by Ibrahim. Most of the towns were in ruins and their inhabitants had fled. In the islands, cultivation had continued without interruption but the islands were crammed with refugees. In Greece there lay scattered the broken human flotsam and jetsam of the tidal wave of the Revolution, refugees from Kydonies destroyed in 1821, from Chios destroyed in 1822, from Crete and Psara in 1824, from Ibrahim’s devastations of the Morea in 1825 and 1826, from the destruction of Missolonghi in 1826, from Athens, Euboea, Thessaly, Salonika, Constantinople, Smyrna, Cyprus, Egypt, from every part of the Eastern Mediterranean area where Greeks and Turks had once lived together.

3The fighting and devastation of 1826 exhausted Greece’s last reserves of food and money. The Greeks were now wholly dependent on the charity of other nations to bridge the gap between starvation and survival. The crisis continued until the harvest of 1828.

  • 1 Much information about the Swiss relief activities is in the Documents of the Paris Greek Committe (...)

4In 1826 and 1827 the Swiss banker Eynard and the Paris Greek Committee between them sent seventeen shiploads of provisions to Greece, and Eynard employed an agent, Petrini, to arrange for the forwarding of the cargoes from Zante to Nauplia. The citizens of the Swiss cities and cantons had been the first to establish philhellenic societies in 1821 and they were still making their regular contributions at the end. Alone of all the Greek societies of Europe and America they continued in active existence throughout the war, seeing the leadership of the movement assumed first by the Germans, then by the British, and finally by the French, co-operating with them fully but continuing their own work even when the spurts of enthusiasm elsewhere had died away. The Swiss were the first to recognize that the most useful service that philhellenism could perform in 1826 was to send supplies to relieve suffering, and gradually an increasing proportion of their funds was devoted to this purpose. In later years Eynard also gave relief to distressed Philhellenes on their return to Europe, whether deserving or not. It was a remarkable achievement and contributed to the establishment of Switzerland’s reputation of being the Good Samaritan of Europe.1

  • 2 Finlay, Greek Revolution, ii, p. 128. Korring was said to be 6 feet 7 inches tall. He took part in (...)

5Eynard commuted ceaselessly between Geneva and Paris, keeping the ashes of philhellenic enthusiasm alight even after Navarino when most Europeans assumed that there was no need for further effort. In Greece the arrangements were made by a commission consisting of Doctor Gosse, a Swiss, Colonel Heideck, and a mysterious German calling himself Körring.2 This man had astonishing organizing ability and obviously had occupied some position of great responsibility in his home country. It was never discovered who he was, but it was known that he had adopted a pseudonym because of some unknown incident at home.

  • 3 Finlay, Greek Revolution, ii, p. 158.

6According to Finlay,3 whose exaggerations were always on target and delivered with the bitter relish of personal experience, the efforts of Eynard and his friends rendered more real service to the cause of Greece than the whole proceeds of the English loans. The supplies sent by Eynard were, however, almost entirely devoted to sustaining the Greek war effort. It was Greek soldiers who received the provisions not because their need was greatest but because their plight imposed itself on the attention. The starving and the destitute are too feeble to demonstrate and the worst misery was hidden from sight. In the caves in the mountains were thousands of homeless families, widows and orphans, huddling together for warmth and subsisting on tortoises, snails, herbs, grass, and anything green or living that they could grub up.

7It was to bring relief to these people that the last great operations of philhellenism were mounted. That curious and marvellously deep-rooted complex of ideas about Modern Greece had generated many schemes since the first distorted news of the Revolution arrived in 1821, most of which had ended in disaster. The relief efforts of 1827 and 1828, however, make a fitting end to the tale. For the first and last time the vast reserves of enthusiasm, sacrifice, and good will which the name of Greece aroused throughout Western Christendom were mobilized in a manner which was wholly and intrinsically good, and the measures were carried through with intelligence and efficiency. At last the slogans of philhellenism were put into practice and it was found that the slogans were not needed. The credit for this result belongs exclusively to the people of the United States and in particular to three remarkable American Philhellenes. They each deserve a few words of introduction.

  • 4 See Jarvis; Dakin, British and American Philhellenes; and Larrabee.
  • 5 * Notably the Marquis de la Villasse, a Frenchman, and the Poles Dombrovsky and

8George Jarvis4 was the son of the American consular agent in Hamburg, and was born and educated in Germany. Although he could speak English, German, and French with apparently equal facility, he was not the master of any of them. His education had been so mixed that he appeared to be only half educated, and it was perhaps because of a sense of being dépaysé that Jarvis, who never set foot in the United States, was so defiantly proud of being an American. Like so many Germans, Jarvis had set out from Hamburg in 1822 to make the long journey on foot to Marseilles. His father tried to dissuade him but consoled himself with the thought, which he reported to the Government in Washington, that his son would be well qualified to be the first United States official emissary in Greece. Heise, the friend in whose company Jarvis began his journey, was killed at Peta, but at Marseilles Jarvis met Frank Abney Hastings and they went together to Greece. Like Hastings, Jarvis volunteered to fight at sea and so he too escaped the brunt of the terrible disappointments which overcame most of the 1822 generation of volunteers. After a few months in Greece Jarvis virtually abandoned his European ideas. He learnt Greek, assumed Albanian dress, and taught himself to despise lice, filth, and discomfort, and became a rough, tough, minor Greek captain leading a band of a few dozen armed men. Probably less than ten Philhellenes*5 made a success of this role during the whole course of the war.

  • 6 Dakin, British and American Philhellenes; Earrabee.

9Jonathan Peckham Miller was said to have been an ’unruly dissipated youth’.6 He was a non-commissioned officer in the United States army when he suddenly underwent a form of religious conversion. Immediately his whole way of life changed, he left the army, and he saved up to go to the University of Vermont. He was at Vermont in May 1824 studying the Greek classics when the college buildings caught fire and all his books and possessions were destroyed. It was just at this moment, as the news of Lord Byron’s death came through, that philhellenic enthusiasm reached its peak in the United States. Miller presented himself as a volunteer to the Boston Greek Committee and in November 1824 arrived at Missolonghi with 300 dollars and a letter of introduction. Jarvis took an interest in him, welcoming him as the first Philhellene from the New World and Miller soon learnt the language under Jarvis’s tutoring. He took part in the fighting outside Nauplia when Ibrahim’s army appeared there in June 1825, and he established a reputation as the ’Yankee Dare-devil’.

  • 7 Howe, Letters and Journals; Dakin, British and American Philhellenes; Larrabee.

10Samuel Gridley Howe7 came from a proud and old-established Boston family. He studied medicine and surgery and graduated fully-qualified from Harvard in 1824. Like Miller, Howe found himself at a turning point in his life in 1824 at the precise moment when philhellenism was at its height in the United States and he determined to go to Greece as a volunteer. To his doubting father Howe explained patiently that the experience would assist him in his medical career, that he would learn French and Italian, and that he would have more varied opportunities of practising and improving his surgical skill in war-stricken Greece than in the genteel suburbs of Boston. But Howe’s protestations that he was acting from rational motives or economic self-interest fail to convince. As his father no doubt knew, Howe was essentially romantic. The moment of his departure from university coincided with a personal crisis. At the time Howe was ’ardently attached to a lovely young woman who returned his affection, but from whom circumstances had permanently separated him’. But it was probably Lord Byron, the news of whose death had recently arrived, who led Howe to Greece. He was intoxicated by Byron’s poetry, he admired and envied the freedom and spaciousness of his life and his active commitment to great and good political causes. If the harsh conventions of self-satisfied, small-minded Boston prevented him from making an unsuitable match, he would go to the lands of Lara and Conrad, Haidee and Zuleika, where such matters could be seen in their proper perspective.

11Howe arrived in Greece early in 1825 and was given a commission as an army surgeon and for the next two years was sometimes soldier sometimes doctor, taking part in several battles. When Hastings arrived with the Karteria he joined the crew as ship’s doctor. He became one of the most admired and best-liked Philhellenes in Greece.

12The American Committees followed with close interest the adventures of the volunteers whom they had sent to Greece, and it seems to have been part of their conditions of service that they should supply regular reports on their activities. Apart from Miller and Howe, the men chosen by the Committees mostly fell into disrepute for one reason or another or rushed back as soon as they set foot in Greece, but a steady stream of informative and interesting letters from Jarvis, Miller, and Howe were widely published throughout the United States.

13Towards the end of 1826 they began to report on the poverty of the country. At the same time letters arrived in America from some of the Greek leaders, including Colocotrones, asking for help. Miller himself decided to return to America for a while to give first-hand evidence of the state of the country. The three Philhellenes found themselves launching an appeal for American help.

  • 8 See Earle, Booras, and Cline.

14Many Americans were ashamed at the scandal of the frigates. They felt that the Greeks had been cheated and that something should be done to restore the good name of the United States. Others recalled the situation of their own country at the desperate moments of the war against the British. On the whole, however, the great revival of philhellenic feeling which began at the end of 1826 was a spontaneous outburst of pity and generosity.8 Edward Everett, who had led the initial movement in 1821, began work again in Boston. Matthew Carey, one of the instigators of the revival in 1823 and 1824, resumed in Philadelphia.

15In January 1827 a huge meeting was held at the City Hall in New York and a new committee was elected. It immediately issued a fresh appeal which was to be taken up throughout the United States. This appeal struck a new note. Neither Epaminondas nor St. Paul was mentioned. There was no call to fight a new crusade or to send arms or volunteers. The appeal simply declared that the Greeks had been fighting a long and bitter war and were now reduced to beggary. Could their appeal to their ’Christian brethren of this republic’ be refused by men who ’abound in all the necessaries and comforts of social existence’? The Committee declared that if anyone made a contribution of provisions, clothing, or money, they would ’pledge themselves to use their best exertions to appropriate it, without diminution or abatement, to the sole object of feeding and clothing the necessitous inhabitants of Greece’.

  • 9 Dalleggio, p. 221.

16In 1824 and 1825, when contributions had been sent to the Greek deputies in London through Richard Rush, the United States Minister, the Committees had queried whether they should not instead send arms or men. The deputies had been obliged to write letters explaining that, in the view of the Greek Government, it was best simply to have the money as money, and the Americans had accepted this advice. By 1826 the Committees knew that their earlier contributions had been largely wasted. They had read the accounts in the newspapers and reviews of embezzlement and incompetence in London, and had noted the remarks in books by travellers from Greece which reported how the warlords had seized the loan money for their own purposes. Requests by the American Committees to the Greek deputies for accounts to be rendered were met with a bland statement that this was impossible – as indeed it was.9

17These humiliations were accepted, but the Americans were not going to be fooled again. If they were to make further contributions to Greece they determined to supervise the whole operation, to send exclusively food and clothing, not money or anything which would be of any direct military value, and to keep hold of the stores until they could be given directly into the hands (and even mouths) of the people who most needed them. Not only would they send nothing military, they decided, but they would even forbid the stores to be used by Greek soldiers. Only non-combatants would be permitted to have a share. It was to be work of pure charity, non-political and neutral, performed entirely for humanitarian reasons.

  • 10 The descriptions and quotations about the American relief work in Greece are taken from Woodruff, (...)

18The appeal of this new type of philhellenism had a success which overwhelmed everything that had gone before.10 All over the United States new committees sprang up to arrange fund-raising activities,* or to collect food and clothing. A small community would contribute a few bags of flour, a village might buy a barrel of salted pork. Shopkeepers would give some of their merchandise, boxes of shoes, lengths of cloth. The ladies of Westerfield prepared 300 suits of clothes; those of Pearl Street, New York, made 733 pieces of women’s clothing; those of Norwich, Connecticut, made 1,000 suits. At Baltimore 600 barrels of flour were donated. Charleston sent 350 barrels of meat, 9 barrels of wheat, some clothing, and a small sum in cash. Long lists of subscriptions were published of contributions by individuals, committees, and organizations all over the country. As a result the Committees of New York, Boston and Philadelphia acting as the leaders, were able to send to Greece during 1827 and 1828 eight shiploads of relief supplies valued at nearly $140,000 and consisting entirely of food and clothing. Each of the ships had an agent to ensure that the stores were distributed properly to those for whom they were intended. Jarvis, Miller, and Howe resigned from military service to devote themselves exclusively to the work of charity.

19The letter of instruction from the Committees of America to their agents included the following passage:

As it is not the object of the Executive Committee to take any part in the controversy between the Greeks and the Turks, these provisions and clothing are not designed to supply the garrisons of the former but are intended for the relief of the women, children, and old men, non-combatants of Greece.

20The Cause of Greece, the Cause of Liberty, Religion and Humanity, the recalled debt to Ancient Hellas, the new Crusade, the Sacred Struggle of the Christians against the Infidels – the Greek Revolution had now become, for its last and most generous friends abroad, simply ’the controversy between the Greeks and the Turks’.

21To ensure that the supplies only went to those for whom they were intended was a difficult and even dangerous task in the anarchic conditions of Greece. Yet the Americans were remarkably successful largely owing to

  • 11 For American policy towards Turkey after Navarino see Finnie.

* Attempts were made to persuade the Congress to vote public money for the relief operations, but the proposals were turned down to avoid the charge of a breach of neutrality. In fact the United States Government was still pursuing an ambiguous policy, apparently favouring the Greeks but trying to secure the commercial treaty with Turkey. After Navarino the Americans pressed the Turks to make a contract with them to rebuild the fleet and Americans took over the direction of the dockyard at Constantinople.11

22the efforts and experience of Jarvis, Miller and Howe.

23The first relief ship, the Tontine arrived in May 1827. The agent, Joseph Worrell, knowing no better, handed over the cargo to the Greek Government at Poros on receiving promises that they would distribute it according to the instructions of the Committee. The Government immediately sold it to raise money for their own puropses, and according to Howe accepted $2,500 for flour which had cost $12,000 in Philadelphia.

24The second ship, the Chancellor, went not to Poros but to Nauplia where the two rival captains, one in possession of the castle, the other of the town were still conducting a sporadic war. This time Howe took personal charge of the distribution. A French relief vessel had recently put in to Nauplia, but all the provisions were seized by the soldiers and several people were killed in rioting during the distribution. Howe deliberately handed over a third of the cargo to the soldiers in the hope of saving the rest for the refugees and he had some success. If anyone unacquainted with Greece had attempted a distribution, he wrote ’he would probably have lost his own life, would have lost all the property and would have involved the town in a scene of blood and desolation’. Only a man such as Howe who had built up a reputation in advance could have dared to defy the captains and their armed bullies. When he began distributing the remainder of the cargo outside, he received an order from Colocotrones to stop. ’”By what authority.” said I. ”By the authority of Colocotrones.” ”I know nothing of Colocotrones, I shall obey none of his orders’.”

25As each ship arrived, the leaders of the various Greek factions tumbled over themselves in attempting to wrest the supplies from the inexperienced American agents with Jarvis, Howe, and Miller desperately trying to save as much as they could. The supplies were locked up under armed guard in the castle in Nauplia bay to prevent looting, but still they were not secure. On one occasion the keys were seized by force by one of the captains, until an American warship was summoned and they were restored. On another occasion a small vessel which was carrying a consignment of stores to the outlying areas was forced to seek shelter in Nauplia harbour in a storm and was ruthlessly plundered. When the Jane arrived from America in November, despite repeated warnings from Howe and Miller, the new agent ’was weak enough to allow himself to be flattered out of five hundred barrels of flour which the persons in authority promised to deliver to the poor’. Only eighty barrels were distributed, the remainder and seventeen boxes of clothes were sold to raise money.

26The three Philhellenes and the new agents journeyed all over Greece seeking out human beings hiding in caves and holes in the ground, almost naked, diseased, and starving. In the towns they were mobbed by thousands of beggars and every distribution was a potential crisis. To try to maintain order and fairness, tickets were distributed, each one of which entitled the recipient to a portion of food and sometimes a piece of clothing. In some areas the priests were entrusted with the duty of distributing the tickets, but it was found that they were favouring their friends and Howe had to make new distributions of tickets.

27They were besieged by letters from all over Greece begging for help or recommending needy cases to the Americans. The terms of the charity were strictly observed. Fabvier begged a few clothes to relieve the misery of some of the Philhellenes who had been made destitute by their time under siege in the Acropolis, but he was reminded of the rule that only non-combatants were eligible. Miller did, however, make an exception for one old Pole whom he had known since he arrived in 1824 and who was now in misery.

28An extract from Howe’s journal describes how the American agents spent a typical day:

Monday, July 30th, Lerna. Started at daylight on horseback and rode over the plain south four miles to Chevadi, a little ruined village with a mill, where we found thirty-seven families in great misery and gave them orders for flour. Then rode on to the west, finding here five, ten, and fifteen miserable families, refugees from their native villages, and living under the projections of rocks, or in caves or little huts made by sticking up poles, slanting, and thatching them with branches of trees. Most of these were not only hungry but half-naked, and I gave them large orders, even to an hundredweight, with the greatest delight. Hearing that up in the mountains were hidden many others, we began the ascent, and after a tedious climbing of two hours we came to a little plain where we found about six hundred persons, but not a single house, only the aforesaid huts, if they even merit that name. Here was a sight! Six hundred persons, mostly widows and orphans, driven from their homes, hunted into the mountains like wild beasts, and living upon the herbs, grass, and what they could pick up about the rocks. Many women came to me haggard and wan, their skin blistered by the sun, their feet torn by the rocks, and their limbs half exposed to view from the raggedness of their clothes, and they swore upon their faith that for many weeks they had not tasted bread. Here I gave them orders for about ten hundredweight of flour, and each one, seizing the billet, ran toward the road to the sea, blessing God that he had created men like the Americans to succour them in their distress. Repaid thus for my toil by the pleasure of relieving such wants, I jogged on to find more misery, and, after giving many orders upon the road, returned at night to the ship.

29The Americans described the Modern Greeks as they found them, with sympathy but without sentimentality. Gone are the presuppositions of earlier philhellenic ventures. The captains in Nauplia, whom in earlier days Howe might have fashionably described as the ’true Greeks’, are now ’two brigand chiefs (God’s curse light on both of them)’. At last foreigners were looking at the Modern Greeks unhampered by the accumulated weight of centuries of misleading allusion.

30Tens of thousands of Greeks owed their survival through the terrible year 1827 to a few pounds of flour donated by the citizens of some small far-off American town and brought to them by the three Americans who had fought in their war, learned their language, assumed their style of dress, and had now taken the side of the poor against the great men of Greece. The scenes of abject gratitude which they witnessed brought tears to their eyes. Years later, travellers in Greece would find old Greeks still speaking with wonder of the generosity of the Americans of 1827.

31Some of the miseries of war cannot be cured by charity. Everywhere the Americans were confronted with examples of the studied cruelty and the arbitrary disregard of fellow humans which marked the conflict. Some of the beggars had lost their ears or their hands, and one man came to the distribution point on his knees, having had both feet cut off. At Poros, Miller met an eleven-year-old girl whose nose and lips had been cut off close to her face so that her gums and jaws were entirely exposed. She had lived in this state for over a year. In Laconia, Howe found a boy of about twelve leading his blind mother. She had been raped and then her eyes put out by her attackers. Her son was gathering herbs and grass and snails for her to eat.

32When the empty relief ships sailed back to the United States, they usually carried a few orphan boys and girls to be adopted and given a chance of a new life. The Governor of Massachusetts set an example by accepting an orphan in his household. Both Howe and Miller adopted Greek boys into their own families. Miller described in matter-of-fact terms how he came to adopt his boy at Poros:

  • 12 * Kydonies or Aivalik, a Greek town destroyed in 1821.

While walking the streets I observed a boy and girl hand in hand almost naked. The girl appeared about nine and the boy about seven years of age. On inquiry I found that they were orphans, and that their father had been driven from Haivale (a town in Asia Minor)*12 and had nobly fallen in battle. This boy I have taken as my own with the consent of the Government, and by the blessing of God who early taught me to feel the loss of a father, I am determined that in me he shall find a friend and protector. The little girl when she found her brother was preferred, wept most bitterly but what can I do?

33Loukas Miltiades Miller was educated in the United States, entered the American Army and reached the rank of colonel. He was eventually elected Congressman for the State of Wisconsin in 1853. The fate of his sister is unknown.

34By the end of 1827 Howe decided that the problem was of far greater dimensions than he had thought and that distributing relief supplies to indigent Greeks was not enough. He determined to attempt a more ambitious programme. In a letter to the Boston Greek Committee he reported that he had departed from the strict instructions of the Committee and had used part of the cargo of one of the relief ships to establish a free hospital at Poros. If the Committee knew the actual conditions of Greece’s sufferings, he said, they would have done the same.

Many a poor object have we seen lying upon the bare ground by the roadside or under a tree, parched with fever, whom all the flour in America could neither solace nor save – many a poor soldier whose long undressed wound, full of little maggots, was hurrying him to an untimely grave from which a little care and cleanliness might have spared him.

35With the aid of a few Philhellene doctors from Europe Howe established a hospital in a large building in Poros. There were fifty beds at first and the number was gradually increased to about two hundred. Aid was given free to anyone who needed it, whether combatant or civilian.

36At the beginning of 1828 Howe decided to return to the United States for a few months to raise more funds and to canvas support for new ideas he was developing. To his horror he discovered that enthusiasm was flagging and he threw himself into the work of reviving it. The energy he displayed was amazing. He wrote dozens of letters to philhellenic organizations and prominent men all over the country urging them to help. These letters are full of vivid sketches drawn from his own experience, so different from the usual clichés of the pamphleteers. To the New York Committee he described how the wounded in Greece envied the dead:

Sometimes a number of them, saved from the field, are removed to some neighbouring village. In a few days there is an alarm of the enemy’s approach; every soul flies. The wounded rush out, pale and emaciated, and attempt to fly with the crowd, but soon sink down from weakness, struggle on again as they see the enemy gaining on them, but are soon overtaken and their heads dangling at the cavalry’s saddle-bows.

37To the Philhellenes of Boston, Howe described the results of their earlier charity:

Greece expects it of you; she has tasted your bounty and expects a continuance of it, and I will venture to say that of those encamped on her sea shore, thousands of women and children are watching every sail that comes from the west, and flattering themselves with the hope that it may be an American ship with provisions for them.

38Howe hastily composed a Historical Sketch of the Greek Revolution and it was rushed through the press to help his campaign. It was a more substantial work than its title suggests. He also set out on a long lecture tour to raise funds. From Albany in April 1828 he wrote to his father:

I wrote to you from West Point where I was most politely received by Colonel Thayer and all the officers; after delivering an address there, I went to Newburg, from N. to Poughkeepsie, from P. to Hudson, from H. to Kinderhook at all which places I had large and respectable audiences, and have reason to hope that my statements will be the means of rousing the feelings of the people, and getting extensive contributions for the suffering Greeks.

39Howe hated lecturing because it was fatiguing and embarrassing and also, in his own eyes, not an occupation for gentlemen. His father disapproved strongly but Howe persisted, considering it ’a sacred duty to go on’. He would prefer to serve Greece in any other way, he declared, but he honestly recognized that the encouragement of contributions for relief was the most effective service he could perform.

40At the end of 1828 he returned to Greece on board one of the relief ships. The country had changed in the year that he had been away. Capodistria had arrived at the beginning of the year and gradually more orderly government was being established. The hospital at Poros which Howe had established had closed – it had been left in the charge of an American relief agent, Dr. Russ, who had left promptly on the day that his year’s contract expired.* George Jarvis had died in August at Argos at the age of thirty-one, succumbing at last to the terrible diseases of Greece. Miller had returned to the United States at the beginning of 1828.

41At first sight Howe thought that the crisis of the famine had passed but, as before, he found that the refugees were merely concealed from sight. The work of distribution was accordingly continued. He decided, however, that the main effort should now be devoted to a new, more constuctive, form of relief, the provision of employment. The Greek Government was at this time established at Aegina and Capodistria had given work to hundreds of families by building an orphanage on the island. Although most of them had by now returned to their native villages to resume cultivation of the land, Aegina was still crowded with refugees from the areas which were still in Turkish hands, Athens, Roumeli, Crete, Chios, and elsewhere. Without charity, Howe saw, thousands would still die of starvation. Accordingly, he devised an ambitious scheme to provide employment for the refugees of Aegina. He described his idea in his journal:

After revolving in my mind various plans of relief to these suffering beings, I have resolved to commence a work upon which I can employ four or five hundred persons, give them their bread, and at the same time benefit the public; viz. the repairing of the port here which, from the destruction of the piers and the accumulation of mud and filth, is reduced to a state near resembling a marsh upon its border, preventing the boats from approaching near the shore and giving out an unpleasant and unwholesome odour. To remedy this and render the port at once
* During his year in charge of the hospital at Poros, Russ attended nine hundred patients. He loyally fulfilled his undertaking, hating apparently every minute. Describing his impulsive offer to take over the hospital from Howe, he wrote: Unacquainted with the Greek language, amidst a nation of robbers, and sharpers, and without a friend to aid or assist me, it was an act approaching madness. I not only perform all operations, prepare all medicines, and make all purchases – but the halls would not be cleaned, the beds shifted, or the comfort of the patients attended to unless I ordered it. The patients are mostly thieves. The women are the most immodest, and the men are the greatest poltroons that ever disgraced civilized society.
commodious, salubrious, and beautiful, requires only that a solid wall should be built around the border of the port a little way within the water, and then filled up behind with stones and earth; after that is done the mud should be dredged from the port within the wall and the whole filling be covered with stones. In this way a fine wharf will be formed along the whole border of the port; boats can approach and unload at it; all the dirt will be removed, and the port rendered excellent.

42It is impossible to think of a scheme which could have more precisely suited the needs of the situation. Howe’s idea was bold, imaginative, and practical. The project would require large numbers of labourers. Men and women, boys and girls could all lend a hand, if only in carrying baskets of earth and stones. The most brilliant feature of the plan was that virtually no skilled labour was necessary at all. The skilled work of providing shaped stone blocks with which to build the walls had already been done two thousand years before.

43Outside the town of Aegina on a promontory by the sea stands a solitary Doric column of an ancient temple, one of the most romantic spots in Greece and still an inspiration to poets. In 1828 the column was surrounded by the ruins of the temple. Howe determined to use the stones from the old temple to build the new mole in the harbour. For once the Ancient Greeks could be of direct help to the Modern Greeks, their putative posterity, over whose lives they exercised such a disturbing and persistent influence.

44Work began on 19 December 1828. Howe engaged one hundred men and two hundred women to be paid three pounds of Indian meal per man per day, two and a half pounds for a woman. They were divided into companies of twenty and leaders appointed. Howe instructed them, before they began to make the sign of the cross and bow several times and declare aloud: ’Here’s to a good beginning, and may the evening be happy; success to the Americans’. With this little ceremony the pickaxes were struck into the ruins to prise out the ancient blocks. Howe gave orders that the Doric column should not be touched, but modern archaeologists, an unromantic breed, still regret the ruination of the site.

45The day after work began two hundred Greeks arrived at Aegina from Egypt, redeemed from slavery by the French Government. Howe looked on as the authorities attempted the task of compiling a list of the names and villages of the new arrivals. There were numerous children who had been torn from their parents or who had seen them die in Egypt. Some could faintly recall the name of a town where they thought they came from, and perhaps the first name of their father but nothing more. Others could no longer speak their native language. Some had their ankles sore from chains or were mutilated. Most were suffering from the terrible eye diseases of Egypt and some were permanently blind.

46Every day Howe was surrounded by crowds of Greeks begging for work, and in many cases he could not refuse. Within a week of the start of the work, he was providing work for over six hundred persons and the number continually increased. Every detail of the work was personally supervised. He rose between three and four o’clock and spent the hours till daylight writing letters or examining the vouchers for the poor; at daybreak the workmen were mustered and Howe spent the rest of the day at the port; dinner was at six o’clock, and bed at ten. The work proceeded steadily, interrupted by storms and saints’ days, and Howe’s house was still surrounded by crowds encamped outside begging for work.

47By March 1829 the work was nearing completion and he began to lay off his workers. They begged him to continue but he was firm. As the warm weather set in the need for his charity was less pressing. On 24 March he dismissed the majority of his labour force with a special payment and a donation of clothes. As he surveyed his work, Howe noted with satisfaction in his diary, ’I have enriched the island of Aegina by a beautiful, commodious, and permanent quay, and given support to seven hundred poor during nearly four months of the most rigorous weather of the year’. The American Mole can still be seen, one of the few surviving monuments to the philhellenism of the Greek War of Independence.

48Howe was already thinking of new schemes and the inhabitants of Megara put another idea into his mind. Their corner of Greece had suffered terribly by the devastations of Turks and Greeks and they were so poor that they did not even have seed to sow. Howe intended to distribute flour but the Megarians represented that they would prefer to have seed. Howe sold some of his supplies to buy a small quantity, but he made it a condition of giving it that every recipient would sign an undertaking to contribute to the costs of a Lancastrian school in their village. The seed was distributed; the Megarians immediately sowed it, and in a few days it began to shoot. Howe calculated that, for the expenditure of less than $100 on bean seed, he had provided work for four hundred families, and produced $4,000 worth of beans, including $1,300 for the support of a school. Unfortunately, the experiment was only a limited success. The Greek soldiers of the Government helped themselves to the young shoots for salad and parties of marauding Turks came down from the north and carried off several families. Howe implored Capodistria to do something but he knew that the Government was powerless.

49Howe now proposed to the Greek Government an experiment in establishing a refugee colony on some of the lands taken from the Turks, but Capodistria was suspicious and there were rumours about Howe’s motives in wishing to set himself up as a landlord. Howe had given up in despair and was about to go on a well-earned holiday when word arrived that approval had been given. He immediately cancelled his holiday and began work. He had selected a site on the isthmus at the village of Hexamilia and the Government agreed to lease 2,000 acres, tax-free for five years. In March 1829 twenty-six destitute families, refugees from Athens, Chios, and Kydonies arrived to found the colony. Two hundred other people were employed as day labourers to help with the building of a new village. Soon the settlement was thriving. Howe obtained agricultural implements from the United States and succeeded in constructing himself a crude wheelbarrow, ’to the great amusement and astonishment of the people who had never seen such a complicated machine’. A Lancastrian school was established under the direction of one of the Greeks who had been sent to the school in London by Colonel Stanhope. Howe planned to rebuild the harbour and construct a new mole.

50Near the new village could be seen traces of the work begun by the ancients to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth, ’at the spot where they left off work as though but yesterday’. Howe seems to have considered the possibility of digging the canal himself, but he realized that, with his limited resources, he was unlikely to succeed where the ancients had failed. He did, however, have a vision that one day a great new commercial city would arise on the isthmus and that the settlement which he had founded would be the centre. With an eye on the Bostonians who were providing the funds, he decided to name his new town Washingtonia.

51Howe’s efforts at Hexamilia nearly cost him his life. No Philhellene could expect to live in Greece for more than three years without falling victim to the constant epidemics. He was taken ill with malaria and was to suffer from it intermittently for the rest of his life. Although his colony continued to thrive – it was an overwhelming success by philhellenic standards – Howe was disappointed, most of his friends had left Greece, and he seemed to be involved in growing friction with the Government. At the end of 1829 he left Greece to return to the United States, conscious that he had done more than any man to help Greece in her years of distress. He took with him one of the helmets which Lord Byron had taken to Missolonghi which had been put up for sale at Poros.

52On his return to the United States at the age of thirty, Howe had already accomplished more than most men do in a lifetime. His connection with Lafayette in the July Revolution of 1830, his work for the Poles, his imprisonment in Berlin, his campaigns against slavery in the United States cannot be described here. For most of his life Howe devoted himself to the care of the blind and the deaf, and was the first to devise a means of education and communication for those who had previously been regarded as unapproachable lunatics. His achievement was described by Dickens in American Notes. During his long career as one of the greatest of American philanthropists Howe never lost his interest in Greece and he revisited his colony in 1834. In 1867 at the age of seventy, when Crete was again in desperate revolt against the Turks, Howe and his wife Julia Ward Howe, authoress of ’The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, returned to Greece to extend again the charity of America to the suffering victims.


1 Much information about the Swiss relief activities is in the Documents of the Paris Greek Committee. See also Rothpletz, Eynard, and Penn, Philhellenism in Europe.

2 Finlay, Greek Revolution, ii, p. 128. Korring was said to be 6 feet 7 inches tall. He took part in the campaign in Western Greece in 1828 but his palikars mutinied against his attempts to impose discipline and shut him in an oven. He died of disease at Patras in 1829.

3 Finlay, Greek Revolution, ii, p. 158.

4 See Jarvis; Dakin, British and American Philhellenes; and Larrabee.

5 * Notably the Marquis de la Villasse, a Frenchman, and the Poles Dombrovsky and

Dzierzavsky, but they were exiles with no other home to go to.

6 Dakin, British and American Philhellenes; Earrabee.

7 Howe, Letters and Journals; Dakin, British and American Philhellenes; Larrabee.

8 See Earle, Booras, and Cline.

9 Dalleggio, p. 221.

10 The descriptions and quotations about the American relief work in Greece are taken from Woodruff, Post, Miller, and especially Howe, Letters and Journals. Larrabee is a useful secondary source.

11 For American policy towards Turkey after Navarino see Finnie.

12 * Kydonies or Aivalik, a Greek town destroyed in 1821.


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