Remembering America's contribution to Greek Independence

Samuel Gridley Howe dressed as a Greek partisan combatant.

The Hellenic National Anthem, the longest in the world  (158 stanzas – verses) says in verse 22:

Cordially rejoiced

and Washington’s land.

And remembered the irons

in which she too was shackled.

When in 1821, the Greeks revolted against the violent rule of the Ottoman Turks, waves of sympathy spread across Europe. But the waves did not stop there. With lighting speed they crossed the Atlantic and reached the America shores.

Nine years before, the people of the United States had fought to liberate their land from the mighty British Empire and there were some very senior American citizens who retained their memories of the American Revolution. And while in Europe there were people who openly talked of intervention on the part of the “Holy Alliance” in favor of the Ottoman Sultan, the Americans openly spoke in favor of a new nation fighting for the very same reasons that they themselves had braved the measured volleys of the British muskets. It is said that the notion that “Christian troops should not impose a Muslim despot on Christians” was first raised in the U.S.

Even before the outbreak of the revolt, Adamantios Koraes, a Greek intellectual, scholar and considered by the Greek themselves as a “Teacher of the Nation” of the Revolution, who at the time lived in Paris, had met Thomas Jefferson there around 1785. Koraes wrote many times to Jefferson asking for his support  for the Greek struggle for independence.  Their friendship and correspondence continued even when Jefferson returned to the United States.

And the desperately isolated Greeks understood that only civilized nation to likely offer any type of assistance in their struggle against tyranny were the United States of America. Sixty days after the official declaration of the revolution one of the Greek Leaders Petros Mauromichalis sent a letter to then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who amongst other he wrote “Your virtues, Americans, are close to ours, although a broad sea separates us”. The letter was published in the press, giving rise to a wave of Philhellenism in the United States.

And the men who had a classical education and cherished the value of freedom did not limit their support just to words. They took their guns and went to a land half a world away because they felt that the land who had give birth to champions of freedom and whose ancient scholars had aided their education should also be free.

(Pistols from the time of the Greek War of Independence. National History Museum. Source:

The Americans put their idealism to practice. They crossed the ocean and let no difficulty become an obstacle in their quest to aid Greece. In contrast to the Europeans who stuck to an ideal of “classical Greece” they knew from the books and sometimes looked down on the uneducated modern Greeks, the Americans learned the language, even the rough dialect of the simple peasants and exchanged their outfits for the local dress. They even chose to ignore the “Monroe Doctrine” of isolationism, no matter what troubles they might face.  And the simple struggling people of Greece accepted them as their own, and even referred to them with roughly hellenized versions of their names. For example, the American George Jarvis became affectionately known to the Greeks as “Kapetan Zervos”.

The Americans also did not try to immediately transform the Greek fighters into a regular army. To them, the revolutionary troops set up ambushes and moved fluidly in the battlefield had a similarity to the Minutemen that were so familiar to the warriors from the distant American continent. The American frontiersmen understood the value of guerrilla warfare and stood firm at the side of their Greek friends. A great number of them died in the defense of their adopted cause and people.

A prominent Greek leader, General Markrygiannes wrote that the new state is like a child and it needs guidance and training while in its first steps. While many Europeans would only criticize the Greeks' faults and mistakes, the Americans took active steps to correct them and put General Markrygiannes’ thoughts into practice. For example, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe brought his medical knowledge and created the first school for the blind in Greece. Also, instead of  handing alms to poor refugees, he instead organized them in work-gangs who rebuilt the ruined infrastructure in return for food for their families.

The best recognition for the efforts of these great Americans are probably the words of the most prominent leader of the Greek Revolution, General Theodoros Kolokotronis:

The Greek nation is not ungrateful to its benefactors. It is grateful to those who proclaim its epic struggle and their names will be recorded with indelible letters in the annals of the reborn Greece, in timeless display, for the respect of upcoming generations…”

Spero columnist Stefanos Skarmintzos is a historian who resides in Athens.


Edward Mead Earle “American Interest in the Greek Cause, 1821-1827” The American Historical Review Vol. 33, No. 1 (Oct., 1927), pp. 44-63

Robert Elwood “The Arms of Greece and her Balkan neighbors in the Ottoman period” ISBN: 978-960-6829-12-3


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